Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana (a separate town completely surrounded by Indianapolis) in the United States, is the second-oldest surviving automobile racing track in the world (after the Milwaukee Mile), having existed since 1909, and the original "Speedway," the first racing facility historically to incorporate the word. The track is a relatively flat (by American standards; considered high-banked by European) two and a half mile oval, almost rectangular in shape. The dimensions have remained unchanged since 1909. There are two 5/8 mile straightaways, two 1/8 mile short straightaways, and four 1/4 mile turns. The infield road course includes parts of the oval to create a 2.6 mile track. Altogether, today the grounds have expanded to cover over a total current area of 559 acres from an original 320 on which the Speedway was first built. With a combined permanent seating and infield spectator capacity of over 400,000, it is the largest sporting facility in the world, and generally recognized as among the most famous and prestigious in motorsport history. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, currently the only such landmark to be affiliated with automotive history since its inception.
To date, a total of 222 automobile races between August 19, 1909 and July 3, 2006 have been held, with 122 separate drivers winning. After winning the U.S. Grand Prix in 2006 for the fifth time, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher holds the record for most victories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway between the '500', '400,' and USGP. Schumacher's wins have come on the infield road course. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears each won four times in the Indianapolis 500 on the rectangular shaped "oval" track. Jeff Gordon has won four times in the Brickyard 400 also run on the oval.
Early History: tragedy begets "The Brickyard"
When the first race took place in August, 1909, the celebration quickly turned into a disaster due to the surface of crushed stone and tar. There were terrible injuries to the race car drivers and spectators. Cars caught fire, there were deaths, and the race was halted and canceled when only halfway completed (five miles). Louis Schwitzer was declared the winner in front of twelve thousand spectators.
Following an initiative by automotive parts and highway pioneer Carl G. Fisher, an Indiana native who was both a former race car driver and one of the principal investors, the safety concerns for race drivers and spectators eventually led to a substantial additional expenditure to pave the track surface with 3.2 million paving bricks, and gave the track its popular nickname, "The Brickyard".
Attracting an estimated 80,000 spectators to the first 500 mile (804.672 km) race on Memorial Day May 30, 1911, at $1 admission, the Speedway reopened and hosted the first in a long line of five hundred mile (804.672 km) races now known as the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Ray Harroun won at the brisk average speed of 74.602 mph (120.060 km/h). 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' was born.
1912 to the 1920s - The Golden Age of Racing
classic race followed in 1912 when Ralph DePalma lost a five lap lead with five laps to go when his car broke down. As his car was being pushed around the circuit, Joe Dawson made up the deficit to win the race. These races gave Indy a worldwide reputation and international drivers began to enter. Three of the next four winners were Europeans, with DePalma being the exception as an American national, though originally Italian born.
The 1916 race was shortened to 120 laps for 300 miles. This was for multiple reasons including a lack of entries from Europe (there were so few entries that the Speedway itself entered several cars), a lack of oil, and out of respect for the war in Europe.
The race was interrupted in the years 1917 and 1918 by World War I, when Indy served as a military hub for repairs. Just before this period, however, on September 9, 1916, the Speedway hosted a day of short racing events termed the "Harvest Classic," composed of three races held at 20, 50 and 100 mile distances.
Johnny Aitken, in a Peugeot, triumphed in all three, in the end the only events he ever won at the facility, and the last races other than the 500-mile that would be held on the grounds for seventy-eight years.
When racing resumed, speeds increased and by 1925, when Peter DePaolo won, the best cars were averaging 100 mph (160 km/h) for the race.
With the depression hitting the nation, the purse dropped from a winners share of $50,000 and a total of $98,250 in 1930 to $18,000 and $54,450 respectively. The rules were also "dumbed down" to what was called the "junk formula" to allow more entries during the depression. A record of 42 cars started the 1933 500. From 1934 onward, 33 drivers started the 500, with 1947 being the exception with 30 starters.
By the early 1930s, however, the increasing speeds began to make the track increasingly dangerous, and in the period 1931-1935 there were 15 fatalities. This forced another repavement, with tarmac replacing the bricks in parts of the track. The danger of the track during this period, however, didn't stop Louis Meyer or Wilbur Shaw from becoming three-time winners, with Shaw also being the first back-to-back winner (1939-1940).
At the beginning of the 1940s, the track required further improvement. In 1941, half of "Gasoline Alley," the garage area, burned down before the race. With US involvement in World War II, the 1942 500-Mile race was cancelled in December of 1941. Late in 1942, a ban on all auto racing led to the canceling of the 500-Mile Race for the rest of the war for a total of four years (1942-1945). The track was more or less abandoned during the war and was in bad shape. Many of the locals conceded that the Speedway would be sold after the war and become a housing development. With the end of the war in sight, on November 29, 1944, 3-time 500 winner Wilbur Shaw came back to do a 500-mile tire test approved by the government for Firestone. Shaw was shocked at the state of the Speedway and contacted owner Eddie Rickenbacker only to discover that it was for sale. Shaw then sent out letters to the automobile industry to try to find a buyer. All the responses indicated that the Speedway would be turned into a private facility for the buyer. Shaw then looked around for someone to buy the Speedway who understood what it was about. He found Terre Haute, Indiana businessman Tony Hulman. Meetings were set up and the purchase of the Speedway happened on November 14, 1945. Though not officially commented on, the purchase price for the Speedway was reported by the Indianapolis Star and News to be $750,000. Major renovations and repairs were made at a quick pace to the frail Speedway before the 1946 race. Since then and up to today, the Speedway continues to grow. Stands have been built and remodelled many times over, suites and museums were added, and many other additions helped bring back Indy's reputation as a great track.
The Roadsters and the 1950's
Several drivers helped grow the reputation of The Brickyard as well, including three-time winner Mauri Rose and 1953-54 winner Bill Vukovich.
In the 1950s, cars were topping out at 150 mph (240 km/h), helping to draw more and more fans. Kurtis, Kuzma, and Watson chassis dominated the field. Nearly all were powered by the Offenhauser engines. The crowd favorite Novi, with its unique sound and look, was powerful car of the decade that dominated time trials. However, they would never make the full 500 miles in first place, often breaking down before the end or having to make too many pit stops because of the massive engine's thirst for fuel and the weight that went with the extra fuel.
The track’s reputation improved so much the 500-Mile Race became part of the Formula One World Championship for 11 years (1950-1960), even though none of the Indy drivers raced in Formula One and only Ferrari's Alberto Ascari of the F1 drivers at the time raced in the 500. Five time World Champion Juan Fangio practiced at the Speedway in 1958, but ultimately decided against it.
The 1950's were also the most dangerous era of racing. Of the 33 drivers of the 1953 race, one less than half, 16, died from racing accidents.
End of the Roadsters to the Modern IndyCar
In October of 1961, the track became completely asphalt, with the exception of a distinct three-foot-wide line of bricks at the start/finish line, turning the "Brickyard" into the "Yard of Bricks."
Ironically, a wave of F1 drivers went to the Speedway in the 1960s, and the rear-engine revolution that was started in F1 by the Cooper team changed the face of the 500 as well; since Jim Clark's win in 1965, every winner has driven a rear-engined car. Graham Hill won the following year in his first attempt, eventually to become the only driver to date to achieve auto racing's "Triple Crown" of winning the World Championship, Indianapolis 500, and Le Mans 24 Hours. There were enough Americans to compete with them, with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Bobby and Al Unser leading the charge in the 1960s and 1970s, of whom Foyt and Al Unser would eventually become, respectively, the first two of to date three drivers to win four times each. In the 1970s the Speedway became more than a race track, as it began to feature a golf course and a hotel.
From 1970 to 1981, Indianapolis had a twin in the city of Ontario, California by the name of the Ontario Motor Speedway, this track was known as the "Indianapolis of the West" and the home of the California 500; but was a financial failure due to bad management and not holding enough races on the racetrack.
