|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway featured a number of different kinds of racing besides automobiles when first constructed in 1909. These included balloon races, airplane races and motorcycle racing. The first race of any kind was a balloon race on June 9, 1909. A motorcycle race followed on August 14. The first automobile race took place on August 19, 1909. This was a shorter race, only about five miles. Four men teamed together to build the track on 328 miles of farmland in Northwest Marion County. These men, Carl Fisher with partners James Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler built the track as a test facility for automobiles. Their theory was that people would watch the race, then go out and buy the automobiles they saw racing.
The First Auto Race
The first race took place on August 19, 1909. The builders paved the track originally with crushed rock and tar. With speeds in excess of fifty miles an hour, the surface proved a disaster. Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer won that first race with an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour. The racing cars broke up the rock surface, causing accidents. Six people, two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators died because of the race. In December, track operators replaced the crushed rock with brick, earning the motorway the nickname, Brickyard. It took over three million bricks to pave the 2.5 mile track. In 1961, track owners covered the final section of brick, leaving only a three-foot section at the star/finish line. An estimated 12,000 spectators watched that first race.
The First 500-Mile Race
Interest sagged after the first few races. Race organizers decided that instead of several small races each year they would focus on one big race, a grueling 500 mile race to be held on May 30 each year. This concept proved an instant hit. The national press covered it and approximately 80,000 spectators paid one dollar per ticket to watch Ray Haroun win a 14,250 purse with an average speed of 74.59 miles per hour.
The National Register of Historic Places listed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on March 7,
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway maintains a museum at the Speedway. The musuem is a treasure trove of race cars and other racing memorabilia. Visitors may also ride in a lap around the track, take a guided tour and experience the rich history of the Speedway. To visit, contact:
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Hall of Fame Museum
4790 W. 16th Street
Speedway, IN, 46224
Main Gate (Gate 2)
This article excerpted from the author’s book:
Exploring Indiana's Historic Sites, Markers & Museums - Central Edition
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning