First Indianapolis 500 held

First Indianapolis 500 held

On May 30, 1911, Ray Harroun drives his single-seater Marmon Wasp to victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500, now one of the world’s most famous motor racing competitions.

The Indiana automobile dealer Carl Fisher first proposed building a private auto testing facility in 1906, in order to address car manufacturers’ inability to test potential top speeds of new cars due to the poorly developed state of the public roadways. The result was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, built on 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis. The idea was that occasional races at the track would pit cars from different manufacturers against each other in order to showcase their full power and entice spectators to check out the new models themselves. In 1911, Fisher and his partners decided to focus on one long race per year, as opposed to numerous shorter events, in order to attract more publicity. The purse for the grueling 500-mile race would be the richest in racing.

On May 30, 1911, 40 cars lined up at the starting line for the first Indy 500. A multi-car accident occurred 13 laps into the race, and the ensuing chaos temporarily disrupted scoring, throwing the finish into dispute when the eventual runner-up, Ralph Mulford, argued that he was the rightful winner. It was Ray Harroun, however, who took home the $14,250 purse, clocking an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes. The Wasp was the first car with a rear-view mirror, which Harroun had installed in order to compensate for not having a mechanic in the seat next to him to warn of other cars passing.

Impressive as it was, Harroun’s 1911 speed would have finished him 10th in the 1922 Indy 500. Barely a decade later, nearly all the cars that started in the race were smaller, lighter, more efficient and far more expensive than consumer cars. Their aerodynamic bodies featured narrow grills and teardrop-shaped tails; knock-off wire wheels made for quick, efficient tire changes; and the new straight-sided tires lasted much longer than their early pneumatic counterparts. The best cars were equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes and inline 3.0-liter V-8 engines made of aluminum. By the mid-1920s, the Indy 500 had become what it is today–a high-paying event for the world’s most expensive cars.


Out of Our Past: Indy 500 driver in Richmond-made car sacrificed glory to save man's life

The Indy 500 is held annually over the Memorial Day weekend. A Richmond-made car, Harry Knight’s Westcott number seven, shown wrecked, made history at that race in 1911. (Photo: Photo provided)

May 31, in history:

  • In 1790, the U.S. enacted the Copyright Act of 1790.
  • In 1819, Walt Whitman, American poet, the Father of Free Verse and author of "Leaves of Grass," was born.
  • In 1859, the Philadelphia A's organized to play "town ball," which became baseball 20 years later.
  • In 1870, E. J. DeSemdt patented asphalt pavement.
  • In 1879, William Henry Vanderbilt renamed New York City’s Gilmore’s Garden to Madison Square Garden and opened it to the public. He named it after fourth President James Madison.
  • In 1884, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented "flaked cereal.”
  • In 1911, the RMS Titanic launched in Belfast.
  • In 1927, after the creation of 15,007,003 Model T cars, the Ford Company ceased production. Richmond’s Model T Ford Museum at 309 N. Eighth features a first and last-styled Model T, and others.
  • In 1950, due to rain, the Indianapolis 500 race was shortened to 345 miles.
  • In 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school integration "with all deliberate speed.”
  • In 1956, Buddy Holly wrote "That'll be the Day" after seeing the John Wayne film "The Searchers."
  • In 1961, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years as a member of the Screaming Eagles fighting squad. A year later he broke his ankle during a parachute jump and was honorably discharged.
  • In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the iconic "Give Peace a Chance.”
  • In 1976, The Who set the record for the loudest concert of all time, 120 decibels at 50 meters at the Valley sports stadium in Charlton, London, England.
  • In 1991, Minnie Munro at age 102 married Dudley Reid, aged 83, in Australia. She became the oldest bride on record.
  • In 2016, Alicia Keys announced she would stop wearing makeup.
  • In 2018, Kim Kardashian West met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss prison reform.

Meanwhile, the week of May 31, 1911, was quite an exciting time in Indiana.

A courageous man driving a Richmond-made car won the hearts of over 80,000 fans and stole the headlines from the actual winner at the first Indianapolis 500.

The Indy 500 is held annually over the Memorial Day weekend and is the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

The first 500-mile race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday, May 30, 1911. To qualify, entries had to maintain an excess of 75 mph for over a quarter mile.

Previously the races had been smaller races of less duration, but management scheduled a large-scale event to attract widespread participation from American and European racing teams.

This first race was a spellbinder that has never been repeated, and a testament of human courage and sacrifice that is the heart and soul of sport.

Ray Harroun, piloting a Marmon "Wasp," outfitted his car with his new invention — a rear-view mirror — and raced it to victory, but it was a man driving a Richmond-made car that won the hearts of over 80,000 spectators paying a dollar apiece to witness the first-ever competition.

The headline read: HARRY KNIGHT, IN A RICHMOND WESTCOTT, PURPOSELY WRECKS CAR TO PREVENT KILLING A MAN.

The unthinkable occurred 196 laps into what became the world’s most famous race.

Young Harry Knight, new to racing, was born Aug. 6, 1889 in Jonesboro, Indiana. His family was poor and existence was tough. At age 13, Knight worked as a bellboy at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis, and later as a garage mechanic. He impressed one of the club's regulars, Russell B. Harrison, the son of former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. After introductions, Benjamin Harrison employed young Knight, only 14 years of age, as his chauffeur. Working for the ex-president helped Harry Knight learn a lot about driving when he took up sport racing years later.

In his second year of competition, the prestigious new 500-mile event presented itself and Harry Knight became the driver of the Richmond-made Westcott car. He also won the hand of a beautiful Hungarian dancer named Jennie Dollie, in Indianapolis. The announcement of their prospective marriage was contingent upon Knight making big money at the race, according to the May 30, 1911, Indianapolis Star.

Knight’s Hungarian honey wired him prior to the race: ‘Wish you all the luck. God shall be with you. – Love Jennie’

Knight received the wire at the race pits while tuning his car.

The Indy Star reported, “When questioned as to whether he expected to win a bride as well as fame, Knight smiled and said, ‘Wait and see.’”

Young Knight, who started competitive racing in 1910, was known as a fast and wild driver, which he quickly proved in the inaugural Indy 500.

The starting signal was given. The cars were off and running.

One hundred and ninety-six laps later Knight was in third place and gaining, when another car that had left the pits with a broken steering knuckle malfunctioned. The unwieldy machine swerved out of control and banked off a cement wall - and wobbled to the middle of the congested track.

According to the Richmond Palladium, “A half dozen thundering machines bore down upon it.”

To avoid a smash-up, mechanic C.L. Anderson jumped toward the car to shove the crippled machine back to the wall before it was struck. As he jumped to the track, a rear wheel passed over his foot and he was thrown flat on his back mid-track in front of the cars.

“If ever a man was within a hair’s breath of eternity without going across, C.L. Anderson had that distinction… Lying there in the midst of 40 machines passing the spot two seconds apart at more than 70 miles an hour, it seemed that that C.L.’s time had come.

“At the prospect of seeing a man mangled alive and ground to death, the crowd arose and awaited in horror shrieking…

“Starter Fred Wagner ran into the course and vainly sought to stop the race. The riders couldn’t stop, but two swerved aside miraculously without hitting Anderson or the stranded car… It happened so quick it was over before anyone realized what occurred. Harry Knight was next. The Richmond Westcott sped along at almost eighty miles an hour with Knight and mechanic John Glover inside. Knight saw Anderson in his path a split second before hitting him… Thundering along at break-neck speed, two courses of action were open to Knight as he glimpsed the prostrate man on the ground: he could hold the car straight and run over Anderson — or he could turn to the pits to his right, with just a slight chance of escaping death or injury, and purposely crash.

“While spectators stood in the grandstand with breath bated, gazing horrified at the scene, in the twinkling of an eye a snap decision had to be made or a gristly catastrophe would surely result… The 22-year-old Harry Knight made his decision and turned his car toward the pits, at the same time jamming his emergency brake to stop.

“Instantly applying the emergency brakes at this speed, at the risk of his life, Knight caused the machine to perform one of the strangest pirouettes in auto history. The sharp turn made his car slide on the oily track. Burning rubber created a smoky vista as it skidded and turned entirely around facing the opposite direction… The pent-up speed, the terrifying momentum checked by the skid and whirl, broke it loose from the pavement and the car launched airborne as if shot from a canon, and clipping the stalled car in the rear hurtling over it… The flying Westcott caught part of the broken car’s debris and turned it completely athwart, knocking it toward the pit, from which four men scrambled out for their lives…

“The impact of both race cars caused the mechanic in the Westcott, John Glover, to be hurled about 20 feet. He landed beyond the pits in a muddy pool with a wrenched back and contusions.

“Knight clung to the wheel until the car smashed into the grounds… then was thrown like a rag-doll out the side.”

The Westcott smashed up against a post, completely wrecked.

“I didn’t hit him, I didn’t hit him!” were the first words Knight cried.

