Skip to main content

Indianapolis

1909-19101911-19201921-19301931-19401941-19501951-19601961-19701971-19801981-19901991-20002001-20102011-2012

Indianapolis
1909

Buick Model 16

Stoddard-Dayton Model K Indy Car

Historically known simply as ‘The 500' the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race is often shorted to either the Indianapolis 500 or the Indy 500. Originally the race was advertised as the ‘Liberty Sweepstakes' following WWI in 1919 before reverting the name to the ‘International Sweepstakes' name from 1920 through 1980. All references as the ‘International Sweepstakes' name was dropped following the 1981 race when the name ‘65th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race' was officially adopted. Since this time the race is always advertised this way and is complete with a unique annual logo and the ordinal has always been included.

‘The 500' is an American automobile race that is held annually during the Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway Indiana. One of the oldest and richest motorsports ever, the Indy 500 has one of the largest attendances, and radio and television audiences, of any single-day sporting event throughout the world. Since 1952 the race has been broadcasted live on radio by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. On May 25, 2008, the 92nd running is scheduled and will mark the 63rd consecutive year of uninterrupted occurrence.

Carl Graham Fisher, an ex-bicycle racer and pioneer automobile dealer founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1906. Gleaning information from others in the automobile industry, Fisher deduced that poorly developed public roads were hampering research and development. Fisher proposed a facility of long straight-aways and sweeping turns to be used for both private testing and an occasional race pitting the automobiles of different manufacturers against each other. The original plan was to build the facility at French Lick.

On February 9th 1909 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation was formed when 328 acres of farmland northwest of Downtown Indianapolis was bought by Fisher and his partners Jim Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler. A 2.5-mile rectangular track was built. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex was built as a gravel-and-tar track and hosted a variety of small events before promoters chose to focus on just one major event. The track was then paved with 3.2 millions bricks following several deaths related to the unsteady racing surface.

The first race, a five mile long event, was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was on August 19, 1919. Louis Schwitzer took the checkered flag amidst over 12 thousand spectators. But it was a disaster as the track surface broke up and caused the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics, and two spectators. Following several unsuccessful automobile and motorcycle races, Fisher decided that a single extravaganza was needed.

The first 500 Mile Race was held on May 30th 1911. Besting 39 other drivers in the field, Ray Harroun won the race with an average speed of 74.59 mph in six hours and 42 minutes in a Marmon ‘Wasp', outfitted with his invention, the rear-view mirror. Admission was only $1, and 80,200 spectators were in attendance. Harroun was considered to be quite a hazard during the race as he was the only driver without a riding mechanic, who checked the oil pressure and let the driver know when traffic was coming.

An American driver at the wheel of an American car won the first race, though European makers began building their own vehicles to attempt a win at this race. European vehicles were raced from 1913 through 1919 before the onset of World War 1 allowed native drivers and manufacturers to regain their dominance of the race. The race was only 300 miles long in 1916 because Speedway management feared a shortage of vehicles due to the war in Europe. A total of only 21 cars competed in that race. In 1917 through 1918 the track shut itself down because of World War I. Engineer Harry Arminius Miller set himself up at the most competitive of the post war builders and his technical advancements allowed him to be indirectly latched to a history of success that lasted well into the mid 1970's.

The Indy 500 resumed in 1919 and Howdy Wilcox, the first driver to break 100 mph barrier won the race. Fisher announced that he no longer wished to operate the track prior to the 1923 race and a group led by Eddie Rickenbacker purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for around $750,000.

During the early 1920's Miller produced his own 3.0-liter engine that was inspired by the Peugeot Grand Prix engine that had been serviced in his shop by Fred Offenhauser in 1914. Jimmy Murphy won the 1922 race after Miller installed the engine into a Duesenberg. Miller went on to create his own automobiles that shared the ‘Miller' designation, powered by supercharged versions of his 2.0 and 1.5 liter engine single-seaters These vehicles won four more races for the engine up to 1929. Before being adjusted to the international 3.0-liter formulas, these engines won another seven races until 1938. In 1935 Miller's former employees, Offenhauser and Leo Goosen had already achieved their first win with the soon-to-become famous 4-cylinder Offenhauser engine. In both naturally-aspirated and supercharged form, this motor was now forever connected with the Brickyard's history with record of 27 wins, and a record-holding 18 consecutive years of wins.

Struggling to survive through the Great Depression, Auto racing went through a particularly tough year in 1933. Five men were killed, one was seriously injured and there was also a short-lived drivers strike. In 1941 World War II shut down the track.
By 1945 Eddie Rickenbacker was ready to depart the auto racing business. In 1945 the track was sold to Anton Hulman Jr who spent millions of dollars to improve the facility. This investment resulted in the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing'. Since 1946 there has been an Indianapolis 500 every year, despite rain delays, deaths and a power struggle in auto racing circles.

Just before World War II, European manufacturers that had been gone from the Indianapolis 500 for nearly two decades made a brief comeback with the Maserati 8CM in 1941. Wilbur Shaw became the first driver to win consecutively in Indianapolis. Between 1950 and 1960 the 500 became part of the World Drivers' Championship where Ferrari made an appearance at the '52 event with Alberto Ascari.

It wasn't until the Indy 500 was removed from the Formula one calendar that European entries made their return to the race. In the 1961 race, Australian Jack Brabham drove his slightly modified F1 Cooper. Foreign cars eventually became the norm at the Indy 500 and foreign drivers began showing up on a regular basis, choosing the U.S. as their primary base for their motor racing activities.

Three-time race winner Wilbur Shaw envisioned a successful future for auto racing in Indianapolis, but needed someone to step in and assure that success. Indianapolis investment broker, Homer Cochran got Rickenbacker and Tony Hulman together and the deal was struck on November 14th, 1945. The Speedway was sold for $750,000. The race began to get the track road worthy by May of 1946. Hulman oversaw the Indianapolis 500 for over 30 years, until his death in 1977.

After having won the previous two races, Bill Vukovich was killed on the 57th lap while leading the race in 1955. During the 1958 race during the first lap, fifteen vehicles were involved in an accident that cost the life of driver Pat O'Connor. This accident began the mandate that all cars were required to be equipped with roll bars and all drivers must wear fireproof uniforms.

The Speedway began a large improvement project following the 1956 race, the centerpiece of which was an eight-story control tower. Thousands of new infield seats were also added to the Speedway, along with a tunnel built under the backstretch and a safer pit area walled off from the main stretch. In 1957 the 500 Festival began to organize civic events, and the Parade became a showcase event that drew thousands of people to the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

In 1960 tragedy struck, not on the track, but in the infield when a multi-floor homemade grandstand collapsed, killing two people and leaving forty people injured. During the 1964 race a fiery crash occurred that involved no less than seven vehicles. Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald, both popular drivers lost their lives. That was the final time that a front-engine car won the race, and the end resulted in a crusade by The Star's George Moore to ban gasoline and require the use of alcohol-based fuel.

10,400 seats were added to the Speedway to replace wooden grandstands, and in 1961, the double-decked Paddock grandstand was constructed on the main straightaway for an exorbitant price-tag of 1.4 million. In 1963 the Speedway motel was opened and the first track suites were built in 1973. A new Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum were opened in 1976.

In 1971, local auto dealer Eldon Palmer, driving a pace car, slid out of control, crashed into a photo stand and injured twenty-two people. The 1973 race is known and remembered as perhaps the worst race in 500 history. After being cancelled twice due to rain, it became, at 72-hours, the longest and deadliest race in Speedway history. One of the most well-liked drivers, Art Pollard suffered a fatal crash when his car hit the wall on pole day and flipped. Salt Walther's car tangled with Jerry Grant's on the first day of the race and set off a 12-car chain reaction that critically injured Walther and injured 13 other spectators. Two days later Swede Savage was injured fatally when during the race his car hit the wall, split in two and covered the track with flames. An emergency truck hit a crewman wile racing to Savage's accident.

In 1972 Offenhauser joined forces with European maker, McLaren and obtained three wins for the chassis, one with the Penske team and two for the McLaren works team in 1974. The final time the Offy would win a race, and its final appearance was in 1983 while its competitiveness steadily decreased.

Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977 only six years after the Speedway began allowing women in the pits and garage area.

In 1978 the Championship Auto Racing Team, CART was founded by six car owners that had an issue with the way the U.S. Auto Club was running Indy-style car racing. Prior to the 1979 race, there was some controversy when the Speedway rejected the entries of the CART teams based on the grounds that they weren't on good grounds with the USAC which sanctioned the Indianapolis 500. Federal court order reinstated the vehicles, though there were subsequent charges of turbocharger tampering by a few drivers. 35 vehicles started the race, the most since 1933, and an additional qualifying day was added to the race.

Following the end of the 1995 season, the Indy 500 was transferred to its fourth regulations ruling body since its inception. The race had been organized from 1911 through 1955 under the auspices of the AAA. AAA ended its auto racing divisions after the 1955 Le Mans disaster to concentrate on its membership program aimed at the general motoring public. Tony Hulman, IMS owner founded the United States Automobile Club in 1956, which took over the job of sanctioning of the race.

Though most of the racers didn't compete in the other races in the Championship, from 1950 through 1960, the Indy 500 also counted toward the World Driving Championship, which is now synonymous with Formula 1. Following the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, along with the loss of several important USAC officials in a plane crash in 1978, and due to control issues of monetary prizes and regulation amendments in the 1970's, several members joined together and formed CART. The Indy 500 remained with USAC for the next few years and became the only high-level race the body still sanctioned after its own series was discontinued after 1979. Though the same cars and drivers were in attendance, the race was temporarily removed from the CART calendar. Eventually this was resolved and the race again became part of the CART calendar in 1983. Race sanctioning continued to remain in the hands of USAC.

European technology began to take over, though American drivers continued filling the majority of entries at the Brickyard for the next few years. Beginning in 1978, the majority of chassiss's and engines were European. The only American-based chassis to win during the CART era was the Wildcat in 1982 and the Galmer in 1992. Ford engines were built in the UK by Cosworth while Chevy engines were constructed in Ilmor, UK.

Following the 1985 race, the old Gasoline Alley garages were demolished and replaced by 96 new garages in three concrete bunkers.

During the 1990's the Indy 500 lost a bit of its prestige when a fight among racing teams led to a competing race the same day in Michigan. In 1990 the grandson of Tony Hulman, Anton Hulman George was named president of the Speedway in January. He formed the Indy Racing League four years later and the conflict with CART only deepened. A few people saw this as an obvious declaration of war by George against Roger Penske, whose drivers had won a record 10 times at the Indianapolis 500. Supporters of George's decision shared his disapproval of Indy's lack of status within CART when it very obvious that it was the series' flagship, the increasing number of foreign drivers with large bank account that forced professional American racing drivers away. Meanwhile opposors accusing George of playing politics with the race and its heritage merely for a power play that furthered his own interests at the expense of the sport overall.

Promising to reward participants in its racing series with a guaranteed number of spots along with the best starting positions in the Indy 500, the IRL had its first race in 1996. Announcing that 25 of the 33 starting position would be reserved for the top 25 cars in the IRL points standings, this effectively left only eight entries for teams who had not competed in the first two IRL races. CART announced a competing schedule, which featured the U.S. 500 at the Michigan International Speedway on the same day as the Indy 500, which prompted the IRL to begin a lawsuit that challenged CART's use of the trademark IndyCar. A driver who had however qualified for three previous 500's, American Buddy Lazier, won a competitive but crash-filled race. The CART race had to be delayed when a massive pile-up occurred due the front-tow drivers colliding at the start. In 1997 the U.S. 500 was moved from being directly opposite from the Indy 500 to July, before being cancelled altogether in 1999.

Ten years later the Indianapolis 500 was regaining its luster as the rift within Indy Car circles began to heal. In 1993 Tony George announced that he was bringing NASCAR to the Speedway. In August of 1994 the inaugural Brickyard 400 was held. IRL attracted little known and inexperienced drivers, smaller teams and older cars during its first season in 1996. Due to this and other reasons, NASCAR's Daytona 500 has surpassed IRL's Indianapolis 500 in U.S. TV ratings.

Willie T. Ribbs, a black driver didn't qualify to race until 1991. Blacks did however race in Indianapolis from 1924 through 1936 in a 100-mile event called the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes. This race was held almost every summer at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

George's next move in 1997 was to specify new technical rules for less expensive vehicles and ‘production based' engines that outlawed the CART-spec vehicles. These cars had been the mainstay of the race since the late 1970s. Almost all of the CART teams and drivers did not compete in the race for the next few years. Though this situation allowed many American drivers to participate in an even that may not have been able to afford, a shadow was cast over the race. The absence of many of the top IndyCar drivers, and the disappearance of big-name sponsors and faster CART-spec car made many question George's decision.

A Formula One race, the U.S. Grand Prix was announced by George in December of 1998 that would be held at the track beginning in 2000. George invested tens of millions of dollars in preparation of that event. A 2.6-mile F-1 course had to be constructed, while 1.1 miles of existing track was used, and an additional 1.5 miles of track was built to snake through the infield. In preparation of the Formula One cars, 36 pitside garages were added with suites that overlooked the straightaway on top of those garages. A new media center and a new Master Race Control Tower were constructed and giant video screens were added for the fans of all three of the Speedway's races.

Numerous racing family have participated in the Indianapolis 500, these included the Unsers, Andrettis, Chevroletes, Rathmanns, Russons, DePAlmas, Bettenhausens, Mears, allisons, Carters, Snevas, Whittingtons and Vukovichs.

