Little Bits of History

Not Yet the Brickyard

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 19, 2015
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

August 19, 1909: The first car race takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carl Graham Fisher was an Indianapolis businessman who made car parts as well as developed highways for America. He visited France in 1905 and helped with friends who were racing their cars there. He noticed the cars were of better design and craftsmanship. He wanted to make it possible to improve American cars and that took testing grounds. At the time, races were held at horse tracks or on public roads, but that was dangerous. The races were also ineffective for testing the abilities of the cars. The spectators were also not given much for their money as they could only see a short portion of the entire race. He proposed a racetrack be built for cars, with a circular track with a smooth surface between 3 and 5 miles long and 100 to 150 feet wide. Manufacturers could use the track to test their cars when races were not held.

Fisher felt speed of 120 mph could be reached on a 5 mile course but the curves would need to be banked. Indianapolis was in the forefront of car manufacturing at the time and so he looked for land there and purchased Pressley Farm (328 acres of flat land) about 5 miles outside Indianapolis. He got some partners together and they incorporated Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company on March 20, 1909. Construction of the track began that same month. They had to downsize to a 2.5 mile oval with a 2 mile road course in order to leave room for grandstands. It took 500 laborers, 300 mules, and steam powered machinery to pack and grade the land and then cover it with special stones. The grandstands could seat 12,000. The colors were white with green stripes throughout the racetrack.

The first event ever held there took place on June 5, 1909 before the track was completed. Nine hot air balloons took off from the field and raced for trophies. The lift off was witnessed by 40,000 people. Universal City won when it landed 382 miles away, having remained aloft for over 24 hours. The first motorized race took place on August 14, two days after the track officially opened. Seven motorcycle races were sponsored by the Federation of American Motorcycles. It was hoped to be a 15 race, two day event, but after the first day, there was concern over the surface’s appropriateness for motorcycles.

On this day, 15 carmaker teams arrived at the track for practice. The surface of the road was again a concern. Since it wasn’t paved, the drivers were covered with dirt, oil, and tar and ruts and chuckholes formed. The surface was oiled and rolled just before the races began in front of 15-20,000 people. Wilfred Bourque suffered a rear-axle failure and his car flipped end over end before crashing into a post. Both he and his mechanic died at the scene. Four of the cars finished the 250 mile event and two land speed records were made. Concern over safety led the AAA officials to consider cancelling the rest of the events. Fisher promised the track would be fixed for the next day’s events which were held in front of 20,000 spectators. There were no major accidents nor any speed records. On the third and final day, 30,000 showed up for a 300 mile race and again disaster struck and the race was called. The owners looked into the possibility of paving the track, still a new technology at the time.

Finishing races is important, but racing is more important. – Dale Earnhardt

I will continue to get behind the wheel of a racing car as long as I am able. But that could all end tomorrow. – Paul Newman

Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting. – Steve McQueen

Racing is a matter of spirit not strength. – Janet Guthrie

Also on this day: “Milk from Contented Cows” – In 1856, Gail Borden received a patent for condensed milk.
The Old Wes – In 1895, John Wesley Hardin, Texas outlaw, was shot.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral – In 1768, the Russian cathedral was founded.
Caesar – In 43 BC, Augustus came to power.
Not Just in the US – In 1612, the Samlesbury, England witch trials were held.


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