Many witnesses thought had it not been for the accident, the youthful driver of the Richmond car might have won.

The Palladium scribed: “By his choice of risking his life rather than to take that of a prostrate comrade, Harry Knight forfeited his chance of winning the race, or at of least placing his Richmond car at the finish. He was in third place when the accident happened, and running well up with the leaders.”

Young Harry Knight captured the hearts of racing fans everywhere at the first Indianapolis 500-mile race when he risked his life to save a mechanic sprawled in the middle of the track.

The 22-year-old driver won more adulation than the race winner.

His heroism was described in detail by national news outlets. Bulletins of his condition as he recovered from a severe brain concussion and bruises were issued from Indianapolis Methodist Hospital.

He was later recommended for the hero’s medal presented by the Carnegie Hero Commission because “he sacrificed fame and glory” as a race leader and wrecked his car to avoid killing another man.

He had driven a car made in Richmond, and won the hearts of over 80,000 racing fans at the first Indianapolis 500 on May 31, 1911.

The sacrifice cost him the race.

And more. Knight did not marry the Hungarian dancer to which he was betrothed. No record can be found of their wedding.

Sadly the young man dubbed the "hero of Indianapolis" after his quick thinking to save the life of a hapless mechanic in the first Indianapolis 500, tragically lost his life two years later, at the age of 24, in a Columbus, Ohio 200-mile dirt track race.


First Indianapolis 500 held - HISTORY

Construction began in March 1909, with ambitious
plans to start racing by the Fourth of July. Then reality
set in. Fisher's vision of a three-mile oval surrounding
a two-mile road course became two 2.5-mile circuits
in order to leave room for grandstands. The final
Speedway consisted of four quarter-mile-long turns
linked by two five-eighths-mile straights and two
eighth-mile short chutes with the corners banked at
9.2 degrees. (Although the road course was dropped
from the century-ago plans, construction of an inner
circuit commenced in 1998 in preparation for Indy's
first Formula 1 race.)

The Dry Run creek running across a corner of the
property also posed problems. Construction
superintendent P. T. Andrews feared that the sixty
days allotted for grading might not be enough, so the
summer 1909 schedule was revised to hold a balloon
event in June and inaugural races in August.

Five hundred laborers, 300 mules, and a fleet of
steam-powered machinery reshaped the landscape.
The track surface consisted of graded and packed
soil covered by two inches of gravel, two inches of
limestone covered with taroid (a solution of tar and
oil), one to two inches of crushed stone chips that
were also drenched with taroid, and a final topping
of crushed stone. Steamrollers compressed each
layer.

Another army of workers constructed dozens of
buildings, several bridges, grandstands with 12,000
seats, and an eight-foot perimeter fence. A
white-with-green-trim paint scheme was used
throughout the property.

On the evening of June 5, 1909, nine gas-filled
balloons lifted off at Indy, "racing" for adulation and
silver trophies. University City, the winner of the
Speedway's first competitive event, landed 382
miles away in Alabama after spending more than a
day aloft.

Thirty-five thousand spectators showed up for Indy's
third day of speed trials and races in spite of hot,
humid weather. Oldfield wowed the fans by boosting
the world kilometer record to 85 mph in his Benz. The
cigar-chomping celebrity also won the day's fourth
event with ease.

Nineteen racers took the flag in the grand finale,
a 300-mile run for the $10,000 Wheeler-Schebler
trophy. During the first 100 miles of dusty
competition, six cars dropped out. At 175 miles, the
right front tire blew on Charlie Merz's car. His
out-of-control National mowed down five south-end
fence posts, toppled spectators like bowling pins,
and achieved a reported 50-foot altitude. The lucky
Merz sustained only minor injuries, but two spectators
and his mechanic, Claude Kellum, perished.

Ten laps later, a Marmon driven by Bruce Keen spun
into a bridge support after hitting a pothole. Flagman
Wagner promptly halted the race with 94 of the
planned 120 laps completed. Since the event ended
early, the remaining cars received engraved
certificates instead of trophies.

The following day, newspapers railed against the
carnage. A Detroit News editorial deemed racing
"more brutal than bull fighting, gladiatorial combats,
or prize fighting." The AAA moved to boycott future
Indianapolis events unless Speedway management
addressed safety shortcomings.

Fisher and his partners agreed that motorsports
wouldn't thrive without major track improvements.
Construction engineer Andrews suggested paving
the entire racing surface with either bricks or
concrete. Bricks were twice as expensive, but they'd
last longer and provide superior traction, in his
opinion.

Since the first mile of paved public road was also
under construction in 1909, Speedway owners had
no experience on which to base their decision.
Traction tests were conducted, proving the brick
approach to be clearly superior. Funds were
authorized to begin the repaving project less than a
month after the pioneering racers left the track.

Five Indiana manufacturers supplied 3.2 million ten-
pound bricks, which were each hand laid over a
two-inch sand cushion. After the surface was leveled
with a steamroller, gaps were filled with mortar. To
safeguard spectators, a 33-inch-high concrete wall
was also constructed in front of the main grandstand
and around all four turns.

Although it was too late in the season to resume
racing, eleven drivers and a few motorcycles returned
in December for speed trials. Hardy spectators
braved winds and 10-degree temperatures to witness
Walter Christie top 100 mph in his purpose-built,
front-wheel-drive racer and his nephew, Lewis Strang,
achieve 112 mph in a Fiat. Race starter Wagner
issued two proclamations: that the Speedway was
now "a wonderful track and will allow for the speed
that any car today has stored away in it" and that
"100 mph is as fast as the American public will care
for."

Give the man half credit. During the next seven years,
no drivers and only one riding mechanic died racing at
the Brickyard. However, Wagner underestimated the
typical fan's zest for speed. No tears were shed in
1919 when René Thomas was the first pole-winner to
qualify over 100 mph or when Tom Sneva cracked the
200-mph barrier in 1978.

Troubled by poor eyesight and a short attention span,
Carl Fisher dropped out of school at age twelve.
After racing, repairing, and selling bicycles, he
became one of America's first car dealers, in
affiliation with racer Barney Oldfield. In 1904, Fisher
and fellow bike racer James Allison each invested a
reported $2500 to manufacture Prest-O-Lite
automobile headlamps Union Carbide bought
control years later for $9 million. At a dinner party for
auto manufacturers in 1912, the intrepid Fisher
proposed building America's first transcontinental
road, which became the Lincoln Highway. The Dixie
Highway, a road system connecting Michigan's
Upper Peninsula with Miami, was his next bold
stroke. Fisher's hot streak continued with real-estate
developments in Miami Beach and Montauk Point,
New York. A devastating hurricane and the 1929
stock-market crash wiped out Fisher's fortune, but
his legacy, as described by Will Rogers, was having
achieved "more unique things . . . than any man I
ever met."

Allison, Fisher's longtime ally, brought stability to their
ventures. Coincidentally, he also left school at age
twelve. Allison, Fisher, and a third Speedway founder,
Arthur Newby, met at the Zig-Zag Cycling Club. It was
allegedly Allison's idea to shift the Speedway's focus
from several short events to one spectacular
endurance race per year, beginning in 1911. His
precision machine shop located near the track
manufactured tanks, trucks, and Liberty V-12 aircraft
engines during World War I. Following Allison's death
in 1928, General Motors acquired Allison
Engineering, which built aircraft V-12s for World War
II and jet engines thereafter. More recently, Allison
engineers also conceived GM's two-mode hybrid
system.

The Newby Oval, a quarter-mile, steeply banked
velodrome, was the magnet that drew together three
of Indy's founders. Under Newby's leadership, the
National Motor Vehicle Company in Indianapolis
progressed from building electric runabouts to
gasoline-powered cars.

The fourth founder was Frank Wheeler, who claimed
to have lost two fortunes before arriving in
Indianapolis in 1904 and joining with George
Schebler to manufacture carburetors. Their firm
sponsored Indy's first trophy, a towering Tiffany cup.
Wheeler tried to spread Indy magic to a grandiose
Minnesota track after that venture failed, he sold his
Speedway interests to Allison in 1917.

Louis Schwitzer, who had no hand in the
Speedway's creation, deserves honorable mention
for winning Indy's first race in a Stoddard-Dayton.
Competing against four other stock-chassis cars in
a five-mile sprint, Schwitzer averaged 57 mph, led
both laps, and won by a 150-foot margin. Schwitzer
had earlier emigrated from Austria with two
engineering degrees and $18 in his pocket.
Following stints at Pierce-Arrow and a Canadian car
company, he helped design the engine that powered
Ray Harroun's Marmon to victory at the first Indy 500
race in 1911. Schwitzer headed the Speedway's
technical committee from 1912 through 1940. Also,
an Indianapolis company he established
manufactured superchargers and turbochargers. In
1952, a Kurtis Kraft roadster powered by a
Schwitzer-turbocharged Cummins diesel qualified
on the pole at Indy.


The Indianapolis 500: A Fast Look Back

For the first time since the very first race in 1911, the Indianapolis 500 was held in August. There were a few years where world wars kept it from happening at all, but the 103 races that did happen took place on or near Memorial Day.

The pandemic of 2020 couldn't cancel the running of the 104th Indy 500, but it did bump it to August 23, when Takuma Sato won for the second time. This was also the first Indianapolis 500 under the ownership of Roger Penske's Penske Entertainment Corporation. And—most unusually—the first race without spectators.

In years to come, the 2020 Indy 500 will be noted in HOT ROD articles on the history of Indy. Four years ago, for the 100th race, HOT ROD's Thom Taylor compiled a brief look back over a century of significant highlights. Here is Taylor's 2016 story revisited, along with some '50s and '60s Indy photos from the HR archives. —Tim Bernsau

Celebrating the 100th Running of the Indy 500

On a sunny, cool Tuesday morning in 1911, 90,000 spectators showed up to see 40 race cars𠅊ll but one with both a driver and "riding mechanic"—race for what today would be over a quarter-million dollars, with bets allowed in local bars on which drivers would be killed before the race ended. After all, adorned in only street clothes and cloth or leather helmets, with roll bars and seat belts decades in the future, the odds where not if someone would be killed, but which ones. Almost seven hours later, Ray Harroun, driving his Marmon Wasp went down in history as the first winner of the Indy 500. He quit racing for good immediately after the race. And riding mechanic Sam Dickson was the only brickyard fatality from that first race.

Ninety-nine Indy 500 races later, we are set to witness the 100th running of the "Greatest Spectacle In Racing." With more than 100 years of racing history, the Speedway story is lush with drivers, races, cars and builders, eager to claim a small part of the immortality that goes with all that it takes to win what has become the most watched sporting event in the world.

Too much controversy, too many stories, and thousands of cars and drivers have passed through the gates to the Speedway, as well as millions of spectators, for us to present much more than a blink at the race, but here are some highlights to give you just a small sense of the enormity of all that the Indy 500 represents.

First race winner Harroun was an engineer for Marmon, and he was also the 1910 AAA defending national champion. About midway through the race, he took the lead and never looked back, partially due to being the first ever use a rearview mirror. Surprisingly, only 14 cars fell out of the smoke, dirt, and tires slapping the bricks on that May day.

Indianapolis was an apropos place to hold a race devoted to improving the development of the automobile—which was how the race was marketed, as it was the center of the automotive universe at that time, with Detroit coming in a close second. Besides their vision of conducting the world's greatest race, owners Carl Fisher and James Allison (who together also owned the Prest-O-Lite headlamp company) also visualized the city of Indianapolis becoming the "world's first horseless city," which neatly capitalized on the city's main export and most visible spectacle. It was estimated that more than 80,000 of the spectators for that first race came by train.

This was an international race and continues to be so today. Mercedes and also Benz, before their merger in 1926, Peugeot𠅏ielding the first dual overhead-cam (DOHC) engine in 1912, and Fiat, all represented Europe with Simplex, Buick, Lozier, and Case the American entries with at least two cars each. In these early days of the Indy 500, Peugeot, Delage and Mercedes took the majority of wins through 1920. The most dominate American companies fielding top-5 finishes were hometown favorite Stutz, and New Jersey's Mercer.

No races were held in 1917 and 1918 because of World War I, and when racing resumed in 1919, American Howdy Wilcox, driving one of the house Peugeots, won what would become an American-dominated race both in terms of drivers and cars built. Duesenberg- and especially Harry Miller-built race cars would dominate the Speedway up to the next gap in racing for World War II. Miller race cars were the most exquisite, finely machined, and engineered cars possibly ever to race here, incorporating unique DOHC engines, front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and taking the concept of removing weight out of the cars to new heights. Even Miller's shift knobs were cast hollow to save weight. Duesenberg and Miller traded off victories throughout the 1920s, until Miller dominated Indy, taking consecutive wins from 1928 to 1938 with either Miller-powered or Miller-built cars.

Fred Offenhauser, a former Miller draftsman, developed the Offenhauser engine based on previous Miller designs he purchased when Miller went bankrupt in 1933. This DOHC engine would in one form or another power Indy race cars through its turbocharged iterations into the 1970s, so Miller cast a long shadow over the Speedway for decades. Maserati would finally break the Miller string with one of their Grand Prix masterpieces in 1939, winning again in 1940 and 1941 before cessation due to the looming war.

The Duesenberg/Miller dominance posed problems for the race to draw other manufacturers, and so in 1930 the "junk formula" was initiated to lure more American manufacturers to the track. In time entries would come from Buick, Chrysler, Ford, Graham, Hudson, Hupmobile, Packard, Studebaker. and more.

From 1942 to 1945, racing was suspended for the war. After WWII, the track needed major renovations from disuse. In late 1945, it was sold to businessman Anton "Tony" Hulman, who initiated major improvements to restore the track and stadium in time for the 1946 500 race, also ushering in the beginnings of the Indy Roadsters. Aircraft development for the war effort created a perfect storm of innovation, lighter weight materials, and pockets of fabricators, engineers, and people knowledgeable about aircraft construction throughout the country, which hot-wired a string of shops and builders ready to take on Indy.

Frank Kurtis entered his Ross Page Kurtis roadster in the 1946 race, with its light tube chassis where frame rails had been the common direction, and offset driveline countering the weight of the driver. This would become his prototype for the prolific Kurtis Kraft series of roadsters and all Indy roadsters for years to come. By 1950, Kurtis roadsters would go on to win almost every Indy 500 through the rest of the 1950s. Kurtis' construction innovations rubbed off on other race car builders including A.J. Watson, Ernie Trevis, George Silah, and George Bignotti, who adapted their unique takes on Kurtis' building triumphs.

The 1960s were known as the "British invasion" for more than just music. From the success of Grand Prix racing in Europe, the rear-engine revolution began at the Brickyard with the introduction of Formula I World Champion Jack Brabham's 1961 entry𠅊 tiny Cooper powered by a Coventry Climax engine, which had been gaining favor in European racing for years in road racing, including Formula I and II. Finishing in the Top 10, the handling of the seemingly underpowered, independently suspended machine signaled the advantages of its engine location. In 1965 Jimmy Clark won with a Colin Chapman-built mid-engine Lotus 38 powered by a Ford four-cam V-8 with fuel injection, marking the end of the front-engine roadster forever at Indy.

Not to be outdone, Dan Gurney developed his Eagle chassis, which featured an aluminum riveted monocoque design. When fitted with Ford quad-cam V-8s, they competed handily with the European Formula I cars repurposed for Indy.

By 1972, McLaren chassis running turbocharged Offy engines became the combo of choice, winning in 1972, 1974, and 1976. The 1972 win was also a milestone as the first of many for Penske Racing's car owner Roger Penske at Indy, which continued with a couple of dry spells right up to last year's win, for a total of 16 victories at the Brickyard, with 17 pole position starts. No other team in Indy history has had as many victories as Penske Racing, nor have any been successful for as long a period.

With the introduction of the Cosworth engine in 1976, it dominated the rest of the decade and well into the 1980s to such an extent that many years virtually the entire 33-car field was powered by the DFX version of the Cosworth. It won Indy for 10 consecutive years starting in 1978, and by the end of that reign was producing more than 840 horsepower.

American chassis during this period where gone, replaced by English builders March and Lola, and powered by off the shelf engines from Cosworth or Ilmore Engineering. These combos were deviations of Formula I race cars adapted for Indycar teams.

Into the 1990s, Lola and Reynard chassis were used, with powerplants transitioning from the Cosworth DFX, replaced by the 4-liter Ilmore engine branded first as Chevy and then as Mercedes starting in 1995. A purpose-designed pushrod V-8 was also developed by Ilmore that won the race in 1994 raced by Penske. A few Buick V-6 engines were also competitive in the early 1990s, but had trouble lasting the entire race.

Starting in 2012, all chassis have been supplied by the Italian chassis builder Dallara, powered by either the Chevy or Honda 2.2-liter turbocharged V-6 powerplants. The engine also dictates the aerodynamic package that the chassis uses, making identification of what powers the car a little easier to determine during the race.

We would be remiss if we didn't at least touch on the sanctioning body politics which has played such havoc on Indy 500 racing over the last 20 years. In 1978 Roger Penske, Pat Patrick, and Dan Gurney founded the Championship Auto Racing Teams or CART with several other team owners to oversee open wheel racing in the US, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. They felt that too much emphasis on money, points and marketing was placed on the Indy 500 and not enough on the rest of the racing series. Indy 500 racing was still sanctioned by United States Auto Club or USAC, but CART included it in their series, though it was not the sanctioning body.

Wanting to expand the Indy 500's significance in open wheel racing and also offer a cheaper alternative, the Speedway's head Tony George started a new sanctioning body called Indy Racing League (IRL). As mentioned earlier, in 1994 Penske spent plenty to develop a pushrod V-8 that capitalized on a loophole for that year's Indy 500. But many saw the move as increasing the dollar drain many teams were experiencing, and George saw the IRL as a means to reign in spending with new rules the IRL would institute. By 1996, George tried to prevent CART from racing at the Indy 500, allowing only IRL members onto the track. Lawsuits and countersuits started flying between the two bodies, focused mainly on their respective licenses and trademarks. By 1997 George instituted spec changes that increasingly separated CART and IRL cars to the extent that no longer could a team field a single car changed out for the two sanctioning bodies' races.

Soon CART scheduled competing races opposite IRL races, including the Indy 500. CART was considered to have had the better teams and drivers, but as the lure of the Brickyard gained over the years, better teams and drivers began to enrich the IRL, which weakened CART and ultimately put them into bankruptcy.


May 30, 1911: First Indianapolis 500: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

On May 30, 1911, one of auto racing’s top 3 events was born with the initial running of the Indianapolis 500. (The other 2 of the 3 most prestigious auto races are the 24 Hours at Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix, with the 3 races combined referred to as the Triple Crown of Auto Racing.)

Digging Deeper

Built in 1909 as a primitive asphalt track (using gravel and tar) the fragility of the surface caused the owner to repave the track surface with 3.2 million bricks. Cost of the brick paving: $155,000, a big chunk of change in those days, especially with auto racing in its infancy. A concrete wall was also built around the track to (hopefully) keep the cars off the spectators.

The first use of the new brick surface was a 200 mile race on Memorial Day weekend 1910, which drew a crowd of 60,000. It must have been apparent to sponsors that they were on to something good. Ray Harroun won that race in a Marmon (made by Marmon Motor Car Company located right there in Indianapolis). The following year, when the first 500 mile even was held, Harroun won that first ever Indy 500 driving another Marmon. Racing teams were competing for a whopping $25,000 purse, which if that does not seem like a lot, consider that it took almost 80 pounds of pure gold to equal that in those days!

Rules for that first race limited motors to 600 cubic inches and Harroun was the only driver to drive solo without an assistant mechanic in the car with him (to watch oil pressure and look out for other cars). Harroun did not need the extra set of eyes because he employed his own invention, the rear view mirror. Average speed for the winning car was 74.6 mph, a speed you would expect today’s economy cars to match or exceed. (It was not until 1925 that a winner averaged 100 mph.)

Today’s Indy car engines are 2.2 liter twin-turbocharged capable of 650 horsepower, with the 2013 winner averaging 187.4 mph. The first female driver that qualified for the race was Janet Guthrie in 1977, and 8 more women have qualified since then. The highest finish by a woman driver was in 2009 when Danica Patrick finished 3rd. She is also the only woman to lead the race, which she did in 2005 and 2011.

Patrick driving for Rahal Letterman Racing at the 2006 Indianapolis 500

Fact: American World War I flying ace (and #1 race car driver before the war) Eddie Rickenbacker owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1927 to 1945. Today’s owner is Hulman and Company.

The Indy 500 race organizers call the race The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think? If it is not, then what auto race is? Each Memorial Day weekend nearly 400,000 fans crowd the track to vote with their ticket money. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below this article.

If you liked this article and would like to receive notification of new articles, please feel welcome to subscribe to History and Headlines by liking us on Facebook and becoming one of our patrons!


Editor's Picks

Now, Penske will get to experience his first Indy 500 as the man in charge -- in May -- with fans. Even limited to 40% capacity by local pandemic ordinances, the sellout crowd of 135,000 will be the largest gathering of human beings on Earth since the planet was closed in March 2020. That number was reached because Penske and his team met with local and state health and government officials, again and again. Weeks ago, it still looked as if there might be no fans for May. Under Penske's applied pressure, a compromise was reached.

"These are all steps in the right direction, steps toward opening up not just this place, but America," says the man who has won a record 18 Indy 500s as a team owner and will have four Team Penske cars in the field on Sunday (as the big boss, he won't be in the pits, but upstairs in race control). "It's all about returning to what feels normal, what makes you feel like your life is back where you want it to be. For me, that's returning to a full crowd enjoying all the events that make the Indianapolis 500 such an important part of so many people's lives, and that's not just the race -- that's every piece of the experience for every fan."

The billionaire grins. "And that includes me. In the end, I'm still a race fan first."

Penske has missed very few 500s since that first in 1951, and most of those absences were because of politics -- and much of that he admits was by his own doing. The mid-1990s were marred by an American open wheel racing schism between the family that owned IMS and the bulk of the teams that raced there, largely led by Penske. It wound up pushing him so far away from the 500 that he feared he might never return.

It was 25 years ago this week, on May 26, 1996, when Indy ran the race without Penske and wouldn't welcome him back for another five years. He certainly couldn't have foreseen during those dark days that one day he wouldn't simply return to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- he'd own the deed, sold to him by the very family he'd fought with so bitterly 25 years ago.

The descendants of Tony Hulman, the man who saved the dilapidated Speedway from the wrecking ball following World War II, had once singled out Penske as the face of their enemy. But when they approached him secretly in 2019, they did so because they knew that the man known as "The Captain" loved Tony Hulman's racetrack entirely too much not to take the best care of it.

The deal -- worth an estimated $300 million and including the entire IndyCar series -- was finalized the first week of 2020, when that year was still full of promise and hope and not yet, you know, 2020. Even before the deal was finished, Penske had started his strolls of the grounds and his handing out of marching orders for capital improvements, spending $20 million on everything from HD video screens in fan zones to LED lighting in the bathrooms.

Did you know that if you replace flat-top garbage cans with ones that come to a point, it drastically cuts down on the amount of random trash that piles up because people aren't able to set it down atop the cans? Penske learned that by going to Disneyland and studying how the Happiest Place on Earth stays so clean.

"Anyone who has ever worked with him, for him, or even raced against him knows that nothing gets by Roger," says Will Power, the longest tenured of Penske's three drivers. "You don't accomplish what he's accomplished by letting things fall through the cracks."

What Penske really wants to keep from slipping through those cracks are the people who, like him, have been coming to the Speedway their entire lives, some for multiple generations. That starts with updating the toilets. But it continues by making sure that the most hallowed ground of their sports lives remains a constant part of those lives.

When last year's 500 was pushed out of May, Penske made sure the racetrack stayed a focal point of civic activity. It hosted high school and college graduations throughout spring and summer. A facility that could hold a dozen NFL stadiums in its infield provides more than enough room for social distancing.

Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was off for much of last year, but Roger Penske made sure the track wasn't idle. Among events held there was the funeral of Indianapolis police officer Breann Leath, who was shot and killed in April 2020. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

When 24-year-old Indianapolis police officer Breann Leath was gunned down in April 2020, her funeral was the first ever hosted by IMS, with so many fellow officers arriving to give their respects that their police cars lined the entire 2.5-mile rectangular racing surface. The Speedway has also hosted thousands of people in need during the pandemic, first with drive-through testing and now with drive-through vaccinations.

"We have vaccinated more than 90,000 people, right here in Gasoline Alley and on pit road," Penske said proudly on Friday morning. "If you want to get vaccinated today, I can take you there. We're doing them all weekend. The race wasn't going to stop that."

Penske loved to roll large numbers of numbers: 90,000 vaccinations, 235,000 seats (his employees swear he counted them himself), 135,000 tickets sold this May, but also 60,000 ticket credits already applied to next May. He even knows that Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions, the in-house TV production company, has 150 cameras pointed at the racetrack.

Every number The Captain rattles off is part of a larger math problem to which there is likely never to be a final sum. It's all moving too fast for that. The numbers never stop adding up. Kind of like his step total as he perpetually paces around the 560-acre racetrack he now owns.

"As racers, patience isn't really something we're very good at," Penske says less than 48 hours from the green flag of his first "real" Indianapolis 500. "But a lot of people have shown a lot of patience as we have worked toward this goal of this race on Sunday. Then, as soon that happens, we'll move the goal and start after it again."


How the Indy 500 Became the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

The Indianapolis 500 has become the most famous race in motorsports over the last 102 years, combining speed and daring in a heady blend that makes for must-see television.

With speeds topping 220 miles per hour, the race can be a true thrill ride for viewers. But that much speed can also turn deadly in a heartbeat. The race is one of the most dangerous endeavors in all of sports. Fifteen men have died during the Indy 500, with an additional 25 suffering fatal wrecks during practice sessions.

It's a combination of modern technology and hoary tradition unlike any other in sports. The Indy 500 didn't become the greatest spectacle in racing it's always been the greatest show on wheels—as the following signature moments and highlights illustrate so clearly.

1909: The Brickyard Is Born in the Wake of Tragedy

The inaugural race at the newly built Indianapolis Motor Speedway turned out to be a huge disaster. The track, made of crushed rock held together by tar, broke apart, killing two drivers and a spectator in the course of a race that lasted just two laps.

It was rebuilt that same year with 3.2 million bricks to create a safer environment for drivers and fans alike. The "Brickyard" was born.

1911: The First Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 was held for the first time and was a smashing success. Indianapolis all but shut down as legions of fans descended on the city, filling hotels for miles around. More than 80,000 turned out to see 37 drivers compete for a record-setting purse of $27,500. Ray Harroun won the race with an average speed of 74.602 miles per hour.

After the race, the winner, whose car may have featured the first rear-view mirror in automobile history, didn't have much to say, but did have a favor to ask.

"I’m tired," he is reported to have said. "May I have some water, and perhaps a sandwich, please?”

1913: Popping Bottles

The Europeans arrived in force, and Frenchman Jules Goux won the race in his first appearance. It's rumored that he drank six bottles of champagne during pit stops and told the press, "Without the good wine, I could not have won."

Historian Donald Davidson insists that Goux, while admittedly drinking some alcohol during the race, was not three sheets to the wind:

On four of their six stops, Goux and his riding mechanic, Emile Begin, were handed a chilled “half-bottle,” containing about four-fifths of one pint. While they may have consumed some of the content the first time, the later bottles probably served as little more than an expensive form of mouthwash, with the pair following up a small sip by swilling some around in the their mouths and then spitting it out.

1919: Death Stalks the Brickyard

After shutting down for two years while the track served as an airfield during World War I, the race returned with tragic results. Three men died during the running of the race, the first fatalities in Indianapolis 500 history. Arthur Thurman was killed instantly when his car turned over halfway through the race.

Louis Lecocq and his millionaire mechanic Robert Bandini were killed later in the race when their car caught fire after flipping over. It took authorities more than five minutes to extinguish the blaze, and the two men, according to The New York Times, were burned beyond recognition.

1920: Pay Changes Enliven Racing

Change was brewing as race organizers offered a $100 payout for every lap led, according to the book The Indianapolis 500: A Century of Excitement by Ralph Kramer. The monetary incentive led to furious competition throughout the 500 miles, as there was suddenly a compelling reason to risk a delicate car's well-being in the early stages of the race. A driver who led every lap could double the winner's purse of $20,000.

1930: Chet Miller Borrows from the Crowd

Rules changes eliminate the super-charged monsters of the 1920s and replaced them with cars that had more in common with vehicles fans might find in manufacturer's showrooms. Although it wasn't intended as a response to the stock market crash of 1929, the changing nature of the race did open the field to more potential competitors and not just the super wealthy.

The less sophisticated cars came in handy for racer Chet Miller. When a pit stop at Lap 92 revealed a broken front spring, the part was replaced with a spring from a spectator's Model T.

Miller finished 13th, and after the race his pit crew put the spring back on the fan's car.

1936: Meyer's Milk Mustache Starts an Indy Tradition

Two traditions were born on a single day. Race winner Louis Meyer celebrated his victory with a bottle of buttermilk, and the Borg-Warner Trophy was awarded for the first time. The 110-pound trophy cost $10,000 and featured the face of every man who ever won the race:

Unveiled at a 1936 dinner hosted by then-Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the Borg-Warner Trophy was officially declared the annual prize for Indianapolis 500 victors. It was first presented that same year to champion Louis Meyer, who remarked, “Winning the Borg-Warner Trophy is like winning an Olympic medal.”

The trophy is now valued at more than $1 million.

1937: Oil-Soaked Shaw Wins His First 500

Leaking oil profusely, to the point his socks were soaked in it, Wilbur Shaw limped across the finish line just 2.16 seconds ahead of second-place Ralph Hepburn.

It was the most closely-contested finish in Indy 500 history and would remain so until 1982.

Shaw would go on to win the race in 1939 and 1940 as well, becoming the second three-time champion after Meyer. Later, as the general manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he would popularize the saying, "Gentlemen, start your engines."

1949: Television Takes a Turn at Turn 1

Television attempted to capture the majesty of high-stakes racing for the first time as local station WFBM aired the race live. Three cameras were used to document the proceedings, including one at the top of the double-decker grandstand at Turn 1.

Among the action that thrilled home viewers was a fiery crash on Lap 23 that took leader and pole-sitter "Duke" Nalon out of the race. Nalon was lucky to survive and didn't race for two years after his close call.

1955: Vukovich Dies on the Road to History

Tragedy struck Indy as Bill Vukovich, on his way to a historic third consecutive win, died on Lap 57 in a massive accident. Vukovich was leading the race when Rodger Ward's axle broke, flipping his car into the air and creating havoc for everyone on the track.

Vukovich collided with Johnny Boyd and flipped end over end. According to historian Bob Laycock:

I think I'd be short when I say he flipped 20 to 25 feet into the air. He was almost as high up as the trees.

When he landed, he landed next to the Mobil gas tank (north of the bridge) and there was a guy sitting in a chair who just got out of the way. That roadster landed absolutely upside-down and. there was not any space in those cars in that position for the driver. It almost sealed him in.

1967: Turbine Engine Falls $6 Short

After a rain delay forced the race to be postponed a day, A.J. Foyt shocked the racing world by upsetting the prohibitive favorite Parnelli Jones. Driving an innovative STP car with a helicopter turbine engine, Jones took a commanding lead and was out front for 171 laps.

The engine, smaller than those in every other car on the track, made Jones' car much lighter than the competition, giving him a significant edge.

“I had been certain he was going to break,” Foyt said. “But, when he got past the midway mark and kept on going, I figured I was finished. I figured all I could do was keep going, keep as much pressure on him as possible to keep him running as hard as possible, and hope for the best, but about the best I could do at that point was to stay in the same lap with him.”

With just four laps to go, a $6 ball bearing in the gear box failed, causing Jones to slip into neutral. As the STP's chagrined crew pushed the car into the garage, Foyt cruised to victory.

Foyt is one of just three men to win the race four times.

1973: Debris Rains From the Sky

Going into 1973, there were high hopes in Indianapolis. New engineering advancements had many expecting record speeds, perhaps even upwards of 200 miles per hour. The race, however, was cursed from the start.

Driver Art Pollard had been killed on Pole Day, so the mood was foul, even before the rain clouds parked themselves above the city. On Monday an 11-car wreck stopped the action almost immediately. Salt Walther suffered serious burns, and debris rained into the stands, injuring 13 spectators.

Rain forced a delay that day and again on Tuesday. By the time it finally got started in earnest on Wednesday, there was a real sense of foreboding in the air. On lap 57, everyone's worst fears were realized as Swede Savage's car, complete with a full tank of fuel, hit the inside wall. USA Today recounted what happened next:

His car exploded in an angry orange flash. Pieces tumbled down the track and Savage slid to a stop, still strapped in the cockpit amidst a pool of burning fuel, but fully conscious, somehow speaking to safety workers and medical officials.

Armondo Teran, a mechanic on Graham McRae's car, sprinted down pit lane to see if he could be of help to his injured teammate. A fire truck traveling at an estimate 60 mph in the wrong direction hit Teran, who suffered crushed ribs and a fractured skull.

Teran and Savage both died, Teran on the scene and Savage later when he contracted Hepatitis C after a blood transfusion. Race officials implemented major changes to prevent similar incidents in the future. They decreased fuel loads, replaced the angled inside wall and moved spectators back a distance.

1977: Janet Guthrie Shows Women Can Be Fast Too

Aerospace engineer Janet Guthrie broke the gender barrier, becoming the first woman to qualify for the race. She finished 29th out of 33 cars when her timing gear failed on just Lap 27 but secured a place in history nevertheless. The next year she placed in the top 10. Her helmet and race suit would later become a part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection.

She discussed the prevailing attitudes of the time in her memoir Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle:

Just a few years earlier, women had not even been allowed in the press box at Indianapolis, much less the garage area or the pits. A woman might be a reporter, a photographer, a timer/scorer, she might own the race car--but she couldn't get near it at any time for any reason. A woman on the track itself was unthinkable.

1981: Who Really Won the Most Controversial Race Yet?

Bobby Unser was reinstated as the race winner after contentious hearings that lasted for months. Unser took the checkered flag, but it was later decided that he had illegally passed cars while the yellow flag was waving, penalizing him and leaving Mario Andretti the winner.

Even assuming Unser had violated the rules, the appropriate punishment would have been a one-lap penalty imposed during the race. By waiting until afterward, USAC deprived Unser of the opportunity to try to make up that lap. . It was as though the officiating crew for the Super Bowl had decided to determine the game's outcome by waiting until after the final gun to view films of a disputed touchdown.

Making matters worse, as several racers testified, what Unser did was common practice at the time.

"When ABC sent us the tapes we saw Mario did exactly the same thing I did," Unser said years later. "Same lap, same turn, same place. Same everything."

The ugly piece of politics, played up by ABC television, which recorded its commentary after the race had already finished, lent more than a bit of theater to the proceedings and led a disillusioned Unser to retire from the sport.

1982: Mears Falls Short in Photo Finish

Rick Mears was 0.16 seconds away from standing alone as the greatest driver in Indy 500 history. That was Gordon Johncock's margin of victory in a photo finish, and it eventually prevented Mears from becoming the only man to win the race five times.

It was a bittersweet win for Johncock, whose mother Frances passed away the next day. He had flown home to Michigan immediately after the race and was able to spend time at her bedside before returning to Indianapolis for a victory banquet where he learned of her passing.

1987: Old Man Unser Does It Again

Al Unser Sr. wasn't supposed to win the Indy 500 in 1987. He wasn't even supposed to be there. Five days before his 48th birthday, he had no car and no hope. According to Sports Illustrated, he showed up anyway, hoping for a chance:

Even though Unser had raced successfully for Roger Penske the last four years, he had not so much as sat in an Indy Car this season. Penske dropped the 47-year-old champion in favor of two younger former winners, Danny Sullivan and Rick Mears. Unser was still out in the cold when Penske cut a deal with Ted Field, of the Marshall Field department store family, that made Field's protege, Danny Ongais, his third driver.

When Ongais wrecked his car in practice and doctors demanded he sit the race out, Unser got his chance—and made the most of it. He became the oldest winner in the race's history, taking home the Borg-Warner Trophy for the fourth time, tying A.J. Foyt's record and establishing himself as an all-time racing great.

1992: The Closest Race in Indy History

Al Unser Jr. became the first second-generation driver to win the Indy 500, holding off Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 seconds in the closest race in Indy history. Viewers at home initially missed the finish when ABC cut to a camera obscured by a track official.

An overhead shot soon showed just how close the finish was.

"I was trying to make that race car as wide as I could make it," Unser said of his attempts to block Goodyear, who wasn't upset by the maneuvering.

"I call it 'using the race track,'" Goodyear said. "And I'd be doing the same thing if I was Little Al."

1999: Stewart Does the Double

By the end of the day, Tony Stewart had driven 1,090 miles in pursuit of racing glory—and raced his way right into fans' hearts. He fell short in both the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 later that same evening, finishing ninth and fourth, respectively. But it was the effort and gumption to even try running both races in a single day that made Stewart a star.

"I want to win the Indianapolis 500 more than any other race there is," Stewart told the press. "If I could guarantee one race where I would win, it would be the Indy 500. I want a win in that really bad."

Stewart's dream, at least to this point, has gone unfulfilled.

2000: Pablo Montoya and the Scourge of Politics

Racing politics dominated the headlines as CART racing champion Juan Pablo Montoya came to Indy for the first time to challenge rivals at the Indy Racing League.

Montoya was a natural villain to fans used to more "down home" racing stars. He fueled the flames of the rivalry when he participated in a CART race the day before the event and slapped a John Deere sticker on his supercharged car.

On the day of the race, he went out and cruised to victory, leading 167 of 200 laps. He dug the knife in deeper when he proclaimed the Indy 500 was “just a race,” although he later admitted to The New York Times, ''I feel. happier than I was an hour ago."

2005: Danica Arrives on the Indy Scene

Rookie Danica Patrick became the first female driver to lead a lap during the race, eventually finishing fourth. More than a competent racer, Patrick was a media sensation. ABC's Jack Arute told USA Today she was the network's best hope to stop a persistent ratings slide, calling Patrick the "one person, one story, that'll catapult you exponentially into the consciousness of the American sporting public."

Arute was right. Powered by Patrick, ratings were back up to 1996 levels. Dan Wheldon, the race winner, was nearly a forgotten man as Danica mania was at its height. He credited his pit crew with the win in Popular Science:

With 30 laps to go, I’m sitting in the lead, with Danica pushing me pretty hard. We kind of went back and forth, but it was one of those races where my car was not bad to start with, but it wasn’t great. The changes we made not only made the car quicker and better and more comfortable through traffic, but when I got into the lead I was also able to stay in the lead.

2011: Hildebrand and the Most Shocking Loss Ever

Wheldon again went head-to-head with a rookie, but it looked like he was going to fall short. J.R. Hildebrand had a commanding lead as he approached Turn 4 but lost control of his car, crashing into the wall.

Wheldon, who had finished second the two previous years, almost felt bad about winning the race that way, telling reporters afterwards, "It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis. That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing. You never know what's going to happen."

Just four months later, Wheldon was killed in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was just 33 years old.


Later History of the Indy 500

Sources in this Story

The Indianapolis 500 has been held annually since 1911, except for 1917-8 and 1942-5 due to the World Wars. &ldquoThe Greatest Spectacle in Racing,&rdquo as term coined by track owner Anton Hulman Jr. in 1945, is traditionally scheduled for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, though rain has sometimes forced the race to be run on Monday or even later.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an enormous place, with 250,000 permanent seats. The area inside the speedway&rsquos oval, at 253 acres, is large enough to contain Vatican City, Yankee Stadium, the Roman Coliseum, the track at Churchill Downs, the Rose Bowl and the Wimbledon campus simultaneously.

The 500 is has evolved into multi-week event that draws thousands of people to Indianapolis and includes a number of events on and off the track. Besides qualifying and practice days, the track has &ldquoCarb Day&rdquo the Friday before the race, which &ldquohistorically gave teams a chance to calibrate their carburetors for race-day conditions,&rdquo explains Mental Floss. Cars today use fuel injection systems, which don&rsquot require the same calibration, but the name has stuck. The pit crews also have their own competition that day.

The Indy 500 has a number of traditions. For example, winners drink milk in the winner&rsquos circle, a tradition that started in 1933 when Louis Meyer asked for buttermilk after his third consecutive victory. According to Yahoo Sports, the head honcho of a dairy company saw a picture of Meyer drinking out of a milk bottle, and immediately saw the marketing potential. Milk was available at the winner&rsquos circle the next year, and has been a tradition, except for an eight-year drought that ended in 1955, ever since.


How the Indy 500 Became the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

The Indianapolis 500 has become the most famous race in motorsports over the last 102 years, combining speed and daring in a heady blend that makes for must-see television.

With speeds topping 220 miles per hour, the race can be a true thrill ride for viewers. But that much speed can also turn deadly in a heartbeat. The race is one of the most dangerous endeavors in all of sports. Fifteen men have died during the Indy 500, with an additional 25 suffering fatal wrecks during practice sessions.

It's a combination of modern technology and hoary tradition unlike any other in sports. The Indy 500 didn't become the greatest spectacle in racing it's always been the greatest show on wheels—as the following signature moments and highlights illustrate so clearly.

1909: The Brickyard Is Born in the Wake of Tragedy

The inaugural race at the newly built Indianapolis Motor Speedway turned out to be a huge disaster. The track, made of crushed rock held together by tar, broke apart, killing two drivers and a spectator in the course of a race that lasted just two laps.

It was rebuilt that same year with 3.2 million bricks to create a safer environment for drivers and fans alike. The "Brickyard" was born.

1911: The First Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 was held for the first time and was a smashing success. Indianapolis all but shut down as legions of fans descended on the city, filling hotels for miles around. More than 80,000 turned out to see 37 drivers compete for a record-setting purse of $27,500. Ray Harroun won the race with an average speed of 74.602 miles per hour.

After the race, the winner, whose car may have featured the first rear-view mirror in automobile history, didn't have much to say, but did have a favor to ask.

"I’m tired," he is reported to have said. "May I have some water, and perhaps a sandwich, please?”

1913: Popping Bottles

The Europeans arrived in force, and Frenchman Jules Goux won the race in his first appearance. It's rumored that he drank six bottles of champagne during pit stops and told the press, "Without the good wine, I could not have won."

Historian Donald Davidson insists that Goux, while admittedly drinking some alcohol during the race, was not three sheets to the wind:

On four of their six stops, Goux and his riding mechanic, Emile Begin, were handed a chilled “half-bottle,” containing about four-fifths of one pint. While they may have consumed some of the content the first time, the later bottles probably served as little more than an expensive form of mouthwash, with the pair following up a small sip by swilling some around in the their mouths and then spitting it out.

1919: Death Stalks the Brickyard

After shutting down for two years while the track served as an airfield during World War I, the race returned with tragic results. Three men died during the running of the race, the first fatalities in Indianapolis 500 history. Arthur Thurman was killed instantly when his car turned over halfway through the race.

Louis Lecocq and his millionaire mechanic Robert Bandini were killed later in the race when their car caught fire after flipping over. It took authorities more than five minutes to extinguish the blaze, and the two men, according to The New York Times, were burned beyond recognition.

1920: Pay Changes Enliven Racing

Change was brewing as race organizers offered a $100 payout for every lap led, according to the book The Indianapolis 500: A Century of Excitement by Ralph Kramer. The monetary incentive led to furious competition throughout the 500 miles, as there was suddenly a compelling reason to risk a delicate car's well-being in the early stages of the race. A driver who led every lap could double the winner's purse of $20,000.

1930: Chet Miller Borrows from the Crowd

Rules changes eliminate the super-charged monsters of the 1920s and replaced them with cars that had more in common with vehicles fans might find in manufacturer's showrooms. Although it wasn't intended as a response to the stock market crash of 1929, the changing nature of the race did open the field to more potential competitors and not just the super wealthy.

The less sophisticated cars came in handy for racer Chet Miller. When a pit stop at Lap 92 revealed a broken front spring, the part was replaced with a spring from a spectator's Model T.

Miller finished 13th, and after the race his pit crew put the spring back on the fan's car.

1936: Meyer's Milk Mustache Starts an Indy Tradition

Two traditions were born on a single day. Race winner Louis Meyer celebrated his victory with a bottle of buttermilk, and the Borg-Warner Trophy was awarded for the first time. The 110-pound trophy cost $10,000 and featured the face of every man who ever won the race:

Unveiled at a 1936 dinner hosted by then-Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the Borg-Warner Trophy was officially declared the annual prize for Indianapolis 500 victors. It was first presented that same year to champion Louis Meyer, who remarked, “Winning the Borg-Warner Trophy is like winning an Olympic medal.”

The trophy is now valued at more than $1 million.

1937: Oil-Soaked Shaw Wins His First 500

Leaking oil profusely, to the point his socks were soaked in it, Wilbur Shaw limped across the finish line just 2.16 seconds ahead of second-place Ralph Hepburn.

It was the most closely-contested finish in Indy 500 history and would remain so until 1982.

Shaw would go on to win the race in 1939 and 1940 as well, becoming the second three-time champion after Meyer. Later, as the general manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he would popularize the saying, "Gentlemen, start your engines."

1949: Television Takes a Turn at Turn 1

Television attempted to capture the majesty of high-stakes racing for the first time as local station WFBM aired the race live. Three cameras were used to document the proceedings, including one at the top of the double-decker grandstand at Turn 1.

Among the action that thrilled home viewers was a fiery crash on Lap 23 that took leader and pole-sitter "Duke" Nalon out of the race. Nalon was lucky to survive and didn't race for two years after his close call.

1955: Vukovich Dies on the Road to History

Tragedy struck Indy as Bill Vukovich, on his way to a historic third consecutive win, died on Lap 57 in a massive accident. Vukovich was leading the race when Rodger Ward's axle broke, flipping his car into the air and creating havoc for everyone on the track.

Vukovich collided with Johnny Boyd and flipped end over end. According to historian Bob Laycock:

I think I'd be short when I say he flipped 20 to 25 feet into the air. He was almost as high up as the trees.

When he landed, he landed next to the Mobil gas tank (north of the bridge) and there was a guy sitting in a chair who just got out of the way. That roadster landed absolutely upside-down and. there was not any space in those cars in that position for the driver. It almost sealed him in.

1967: Turbine Engine Falls $6 Short

After a rain delay forced the race to be postponed a day, A.J. Foyt shocked the racing world by upsetting the prohibitive favorite Parnelli Jones. Driving an innovative STP car with a helicopter turbine engine, Jones took a commanding lead and was out front for 171 laps.

The engine, smaller than those in every other car on the track, made Jones' car much lighter than the competition, giving him a significant edge.

“I had been certain he was going to break,” Foyt said. “But, when he got past the midway mark and kept on going, I figured I was finished. I figured all I could do was keep going, keep as much pressure on him as possible to keep him running as hard as possible, and hope for the best, but about the best I could do at that point was to stay in the same lap with him.”

With just four laps to go, a $6 ball bearing in the gear box failed, causing Jones to slip into neutral. As the STP's chagrined crew pushed the car into the garage, Foyt cruised to victory.

Foyt is one of just three men to win the race four times.

1973: Debris Rains From the Sky

Going into 1973, there were high hopes in Indianapolis. New engineering advancements had many expecting record speeds, perhaps even upwards of 200 miles per hour. The race, however, was cursed from the start.

Driver Art Pollard had been killed on Pole Day, so the mood was foul, even before the rain clouds parked themselves above the city. On Monday an 11-car wreck stopped the action almost immediately. Salt Walther suffered serious burns, and debris rained into the stands, injuring 13 spectators.

Rain forced a delay that day and again on Tuesday. By the time it finally got started in earnest on Wednesday, there was a real sense of foreboding in the air. On lap 57, everyone's worst fears were realized as Swede Savage's car, complete with a full tank of fuel, hit the inside wall. USA Today recounted what happened next:

His car exploded in an angry orange flash. Pieces tumbled down the track and Savage slid to a stop, still strapped in the cockpit amidst a pool of burning fuel, but fully conscious, somehow speaking to safety workers and medical officials.

Armondo Teran, a mechanic on Graham McRae's car, sprinted down pit lane to see if he could be of help to his injured teammate. A fire truck traveling at an estimate 60 mph in the wrong direction hit Teran, who suffered crushed ribs and a fractured skull.

Teran and Savage both died, Teran on the scene and Savage later when he contracted Hepatitis C after a blood transfusion. Race officials implemented major changes to prevent similar incidents in the future. They decreased fuel loads, replaced the angled inside wall and moved spectators back a distance.

1977: Janet Guthrie Shows Women Can Be Fast Too

Aerospace engineer Janet Guthrie broke the gender barrier, becoming the first woman to qualify for the race. She finished 29th out of 33 cars when her timing gear failed on just Lap 27 but secured a place in history nevertheless. The next year she placed in the top 10. Her helmet and race suit would later become a part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection.

She discussed the prevailing attitudes of the time in her memoir Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle:

Just a few years earlier, women had not even been allowed in the press box at Indianapolis, much less the garage area or the pits. A woman might be a reporter, a photographer, a timer/scorer, she might own the race car--but she couldn't get near it at any time for any reason. A woman on the track itself was unthinkable.

1981: Who Really Won the Most Controversial Race Yet?

Bobby Unser was reinstated as the race winner after contentious hearings that lasted for months. Unser took the checkered flag, but it was later decided that he had illegally passed cars while the yellow flag was waving, penalizing him and leaving Mario Andretti the winner.

Even assuming Unser had violated the rules, the appropriate punishment would have been a one-lap penalty imposed during the race. By waiting until afterward, USAC deprived Unser of the opportunity to try to make up that lap. . It was as though the officiating crew for the Super Bowl had decided to determine the game's outcome by waiting until after the final gun to view films of a disputed touchdown.

Making matters worse, as several racers testified, what Unser did was common practice at the time.

"When ABC sent us the tapes we saw Mario did exactly the same thing I did," Unser said years later. "Same lap, same turn, same place. Same everything."

The ugly piece of politics, played up by ABC television, which recorded its commentary after the race had already finished, lent more than a bit of theater to the proceedings and led a disillusioned Unser to retire from the sport.

1982: Mears Falls Short in Photo Finish

Rick Mears was 0.16 seconds away from standing alone as the greatest driver in Indy 500 history. That was Gordon Johncock's margin of victory in a photo finish, and it eventually prevented Mears from becoming the only man to win the race five times.

It was a bittersweet win for Johncock, whose mother Frances passed away the next day. He had flown home to Michigan immediately after the race and was able to spend time at her bedside before returning to Indianapolis for a victory banquet where he learned of her passing.

1987: Old Man Unser Does It Again

Al Unser Sr. wasn't supposed to win the Indy 500 in 1987. He wasn't even supposed to be there. Five days before his 48th birthday, he had no car and no hope. According to Sports Illustrated, he showed up anyway, hoping for a chance:

Even though Unser had raced successfully for Roger Penske the last four years, he had not so much as sat in an Indy Car this season. Penske dropped the 47-year-old champion in favor of two younger former winners, Danny Sullivan and Rick Mears. Unser was still out in the cold when Penske cut a deal with Ted Field, of the Marshall Field department store family, that made Field's protege, Danny Ongais, his third driver.

When Ongais wrecked his car in practice and doctors demanded he sit the race out, Unser got his chance—and made the most of it. He became the oldest winner in the race's history, taking home the Borg-Warner Trophy for the fourth time, tying A.J. Foyt's record and establishing himself as an all-time racing great.

1992: The Closest Race in Indy History

Al Unser Jr. became the first second-generation driver to win the Indy 500, holding off Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 seconds in the closest race in Indy history. Viewers at home initially missed the finish when ABC cut to a camera obscured by a track official.

An overhead shot soon showed just how close the finish was.

"I was trying to make that race car as wide as I could make it," Unser said of his attempts to block Goodyear, who wasn't upset by the maneuvering.

"I call it 'using the race track,'" Goodyear said. "And I'd be doing the same thing if I was Little Al."

1999: Stewart Does the Double

By the end of the day, Tony Stewart had driven 1,090 miles in pursuit of racing glory—and raced his way right into fans' hearts. He fell short in both the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 later that same evening, finishing ninth and fourth, respectively. But it was the effort and gumption to even try running both races in a single day that made Stewart a star.

"I want to win the Indianapolis 500 more than any other race there is," Stewart told the press. "If I could guarantee one race where I would win, it would be the Indy 500. I want a win in that really bad."

Stewart's dream, at least to this point, has gone unfulfilled.

2000: Pablo Montoya and the Scourge of Politics

Racing politics dominated the headlines as CART racing champion Juan Pablo Montoya came to Indy for the first time to challenge rivals at the Indy Racing League.

Montoya was a natural villain to fans used to more "down home" racing stars. He fueled the flames of the rivalry when he participated in a CART race the day before the event and slapped a John Deere sticker on his supercharged car.

On the day of the race, he went out and cruised to victory, leading 167 of 200 laps. He dug the knife in deeper when he proclaimed the Indy 500 was “just a race,” although he later admitted to The New York Times, ''I feel. happier than I was an hour ago."

2005: Danica Arrives on the Indy Scene

Rookie Danica Patrick became the first female driver to lead a lap during the race, eventually finishing fourth. More than a competent racer, Patrick was a media sensation. ABC's Jack Arute told USA Today she was the network's best hope to stop a persistent ratings slide, calling Patrick the "one person, one story, that'll catapult you exponentially into the consciousness of the American sporting public."

Arute was right. Powered by Patrick, ratings were back up to 1996 levels. Dan Wheldon, the race winner, was nearly a forgotten man as Danica mania was at its height. He credited his pit crew with the win in Popular Science:

With 30 laps to go, I’m sitting in the lead, with Danica pushing me pretty hard. We kind of went back and forth, but it was one of those races where my car was not bad to start with, but it wasn’t great. The changes we made not only made the car quicker and better and more comfortable through traffic, but when I got into the lead I was also able to stay in the lead.

2011: Hildebrand and the Most Shocking Loss Ever

Wheldon again went head-to-head with a rookie, but it looked like he was going to fall short. J.R. Hildebrand had a commanding lead as he approached Turn 4 but lost control of his car, crashing into the wall.

Wheldon, who had finished second the two previous years, almost felt bad about winning the race that way, telling reporters afterwards, "It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis. That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing. You never know what's going to happen."

Just four months later, Wheldon was killed in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was just 33 years old.


First Indianapolis 500 held - HISTORY

Since the track opened in 1909, the now-famous wheel & wing logo has graced the official program, tickets, and other paraphernalia for the Indianapolis 500. In 1981 the Speedway began marketing the race in official capacity with a dedicated unique annual logo. This logo was printed on the ticket, the program cover, the official poster, on signage around the facility, on official USAC inspection decals, on television and print media, on credentials, pace car graphics, merchandise, apparel, patches, hats, and numerous other paraphernalia. We continue our look at these works of art, picking up with the decade of the 2000s.

It should be noted that by the 2000s, the unveiling of the annual logo was no longer done in the previous year’s official program. In some years the logo was not released until the summer or fall before the race.

History of Indianapolis 500 Logos
1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020s Brickyard 400

The year 2000 was the first year that the Speedway would host three events – the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400, and the United States Grand Prix for Formula One. In that year, the three logos for the three events shared some design elements, leading one to believe perhaps that they were designed together somewhat. Both the 500 and 400 logos are oval, while all three feature nearly the same abstract wheel & wing design along the top. The 500 logo made clever use of the �” running through the �” digits. Again the logo sported a unique color scheme not used before, and the ordinal (󈭄th”) was again written as a number. Missing in 2000 was the image of a race car in the logo, although what appears to be a race track oval orbits the logo, in a similar fashion to the 1996 logo. The Oldsmobile Aurora pace car featured a small version of the logo on the front fender, as previous 1990s cars had before.

The 2001 Indianapolis 500 race logo is significant in that it was the first time ever that the race had been advertised as the “Indy 500” instead of the “Indianapolis 500.” Previously, the track generally avoided using the term “Indy 500” in official and formal use. Back again is the image of a race car in the logo, after one was missing in 2000. It would be the final time a car was part of the logo. The Oldsmobile Bravada pace vehicle had a large version of the logo on the driver and passenger side doors, a trend that was adopted back on the 1997 Aurora.

The 2002 Indianapolis 500 was the first race logo since 1994 to utilize the traditional red/white/blue color scheme. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that the 2002 race was the first held after 9/11, and patriotism was at a zenith. After only one year, the full term “Indianapolis 500” was restored, in all-caps. Checkered flags flanked either side, and the image of a race car was gone, not be used again. The abstract wheel and wing similar to that from 2000 and 2001 was used, but more standard colors (a black tire, for instance) was used. The 50th Anniversary Corvette pace car featured the logo in an unusual location, behind the side windows. However, festival cars during the month had a large version of the logo on the doors, as was becoming the custom.

The 2003 Indianapolis 500 was another in a line of varying colors. The wheel and wing was very abstract, with the ordinal 󈭇th” written vertically and placed inside the wheel for the first time since 1991. The logo itself had a somewhat odd, but curious resemblance to a package of cigarettes. Although that probably was not the intention. The Chevrolet SSR pace vehicle had the logo not on the door, but just behind the door on both sides.

The logo for 2004 was seemingly more elegant that some of the previous few years. The fonts and colors were more upscale, and simpler. ABC-TV utilized a modified version of the logo as their 󈬘th Anniversary” logo, celebrating 40 years at Indy for ABC Sports. The Chevrolet Corvette pace car had the logo on the doors, but not very large.

The 2005 logo was another diamond shape (after that of 1991 and 1999), although a large red circle obscured most of the diamond linework. The �” numbers were fairly large, and the ordinal (󈭉th”) was back to being out of the wheel, and back to written in a normal left-to-right way. The graphic version of the logo shown on ABC Sports differed in that the date was removed, and along the bottom the track name “Indianapolis Motor Speedway” was added. A large logo appeared on the doors of the Corvette pace car, much like 1997.

The 2006 logo was another elegant style, with a maroon and dark yellow look. It was the second logo to resemble a shield (after 1997), and celebrated the milestone 90th running. It was the first time the ordinal was written with the word “Running” (90th Running”), and it was just centered over the �” in a general location. The digital graphic used on ABC Sports was mostly the same, except the date was removed, and the ABC logo was situated in its place. A fairly large logo appeared on the doors of the Corvette pace car, much like the year before.

The 2007 logo was yet another shield, moreso than that of 2006, and similar to 1997. The ordinal (󈭋st”) moved the bottom. Once again, a large logo appeared on the doors of the Corvette pace car. For the 17th consecutive year, the word “Indianapolis” was written in all caps.

After several years of mostly fancy, elegant designs, the 2008 logo went in a different direction. Sometimes known as the “Gas Station Sign” logo, the 2008 logo was a little more cartoonish, and loosely resembled a nostalgic sign from a filling station. The wing and wheel moved to the bottom for the first time – most years it ‘flew’ along the top or graced the middle, and the ordinal (󈭌nd”) was back inside the wheel. The block letters were black and easy to read, while the date was depicted – for the first time – in numbers only (𔄝.25.08”). Decimals were used as separators, and the word “May” was not used for the first time. The month was simply listed as 𔄝”. In addition, the year was written shorthand (󈫸”) and not written out entirely (�”). All of the details pointed towards a more trendy, retro pop art design. The Corvette pace cars for the 2008 race continued the custom of a large logo on the doors.

The first race during the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Centennial Era (2009-2011) saw a move back to a more traditional style. The logo went back to the old customary red/white/blue scheme, although silver/gray is also present. The word “Indianapolis” was written in mixed-case for the first time since 1990, and in cursive font for the first time ever. The phrase “Centennial Era” (in all-caps) graced the bottom. After numerous years of abstract renderings, the wheel & wing took on a more classical form, resembling some from the 1980s. On the Chevrolet Camaro pace car, a large version of the logo was placed on the side doors. In addition, the new IMS Centenntial Era logo was placed on the fender behind the front wheels.

Missing from the 2009 logo was the ordinal (󈭍rd”). This was the first time the ordinal was not used in the annual logo. During the Centennial Era, the Speedway deliberately curtailed use of the ordinal in marketing and general mention. The Centennial Era was devised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the track (1909), and the 100th anniversary of the first 500-mile race (1911). The festivities were all planned to culminate in May 2011 with the 100th anniversary celebration. However, the actual 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 would not occur until 2016. This is because the race was not held in 1917-1918 (WWI) and 1942-1945 (WWII). To prevent confusion among fans and media about what was being celebrated, they elected not to mention what edition of the race it was for three years. Meanwhile, plans were being made to separately celebrate the actual 100th running come 2016.


Watch the video: The First Indy 500 Race