Indy Track History
Before the first Indy 500 race was held, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had hosted other events. In June of 1909, while the 2.5 mile oval track was still under construction, a helium balloon competition was held. The first motorized race was held two months later - a five-mile motorcycle event, won by A.G. Chapple riding an Indian.
The first automobile racing at the I.M.S. was scheduled to be a three-day event. Beginning on August 19th of 1909, the first race was a two-lap, 5-mile standing-start dash won by Louis Schwitzer. Later that same day, during a 250-mile race, driver Billy Borque and his riding mechanic were fatally injured. The second day of racing saw no major injuries. On the last day of the event, the scheduled 300-mile race was halted at the 235-mile mark, due to another fatal accident. Breakup of the track's crushed rock and tar surface was blamed.
The following month, construction of a new track surface began, with 3.2 million bricks laid on top of the old surface. After the work was completed in December of 1909, the track became known as "The Brickyard".
The first competitive racing on the newly-paved track was a three-day event in May of 1910. The first race on the new brick surface was a five-mile dash, won by Louis Chevrolet driving a Buick. The next day, Ray Harroun, driving his #32 Marmon Wasp race car, won the 200-mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy. Harroun also won the 50-mile race for the Remy Grand Brassard trophy, held on the third day. The event drew over 50,000 spectators, prompting the track owners to schedule similar large-scale events every year.
Originally known as the 'International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race', the 2.5 mile oval in Speedway, Indiana plays host annually to the largest motorsports event in the world, the Indianapolis 500. With the exception of the years America was in World Wars 1 and 2, the 500 has been run every year since 1911.
Indy 500 History 1911-1919
The first running of the Indianapolis 500 was open to all car manufacturers. Back in the day, race engines were mostly hand-machined - many builders poured their own blocks and turned and machined their own cranks. Allowable engine displacement was any size up to 600 cubic-inches, and each entry had to demonstrate a minimum speed of 75 mph down the main stretch. Starting positions were determined by the order of entry. During the early years of automobile racing, a ride-along mechanic usually accompanied the driver to monitor oil pressure and let the driver know when traffic was coming.
1911 Indy 500
The inaugural running of the Indy 500 saw Ray Harroun, winner of last year's 200 mile race, start on the outside of row seven, in the 28th position. His single seater #32 Marmon Wasp had been upgraded from a four to six-cylinder engine. Harroun's racer was built for only one man, the driver, which not only streamlined the car but also reduced the weight by one person. At the time, many considered this to be a safety hazard when running in competition. Some thought he should be banned from the race. As an afterthought, Harroun mounted a rear-view mirror on the hood to watch for traffic behind him. This was the first recorded use of a rear view mirror being mounted to a motorcar. By the eighth lap, he had moved his yellow Marmon Wasp up to seventh position. After driving 6 hours, 42 minutes and 8 seconds to complete the 500 mile event, Ray Harroun became the first Indy 500 race winner.
Ray Harroun also holds another Indy 500 record - no-one has ever come from the 28th (or worse) starting position and won the race. Not surprisingly, the Marmon's average speed of 74.602 mph would stand as the slowest in Indy 500 history. Other notables from the first Indy 500 include the highest number of cars running at the finish - 26.
1912 Indy 500
When track owner Carl Fisher increased the total purse to $50,000 and first prize to $20,000, the Indianapolis 500 became the highest paying sporting event in the world. 1912's winner was Joe Dawson, driving a National Motor Vehicle Company race car.
1913 Indy 500
Jules Goux, driving a Peugeot, took the checkered flag. The Peugeot engine was DOHC 7.6 litre four-cylinder using four valves per cylinder, allowing an average speed of 75.92 mph and straightaway speeds of over 93 mph. (Peugeot was first to have an engine with two overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.) Goux's car was the first car to win using wire wheels instead of wooden-spoke wheels. He was also the first Indy 500 winner to complete the race without a relief driver, as well as the first European driver to win the 500.
1914 Indy 500
Georges Boillot's 3 litre L5 Peugeot set a new Indy lap record of 99.5 mph, much faster than the closest competitor, but tire issues plagued him throughout the race. He ended up finishing in 14th place. Ex-Peugeot driver Rene Thomas won in a 380 cubic-inch (6,235cc) Delage. This year saw the first Duesenberg entries in the Indianapolis 500. They finished in 10th and 12th place.
1915 Indy 500
Ralph DePalma, driving a Mercedes-Benz for E.C. Patterson, is the first Italian-born Indy 500 champion.
1916 Indy 500
Because of the World War in Europe, this year's race covered only 300 miles - the only Indianapolis 500 scheduled for less than 500 miles. Seven of the cars entered were by the Speedway or its owners. Driving for Peugeot Auto Racing Company, Dario Resta became the sixth Indy 500 winner.
During America's involvement in World War One, no races were run in 1917 or 1918. After the War, the Indy 500 race was referred to as the "Liberty Sweepstakes".
1919 Indy 500
New engine rulings for 1919 reduced allowable engine size to 450 cubic-inches. In the third turn on the 44th lap of the race, Arthur Thurman's Duesenberg turned over. He was killed instantly, and his co-pilot Molinaro was critically injured. On lap ninety-six, Louis LeCocq's car turned over, rupturing the fuel tank. The car burst into flames, killing LeCocq and his riding mechanic. Howdy Wilcox, who started in 2nd, led the last 98 laps to win the race.
Photos courtesy of John Trotta