In 2000, Chip Ganassi, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Vasser, CART drivers returned to Indianapolis for the first time in 4 years when two weeks of the CART schedules were announced and allowed its teams to compete. Montoya put on a dominating performance and led 167 of the 200 laps before winning, somewhat humiliating the IRL teams.The following year Penske announced that he would once again enter vehicles in the Indy 500. Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran walked away with first and second place. CART drivers actually claimed the top five positions in the race, with the 6th place award going to Tony Stewart, a NASCAR driver driving for a CART team. Stewart is the only driver to complete the full race distance in both races on the same day.

Penske and Ganassi became permanet entrants in the IRL for 2002, with various other former CART teams joining them in switching sides. Honda and Toyota switched their engine supply from CART to IRL in 2003, and CART went bankrupt shortly afterwards with all rights and infrastructure purchased by remaining car owners.

In 2001 the 25th run of the festival's Mini-Marathon featured nearly 24,000 entrants from all over the world were competing. The following year Helio Castroneves won again for Penske, but unfortunately the win was quite controversial as Paul Tracy claimed to have passed Castroneves on lap 199 before a yellow light, and Tracy's owner Barry Green appealed this. The win was upheld originally by the IRL before Tony George served as the official arbitrator. On July 3rd George decided that the placement of vehicles after a caution is a judgment call of the officials and not subject to appeal.

A Penske driver claimed victory yet again in 2003 as Gil de Ferran finished first. Consequently teammate Helio Castroneves was denied his third win a row, though he did finish second, just 0.2990 seconds behind de Ferran.

The following year the start of the race was delayed by two hours, before beginning, only to be halted again shortly after. At lap 180 the race ended again, this the final time as the race continued. Pole sitter Buddy Rice took the checkered flag. Receiving the best showing of any women in Indy 500 history, 23-year-old rookie Danica Patrick led the 2005 race for several laps before finishing fourth. The 2005 race was won by Dan Wheldon. Wheldon, Patrick and her teammate Vitor Meira swapped the lead six times during the last 50 laps.

Sam Hornish Jr. won his first Indy 500 in 2006 as he finished just 0.0635 seconds ahead of Marco Andretti, 19 year-old amateur. Winning the second-closest Indy 500 ever, Homish passed Andretti on the final lap of the race. Danica Patrick finished eighth in her second year at Indianapolis.

Following a three-hour delay due to rain, the 07 winner was Dario Franchitti.

Continuing to operate as a separate series, the Champ Car World series had eliminated all oval races from its schedule by 2006. A deal was brokered before the 2008 series to reunite Champ Car and the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series. This brought an end to the 11 year long split.

The Indy Racing League currently specifies all of the technical regulations for the Indy 500. Except for special low-drag adjustable ‘Speedway' wings that only used for the Indy 5500, the rules are the same as every other IRL IndyCar race. Teams are allowed to enter up to two cars on a given car number, while the second ‘backup' vehicle is given that number followed by a ‘T'. Both vehicles may be practiced during the month, even simultaneously. All vehicles must undergo and pass a rigorous technical inspection before receiving a sticker that signifies its eligibility to practice. Before and after qualification vehicles must past yet another inspection. The first one focuses on safety aspects while the second inspection is to detect any deviations from the performance guidelines from the performance guidelines set forth by the league.

The first two to three weeks of practice and qualifying prior to the race is known in racing circles as ‘the month of May'. ‘Bump day' is the final day of qualifying when the drivers are removed from the field of 33 by being out-qualified by faster vehicles, they are said to have been ‘bumped'. ‘On the bubble' are the drivers with the slowest speed in a full field, and the first in line to be bumped. ‘Carburetion Day' or ‘Carb Day' is the Friday before the race day when the final practice session before the race is held. Every year since 1972 on the Friday before the race the ‘Last Row Party' is held to benefit charity.

Stating ‘Gentlemen, start your engines!' has been revised to ‘Lady and Gentlemen' or ‘Ladies and Gentleman' when female drivers are competing in the Indy 500 race.

A long-standing tradition of the Indianapolis 500 has been for the victor to drink a bottle of milk immediately following the race. This tradition began in 1936 when Victor Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk, something his *** had influenced him to drink on hot days. This soon became a ritual as milk companies became influential sponsors of the race and wanted to promote their product. Today, a 10,000 sponsorship by the American Dairy Association is awarded to the winner if he drinks the milk in victory lane.

The Indianapolis 500 has been the topic of several movies, numerous TV shows, media and more recently, a Wii and DS game based on the race.