In 1908, four men got together in Indianapolis to build a 2.5
mile testing track for the local flourishing automobile business.
One of these men was Carl Fisher. Fisher is also famous for
getting a national road to Florida made and for the creation of
After having a hot-air balloon race and a motorcycle race
at the track, three days of auto racing was held beginning
on August 20th, 1909.
When the track was created, it was not paved with bricks,
but was made up of crushed stone, shale and tar. This surface
would prove to be insufficient, and the whole 2.5 miles of
track would be paved with 3.2 million red bricks for the
second race in 1909, held on December 17. This led to the
Speedway becoming known as the Brickyard.
The Wright Brothers showed up for the first US Aviation Show
in 1910. After having invented the airplane in 1903, they
began teaching others to fly and their students flew around
above the track too.
Three weekends of 3-day auto racing events were held in
1910. The first was during Memorial Day weekend (then
known as Decoration Day.) One event was held over
Independence Day weekend and the other over Labor Day
weekend. These racing fests included as many as 42 races on
the Speedway's 2.5-mile ribbon of bricks.
It was decided that there would just be one big 500-mile race
held the following year - and the Indy 500 was born! However,
back then, it was known as the International Sweepstakes.
It would take 200 laps around the track, in a counter-clockwise
direction, to go 500 miles. At first, it was known as the
"International 500 Mile Sweepstakes".The first races took over
6 hours to run. Modern races are under 3 hours.
In the 1990's speeds reached into the 235 mph zone. Various
measures have been taken since to slow the cars. Recent
500's have seen speeds in the 218-228 mph range.
Today's track is the same dimensions as the original. The
turns are only banked 9' 12" degrees. The brick surface
lasted through the decades. In 1958, they began paving parts
of the track. Today, the bricks cover only 1-yard of the course -
across the start/finish line. There is also a golf course that has
several holes within the infield.
The race was not ran during 1917-1918 due to WWI. Nor was
it ran from 1942-1945 because of WWII.
Eddie Rickenbacker raced in the Indy 500 as a youth. He
joined the army and went to Europe to learn to be a fighter
pilot. After returning from the war as the most decorated
American flying ace, Rickenbacker bought the Speedway
from the four men who had formed it. Capt'n Eddie, as he
was called, was an amazing, hard-working, fearless man who
would reach greatness throughout his life, as did Carl Fisher.
When WWII began, Rickenbacker rejoined to help his country
in her time of need. When the war ended, Famous race
driver, Wilbur Shaw, brokered a deal for Rickenbacker to sell
the track to Terre Haute businessman, Tony Hulman. Capt'n
Eddie would go on to run Eastern Airlines. Tony Hulman has
since died, but the Speedway remains in the Hulman family.
In the early days, a mechanic would ride around with the
drivers during the race. This situation was phased out in the
late 1930's. Up until the 1960's, the race cars had been
roadsters - big heavy cars with the engines out in front of the
driver. European Formula 1 racing inspired smaller, lower,
lighter rear-engined cars. By the end of the 60's, all the
roadsters were gone.
In the 1970s, the tires got wider and wings began to be used
One of the factors that has separated the Indy 500 from other
races is the amount of time that is spent building up to the race.
At other races, teams spend a day practicing, a day
qualifying and a day racing. Indy includes rookie testing,
practice, an IndyCar race held on the road course of the
Speedway, qualifying, Pit Stop Competition, an Indy Lights
Race and finally the Indy 500 race, which is held on the last
Sunday in May. Consequently, race teams spend around 3
weeks at the Speedway for the 500.
Various open-wheel sanctioning bodies have been present at
the track over the years (AAA, USAC, CART and IRL, but the
500 has always attracted others to try and compete as well.
Drivers from other series have often competed as well as
special teams put together just for the Indy 500. While over 70
cars have sometimes tried to qualify for the race, only 33 cars
can race in the Indy 500.
The Indy 500 had been selling out for years and is one of the
events in the sporting world which is recommended you see in
your lifetime. Many folks have gotten hooked and begin their
own family traditions of attending the race. Race tickets are
passed down through the generations of some families.
More stands were erected, yet the infield was always full as
well. Up until 1994, only one race a year was held at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway - the Indy 500. NASCAR's
popularity, and possibly the looming Indycar split, prompted
the president of the Speedway to host a NASCAR Cup race
during the summer. It was a huge success and has continued
to be one of the most important races of the series. The IROC
series held a support race during Brickyard 400 weekend until
The original pagoda race control tower burned down and was
replaced by a bigger pagoda in 1929. Tony Hulman had it
replaced by a bigger, yet ugly square concrete building in
1959. That tower was torn down and a bigger, more
attractive tower, once again in a pagoda style, was erected in
2000. That year saw many changes at the Speedway: a new
media center, F1 garages along the end of the pit lane, and a
snaking road course in the infield that attached to the existing
oval race track. These upgrades were performed for hosting
the United States Grand Prix - Formula One's entry back into
the USA. That race was ran through 2007. It hosted several
series as support races including the Porsche Super Cup,
Indy Lights and Ferraris.
In 2008, a chicane was instaled in Turn 1 for the return of
motorcycle racing to the speedway. MotoGP raced on the
infield road course, but unlike F1, traveled in a counter-clock
wise direction. MotoGP raced at Indianapolis up to 2015.
|Jim Rathman in a Roadster
|The Marmon Wasp won the 1st Indy 500 in 1911
|1968 - Gordon Johncock in rear-engined racer
The founders: Arthur Newby, James Allison, Carl
Fisher and Frank Wheeler.
The Indy 500 began in 1911 and is the oldest, richest, largest,
fastest and most exciting auto race in the world.
In 1994, a second race began to be held at the Speedway -
the Brickyard 400. This time the cars were different.
The popular NASCAR Cup series has been welcomed back
every year since.
By 2000, a road course was added to the original oval track
for hosting F1's U.S. Grand Prix. After eight years, that race
was replaced by MotoGP's Indianapolis Grand Prix that
feature the world's fastest motorcycle racing!
In 2012, The Tudor Sportcar championship began racing on
the road course.
In 2014, a new IndyCar race called the Indianapolis Grand
Prix began racing on the road course during the Month of
Also in 2014, Vintage Racing began being held one week
after the Indy 500.
In 2012, Grand Am Road Racers began racing on the road
course during the Brickyard 400 weekend. This series would
evolve into the Tudor Sportscar Series in 2014.
The road course was altered for the 2014 season,
improving the flow.
A new annual race was added to the beginning of May in
2014, The Indianapolis Grand Prix, featuring IndyCars on the
road course. The race in the clockwise direction.
Also, Vintage Racing was added to the 2014 schedule in
The Red Bull International Air Races will race for the first time
at Indy in 2016.
After a century of racing history, there are many, many
interesting stories surrounding the Speedway, as well as
many traditions and events. Have fun exploring!
|Video: the First Indy 500, Colorized, 2-minutes
|INDY MOTOR SPEEDWAY HISTORY