CIRCUITS: INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Name: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

 

 © Inside F1, Inc.

The oldest surviving race track in the world was built in 1908 when Carl Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler raised $75,000 to finance the construction of a rectangular 2.5 mile crushed stone and tar oval racing track. The first race at Indy was held in June 1909, but this was for balloons, another of Fisher's passions. The first car race took place in August but a series of fatal accidents convinced the owners that they needed to invest in a paved surface. They came up with the idea of bricks and 3.2 million of them were used to create what was soon known as The Brickyard.

The first Indy 500 took place in 1911 and was won by Ray Harroun who built his own Marmon Wasp. The following year was a classic race as the Mercedes of Ralph de Palma and his mechanic broke down with five and a half laps to go, while in a five-lap lead. The two pushed the huge car from the back straight as Joe Dawson swept by time after time. The Mercedes was on the final straight when Dawson flashed by to take victory.

The reputation of Indy had already spread far and wide and in 1913 the event was won by a Frenchman, Jules Goux in a Peugeot. The French scored again in 1914 with Rene Thomas in a Delage, but DePalma had his revenge in 1915 and English-based Italian Dario Resta won the final Indy 500 before the First World War dragged in the United States. Indianapolis served as a landing strip and repair depot for the military during the conflict, but in 1919 the race was on again.

A new generation of stars arrived in the form of Gaston Chevrolet, Tommy Milton, Jimmy Murphy, Peter DePaolo and Frank Lockhart. Speeds increased and in 1925 DePaolo recorded the first finish at an average speed of over 100mph. There were accidents too, but these were to be overshadowed by those of the Thirties, when Indianapolis became a truly murderous racing track.

The track had been sold in 1927 to World War 1 flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, but it remained much the same as it had, with little money available in the Depression years to make any improvements.

As Louis Meyer and Wilbur Shaw emerged as the stars, the Speedway began claiming souls at a frightening rate: there were two in 1931; two more in 1932; five in 1933; two more in 1934; four in 1935.

Finally, the depression beginning to pass, major changes were made with sections of track resurfaced with tarmac. The same year Meyer won his third victory, an unrivaled achievement.

Wilbur Shaw was the man by now, winning in 1939 and 1940, the first man to score back-to-back victories. Going for a third, in 1941 he crashed and broke several vertebrae. Thus began an enduring legend, no man ever wins three in a row at Indy. The 1941 race was significant in many ways for it marked the first victory for Mauri Rose, while also seeing half of the pits, Gasoline Alley, burned down on race morning!

These were rebuilt, but by then war had broken out and once more Indianapolis was forgotten.

By 1945 the Speedway was in a sorry state, partially overgrown and crumbling. Rickenbacker decided to sell and the Speedway was bought by Tony Hulman. Major redevelopment began, beginning with new grandstands and followed up over the years by a museum, tunnels, a control tower, hospitality suites, a huge four-lane tunnel between Turns 1 and 2, the Hall of Fame and offices. By the Seventies the Speedway property included two golf courses (a nine-hole inside the oval and an 18-hole outside), not to mention a 96 room motel!

On the racing front, the late Forties belonged to Mauri Rose, who won in 1947 and 1948. His car broke just eight laps from home the following year while shadowing the leader.

After Rose retired in 1951 a new star emerged: Billy Vukovich, the Mad Russian. With nine laps of the 1952 race left his car broke and 22-year-old Troy Ruttman swept by to become youngest winner of the Indy 500. Vukovich won in 1953 and 1954 and was leading in 1955 when he was killed, flipping on the back straight. No-one ever won three in a row...

With speeds for a single lap creeping ever closer to 150mph, the Indy 500 continued to pack in the crowds. They were thrilled by the speeds and the crashes, a notable one in 1958 seeing the largest crash in the Speedway's history, car after car piled in, Jerry Unser going over the wall in the chaos! Amazingly no-one was seriously injured.

Ever since 1950 Indy had been a nominal round of the Formula 1 World Championship, and although this ended in 1960, the following years saw the beginnings of a foreign invasion.

The bricks were paved over with asphalt in 1961 and in 1963 Jim Clark arrived with his rear-engined Lotus and the big roadsters were given notice that their days were numbered. AJ Foyt won the last front-engined victory in 1964 and a year later Clark outclassed the field to win the 500. The following year Graham Hill did the same with a Lola, avoiding a huge 11-car pile-up at the start.

In the late Sixties came the new generation who would dominate Indy through to the Eighties: Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock and the Unser Brothers, Bobby and Al. By 1988 Foyt (competing that year in his 30th Indy 500) had won four; Al Unser had matched that, while brother Bobby had three to his name as had Rutherford. Johncock had two and poor Mario Andretti was still trying to add to his first victory back in 1969.

In the Eighties, with speeds up to 200mph, a Californian called Rick Mears emerged, winning three times, while Danny Sullivan, winner in 1985, spun at high speed on his way to an incredible victory.

Tony George, grandson of Tony Hulman, took over the running of the Speedway in January 1990 and he soon added new events to the Indianapolis calendar: the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race and an International Race of Champions and continued the policy of constantly upgrading the facility. He ordered the redesign of the old Speedway Golf Course into the renamed Brickyard Crossing Golf Course which was completed in 1993. This soon became a major event on the Senior PGA Tour. George also established the Indy Racing League in competition to the CART series.

The USA had not staged an F1 Grand Prix since Phoenix in 1991. In 1998 George agreed a deal with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone for Indianapolis to host the United States Grand Prix in 2000 and funded a massive construction program to build a Formula 1 road course on the Indianapolis infield and replace the existing pitlane facilities with new buildings. The 2000 event was a great success, with victory for Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari. The subsequent races have seen slightly smaller crowds but F1 is at Indianapolis to stay and the aim now is to gradually build up interest in F1 in America.

Print