One of the most popular racing circuits in the US today is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the state of Indiana. Its history and that of the world-famous Indianapolis 500 race reaches back to 1908, when the two American entrepreneurs Carl Fischer and Arthur Newby came up with the idea for this important race track.
The automobile was on its lead. Gasoline was suddenly very cheap due to a large oil well detected in Texas, and the early pioneers of automobile history were pushing to prove their vehicles. The brothers Louis, Arthur and Gaston Chevrolet drove already in 1909 at the Indy 500 races. In 1920, Gaston Chevrolet won the 500 mile race with his Frontenac.
Joining two other investors, Fischer and Newby founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company in 1909 and acquired a large plot of land on which to build the racetrack northwest of Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana. Two elongated straight lines, two short straight lines and four raised wall curves formed the 2.5-mile track of gravel and tar.
But already at the first race in 1909 included the first tragedies. The racetrack softened during the race and strong fairways and potholes were formed. During the first three days of the race there were 5 deaths, including two spectators.
Therefore the entire racetrack was completely laid out with over three million bricks in the fall of 1909. This earned the racetrack the nickname „Вrickyard“. There is a myth about the brick line. It was said that one of the bricks was solid gold. It is believed that really one of the stones is gilded. However, the stone was not found yet.
1911 started the first official Indy 500 race. From this time the official race distance was exactly 200 laps, 500 miles (804.5 km) in total. The winner of this race was Ray Harroun with his yellow and black Marmon Wasp. This race also brought to light one of the most important automotive inventions, which also found its place in production vehicles. Ray Harroun built in his racing car a rearview mirror to watch the rear approaching racing vehicles. Harroun achieved an average speed of 116.89 km/h during his completed 500 miles.
This race led to a motorsport euphoria in the US and in the next few years more similar high-speed tracks were built. The Indy 500 track has highest demands on man and machine. Continuous driving in circles at maximum speeds of about 380 km/h in our days is extremely stressful for the vehicles.
The years after 1911 brought more and more new drivers on the track. New lap records were driven and the vehicles faster and faster. Well-known manufacturers such as Peugeot, Mercedes, Duesenberg, Miller, Delage and Maserati appeared in the winners lists.
Between 1936 and 1939, the brick line disappeared more and more under an asphalt surface. It is suspected that the historic brick line is still existing under the asphalt. Only the start and finish area a narrow strip with the original bricks. This strip is nowadays a listed building and establishes one of the many famous Indianapolis traditions.
Now, a core drilling in the area of the asphalt racetracks showed that the original brick line still lies beneath the entire layers of tar and asphalt.
Over the years, 13 shifts followed in the 108 years of the racetrack history. In the core drilling but only 11 layers are counted. During maintenance work on the track in 1995 and 2004, the top layer of the pavement was removed.
After the race, the winners kiss the narrow brick strip in the finish area. Another tradition of the Indianapolis 500 race is the sip of milk for the winner. Since 1936, the winner has been drinking a sip of milk from a milk bottle. An allusion to the initial nervousness of the drivers before the most dangerous race in the world. Another tradition is to perpetuate the winner’s portrait in the BorgWarner Challenge-Cup.
Also, the so-called Indianapolis start is a special feature of this race, a flying start in triple formation. Once the green flag is blown, the race is released and the drivers are allowed to overtake. From this moment on, the race is under extreme tension for the driver and the spectators. Because the entire field moves in tight groups at top speeds through the curves. It was this situation and the high number of overtaking maneuvers that tragically brought with it the worst accidents in racing history. Nowhere else did so many pilots lose their lives, as in Indianapolis.
The track wall was made of concrete for a very long time and literally catapulted crashed vehicles into the air. In the meantime, the walls are giving way and safety nets have been built in the bends to intercept the vehicles.
Also the starting qualification for the Indy 500 races is unique. Qualifying runs take place for 3 days before each race. Each driver has three qualifying rounds, of which only the last lap counts. On the first day, the qualifications for the first eleven places will take place, on the second day the places 12 to 22 and on the third day the places 23 to 33. On the 4th day there is the possibility for more drivers to get better times than the the already qualified driver. If this succeeds one of the drivers, the previously placed driver is deleted and the driver with the new best time will replace him.
This qualification, however, only applies since the 30s. Before that, the starting places were given after registering. The first applicant was allowed to start from the first starting position, the last applicant had to start from the last row.
Between 1950 and 1960, the Indianapolis circuit was part of the Formula 1 World Championship due to the amended FIA regulations. Otherwise, Indianapolis remained relatively unnoticed by the Europeans. Only a few European drivers participated in the races. Between 1919 and 1988, only American drivers won the races. With Jim Clarke and Graham Hill only in 1965 and 1966 two Britons won the Indy 500 race.
A milestone in Indianapolis history was the participation of a Cooper race car of Jack Brabham in the Indy race. Mocked at first, this participation was designed to change fundamentally the history of Indianapolis. Ford took over the concept of the rear engine and from the beginning of the 70s only rear-wheel drive cars drove the 500 miles of Indianapolis.
As legendary as the race itself are the pace cars, which drive ahead of the flying start. Carl Fischer wanted to increase the safety of the race right from the start and started using the so-called pace car very early on. These vehicles are provided since 1948 exclusively by Chevrolet, including from 1978 Corvettes, Mustangs and from 1988 the Camaro SS Convertible. Today, these historic pace cars generate high revenues at auctions. But also the pace cars haven’t an accident-free history. In 1971, the Dodge Challenger Pace Car got out of control after the start of the race by the green flag and drove into the press tribune. Miraculously, there were only minor injuries. In the pace car sat the former astronaut John Glenn.
Every year almost 400,000 people watch the big Indianapolis race every. So many viewers grasp the entire area of Indianapolis. In the 1970s, the interior of the racetrack was a much sought-after camp site, for which fans waited up to 3 days to get as close to the racetrack as possible. But the increased number of accidents and the tightening of security measures meant that the interior was blocked from the 80s.
Due to the extreme speeds of the vehicles, the accidents are usually very dramatic. In the 100 years of the Indy 500 race over 60 people were killed, including mechanics, marshals and spectators.
Since the 60s, the racing cars drive with ethanol. Highly flammable, this fuel is extremely dangerous in the event of an accident. Many of the crashed vehicles caught fire immediately. The calorific value of methanol is much lower than that of gasoline, which meant more pit stops.
In the early days of Indianapolis, manufacturers and drivers built their own racing cars. Later, the main components such as chassis and engine of a manufacturer were specified. The racing teams may only modify and improve these components. But most of all the driver is required, who must maneuver with great courage at extremely high speeds through the narrow racetrack.
The most famous and successful drivers are A.J. Foyt (overall winner 1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser (overall winner 1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (overall winner 1979, 1984, 1988, 1991).