The 1980s brought a new generation of speedsters, led by Rick Mears (who recorded the first 200 mph (320 km/h) race lap in 1982), Danny Sullivan, and Bobby Rahal. In 1989, F1 veteran Emerson Fittipaldi astounded both drivers and fans while winning by recording the first 220 mph (350 km/h) lap in a race; before then, Indy had never even witnessed a 210 mph (340 km/h) race lap. The following year witnessed Arie Luyendyk winning in the fastest 500 to date, with an average lap of 185.981 mph (299.307 km/h), and in 1991, Mears becoming the third four-time winner after a late-race duel with Michael Andretti.
From 1919 to 1993, the 500 was the only racing done on the Brickyard. However, when Tony George (Hulman's grandson) inherited the track, he brought more racing to the Speedway, with the NASCAR Allstate 400 at The Brickyard (until 2005 and still commonly referred to as the Brickyard 400) and an International Race Of Champions (IROC) event. The Brickyard Crossing golf course was changed from 27 holes (nine inside, eighteen outside) to a new 18-hole layout designed by legendary golf architect Pete Dye, with a Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour) event hosted there. The 500 itself got a new look in 1996 when it became an event of George's Indy Racing League, formed as a rival to CART.
In 1998, George arranged for Formula One to return to the US for the first time since 1991. Two years of renovation and new construction for an Indy-based road course led to the first United States Grand Prix there in 2000, a race which was a great success. The 2001 event's success (185,000 fans were reported in attendance) was even more important with the race, then originally held in September, being the first major international sporting event in the States after 9/11.
The Grand Prix road course, unlike the oval, is raced in a clockwise direction. This makes the United States Grand Prix highly unusual in North American motorsports; however, it follows the general practice of Formula One, in which the vast majority of circuits (including the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, but not Interlagos) run clockwise.
Only six cars, all with Bridgestone tires, started the 2005 US Grand Prix due to safety concerns involving Michelin tires performance on the banked corners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which are highly unusual in Formula 1. The perceived outrage of this event put the future of Formula One at Indianapolis in doubt. However, the event was held on July 2, 2006, on the American Fourth of July weekend, with American Scott Speed driving for the new Toro Rosso team. This marked the latest American in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.
The future of the United States Grand Prix is at this moment uncertain. During the 2006 United States Grand Prix, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has said that it does not matter to him whether or not there is a Grand Prix in America, but he will not deny any good offers. There is also a rumour going around that next season, there will be two Grand Prix held in the US. According to Bernie Ecclestone, a possible second US Grand Prix "will not be held in Las Vegas." The 2007 Formula One season will see another US Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Of the three major races held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the US Grand Prix generates the most business to the local economy due to the many overseas tourists and many sponsors and teams that are backed by large expense accounts.
Support Races for the Indianapolis 500, Allstate 400
In 2003, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, a "minor league" series to the IRL, made history with the first May race other than the 500, the Futaba Freedom 100, which has been moved from the final qualifying weekend to the final practice on Friday before the 500.
The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard currently has no official support races. From 1998-2003, an IROC event was held as a support race. Since 1982, nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park has held a NASCAR Busch Series event, and since the inception of the Allstate 400 in 1994, it has been held the night before. Since 1996, a Craftsman Truck Series race has also been held at IRP. Since 2001, qualifying for the Allstate 400 has been held on Saturday afternoon, with the Busch series race run Saturday night.
Dimensions (Oval Layout)
Long straightaways - 5/8 mile: 2 × 0.625 mile (1.006 km)
Short straightaways - 1/8 mile: 2 × 0.125 mile (0.201 km)
Turns - 1/4 mile: 4 × 0.25 mile (0.402 km)
Total distance: 2.5 miles (4.023 km)
Track width: 50 feet / 15.240 metres (straightaways), 60 feet / 18.288 metres (turns)
The Speedway has a graphic on their web site that shows that the following landmarks could all fit within the dimensions of the oval at the same time:
The Roman Coliseum
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Campus (home of the Wimbledon Championships)
The Rose Bowl Stadium
Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby)