Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Compared to most car race tracks, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is ancient.
There is only one older oval-based racing track with banked tracking in the entire world and it’s in Surrey, England. The English track is only two years the American’s senior.
That being said, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does have the historic distinction of being the world’s oldest “speedway”.
When you’ve been around for this long, you deserve some cool nicknames.
Indianapolis is endearingly referred to as the Brickyard because it was literally hand paved with bricks in 1909. In fact, the final brick laid was made out of solid gold. One yard of the original hand-laid brick still remains on the track to this day. The garage area also has a nickname. They call it Gasoline Alley.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a Glance
Most famous for its IndyCar Series race the Indianapolis 500, the speedway also plays host to the Formula One United States Grand Prix, various motorcycle races, and a few major NASCAR events such as the Brickyard 400 and the Lilly Diabetes 250.
The facility was built with a staggering number of permanent seats; 257,325 to be exact. That’s even more remarkable when you consider the era it was built in. Plus, when they open the infield for extra seating the capacity increases to 400,000 which makes it the highest-capacity sporting venue in the world.
Compared to other tracks which seem to get upgrades and facelifts every decade or so, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has remained relatively unchanged in its more than century-long lifespan. In fact, the lengthy 2.5-mile rectangular oval is nearly the same today as it was in 1909.
They did, however, configure a road course within the interior in 2000 that allows for motorcycle racing. The road course has been modified twice since in 2008 and in 2014.
With so much history to cover, we’ve barely scratched the surface. This article will dive a bit deeper into the storied history of these racing grounds and get things started with some fun facts about the track.
- Location: Speedway, Indiana
- Built in: Broke ground in 1909
- Owned by: Hulman and Co.
- Operated by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation
- Track Types: 2.5 mile (4.023 km) rectangular oval, 2.439 mile (3.925km) road course, 2.621 mile (4.218 km) motorcycle course
- Oval turns: 4, banked 9.2 degrees
- Straightaways: banked 0 degrees
- Race lap record: 0:37.895 Arie Luyendyk, IndyCar Series 1996 (Qualifying)
- Capacity: 257,327 permanent seating; 400,000 with infield
- Major Races – IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, Grand Prix of Indianapolis | Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard | NASCAR Xfinity Series: Lilly Diabetes 250
Indianapolis Motor Speedway History
Could there be a more suitable location for a racetrack than in a town literally called Speedway? That’s right, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in Speedway, Indiana. Well, technically that would be putting the cart before the horse.
The truth is, the suburb was developed in 1912 and named after the speedway itself which was built in 1909.
The town was first developed by owners of nearby industrial plants and, fittingly, their goal was to have a town where all residents would drive and not require horses for travel.
The original visionary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Carl Graham Fisher, originally wanted the track to be three miles long with room for a two-mile road course but had to downsize when they factored in the size of the massive grandstand.
Once they recalculated a feasible layout they then hired 500 workers, gathered 300 mules, and brought in a fleet of steam-powered machinery to begin construction on the ambitious project.
You may be surprised to hear that the first race ever held at the course was in fact not a land-based race at all. Believe it or not, the inaugural event was a helium-filled air balloon race.
Rear-View Mirror Invented at Indianapolis
When racing first began it was customary for a driver to be accompanied by a mechanic in the car. The mechanic served many purposes including acting as the eyes for all activity behind the car and relaying that information to the driver. In 1911, that all changed as driver Ray Harroun decided to travel without a passenger to make his car lighter and faster and installed what was the world’s first-ever rear-view mirror.
Another historically significant moment at the speedway came in 1931 when a driver name Dale Evans became the first competitor to use a diesel engine. It was the first time anyone had completed the entire race without a pit stop.
NASCAR racing made its debut at the speedway in 1994 and made a big splash with the largest crowd and largest purse in NASCAR history at the time.
Although numbers have declined across the board in NASCAR in recent years, the 400 is still a big draw for fans. The race also holds extra value since it is the final race of the regular season meaning that there is usually a heated battle for drivers on the cusp of the 16-man playoffs to earn a spot.
The first-ever 400 was won by Jeff Gordon who passed Ernie Irvan when he suffered a late flat tire.
It would prove to be the first of many victories at the speedway for Gordon who would go on to win it four more times and take down 3 pole positions in the process. The list of accomplishments doesn’t end there for Gordon who also has the speedway record for most top-5s (12), top-10s (17), starts (23), laps completed (3519), and laps led (528).
The Famous Museum
Originally built in 1956, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum houses hundreds of pieces of racing memorabilia that span more than a century of automotive history. Perhaps most famous of all is Ray Harroun’s Marmon car he drove to victory in the inaugural Indy 500 in back in 1909.
The site for the museum, which was initially outside of the track on the southwest corner of the property, was moved in 1976 to the infield of the grounds.
The venue is so special that the country officially placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Twelve years later, in 1987, it became a National Historic Landmark.
The facility hosts multiple yearly exhibits and festivities. At any given time there is a rotation of 75 cars on display even though the site holds many more. This is limited due to space and the cars no on display are held in a “view by invitation only” basement.
Indy Even Has a Golf Course
Indianapolis is as big as it is old. So big, in fact, that there’s even a golf course on the premises. Originally known as the Speedway Golf Course when it was first was built in 1929, the name has since been changed to the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course.
Ranked amongst the top 100 public courses in the country, there are 14 holes outside the stadium along the backstretch and four holes within the infield grounds.