IMS Milestones: 1906-1911

Nov. 15, 1906: A letter from American entrepreneur Carl Fisher appears in Motor Age magazine, touting the need for a 3- to 5-mile test track in America. Fisher states the idea “has been a hobby of mine for the past three years.”

Dec. 12, 1908: By this date, Fisher associate Lem Trotter has secured the options to buy the four adjoining 80-acre tracts of farmland northwest of the city on which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be built.

Feb. 8, 1909: The Aero Club of America announces from New York that the Grand Prize event, the U.S. National Balloon Championships, has been awarded to Indianapolis and that it will take place June 5 at the “Indiana Motor Parkway,” which will later be called the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis has outbid St. Louis for the event. Also, recent announcements indicate that the track is trying to land the FAM (Federation of American Motorcyclists) races, which normally have been held on the East Coast in July.

March 1, 1909: The dimensions of the planned track have been changed. The first draft called for a 3-mile “outer” course, which could, if so chosen, be linked up with a 2-mile road course through the infield to combine for a 5-mile lap. It has now been decided to reduce the “outer” course to 2.5 miles and increase the optional road course section to 2.5 miles so that the combined lap will still be 5 miles. The drawback to the 3-mile course was that, while it would certainly fit onto the available property, there would be no room for grandstands on the outsides of the straights. By leaving the four turns at exactly 440 yards each from entrance to exit, and reducing the length of the straights, a 2.5-mile outer track could be produced, allowing for grandstands on the outside.

March 9, 1909: Driver Lewis Strang, on his way from Chicago to Daytona Beach, Fla., stops in Indianapolis and is taken to visit the site of the “motor parkway,” which will soon be known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He poses for a photo which, almost 100 years later, will be titled “The Vision.” The major work has not yet begun, but an 8-foot-long scale miniature of the 2.5-mile rectangular-shaped oval sits at the southeast corner of the property so that passersby on the Crawfordsville Pike (later West 16th Street) can see what is planned.

March 11, 1909: The Indianapolis Sun (later The Indianapolis Times) makes reference to the track as the “Indianapolis motor speedway,” rather than the “motor parkway,” using a lowercase “m” for “motor” and a lowercase “s” for “speedway.”

March 20, 1909: The articles of incorporation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company (rather than corporation) are signed, and the company is officially formed. Although the papers were due to be filed Feb. 8, for reasons unknown the articles are not signed by all parties until March 20.
End of March 1909: Grading work begins to convert the IMS Company’s property from farmland to a 2.5-mile oval. King Brothers of Montezuma, Ind., has been awarded the contract for grading and New York-based engineer P. T. Andrews has been hired as superintendent of construction.

June 5, 1909: On this Saturday afternoon, the Speedway plays host to its first competitive event, the Aero Club of America’s U.S. National Balloon Championships, while construction of the 2.5-mile oval continues.

Aug. 13, 1909: The first of two scheduled days of motorcycle racing is completely rained out.

Aug. 14, 1909: The rescheduled first day of motorcycle competition is severely hampered by the terrible condition of the track surface, which is a mixture of crushed rock and tar. Many riders refuse to compete. The 10-event program is reduced to eight, of which only seven are held, while the second day, rescheduled for Monday, Aug. 16, is canceled completely. A. G. Chapple beats six other riders in the opening 5-mile handicap on Saturday. With the cancellation of event number 8, the 10-lap, 25-mile FAM championship event for professionals, the final race of the day ends up being the four-lap 10-mile amateur championship won by E.G. Baker, who in a few years will gain considerable fame as the legendary perennial transcontinental record-breaker “Cannon Ball” Baker.

Aug. 19, 1909: Three days of automobile racing, totaling 18 events, kick off with a two-lap, standing-start event won by Louis Schwitzer, who will later achieve fame as an industrialist. Other races are won by Louis Chevrolet and Ray Harroun. In the final event of the day, the 250-mile race for the Prest-O-Lite trophy, Billy Borque, who won a race earlier in the day, is fatally injured along with his riding mechanic.

Aug. 21, 1909: After a relatively problem-free day two, the third day ends in disaster when the 300-mile race for the $10,000 Wheeler-Schebler trophy is halted due to accidents at the 235-mile mark. The regrettable loss of life over the three days amounts to one driver, two riding mechanics and two spectators. The track surface obviously is inadequate, and management quickly meets to seek a solution.

Sept. 18, 1909: Shortly after the decision is made to resurface the track with street-paving bricks, workmen unload two railcars of bricks from the Peoria & Eastern Railway station across from the IMS main entrance. The bricks are transported into the grounds via horse and cart, and work soon commences on laying down the 3.2 million of them. About 90 percent of the bricks, known as “Culver Blocks” for patent holder Ruben Culver, come from the Wabash Clay Company in Veedersburg, Ind., while the balance comes from nearby subcontractors.

Dec. 10, 1909: The brick-paving job is completed, 63 days after work began. Even before the work is done, locals have nicknamed the track “The Brickyard.”

Dec. 17, 1909: Despite 10-degree temperatures, Indiana Gov. Thomas R. Marshall dedicates the new surface by placing a “gold” brick (actually gold-plated brass) in the track. Newell Motsinger, driving an Empire, is the first to take an official time trial.

Dec 18, 1909: With temperatures only a couple of degrees warmer than yesterday, Lewis Strang braves the cold and laps the track at 91.81 mph, covering the flying mile at 111.8.

May 27, 1910: The first day of a three-day meet gets underway, with Louis Chevrolet winning the first of 10 planned races, a 5-mile dash, in a Buick entry.

May 28, 1910: Ray Harroun wins the 200-mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race. An estimated 25,000 attend the day’s events.

May 30, 1910: Approximately 50,000 spectators crowd into IMS for the final day of the three-day meet, many being forced into the infield because the grandstands are full. Ray Harroun wins the 50-mile race for the Remy Grand Brassard trophy - exactly one year to the day before he will win the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Ironically, Harroun has escaped injury in a hard crash earlier in the day, in a Marmon “Wasp” carrying the No. 32 - the same number as his “500”-winning entry will be a year from now. Everyone seems happy with the new surface as, other than for one broken leg, there are no serious injuries.

June 13, 1910: The National Aviation Meet gets underway at IMS, featuring world-famous pioneers of flight Orville and Wilbur Wright.

June 17, 1910: Walter Brookins, a member of the “Wright Flyers,” sets an international altitude record by achieving a height of 4,938 feet during the National Aviation Meet. Brookins beats his own previous record of 4,187 feet, set earlier in the week at IMS.

July 1-2 and 4, 1910: Additional races take place at IMS, but crowds are significantly lower due to an ongoing heat wave and holiday activities around the area. Controversy will envelop events several weeks later, as sanctioning body AAA disqualifies the cars entered as Buick-Marquettes because they do not qualify as “stock” automobiles.

Sept. 3 and 5, 1910: The final auto races of 1910 are held, the scheduled three-day meet being shortened to two. Ray Harroun wins 5-mile sprints on both days, while Johnny Aitken wins the finale on Sept. 5, a 200-miler, in a National. Holiday activities, including a huge parade downtown, hold Monday’s crowd to about 18,000, causing management to reconsider its options for 1911. While the private testing by automobile companies has been flourishing, perhaps too much racing has been offered.

Sept. 6, 1910: Local newspapers reveal that IMS management is considering a single major racing event for 1911, featuring a huge purse, in the range of $30,000. The founders initially discuss a 1,000-mile or 24-hour race, but as the papers report a few days later, they settle on a 500-mile event to take place on Memorial Day 1911.

Sept. 17, 1910: The National Balloon Championships return to IMS. Nine balloons qualify for the championship race, and four compete in a “Free-for-All” race.

May 30, 1911: The first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, initially named the “International Sweepstakes,” is won by Ray Harroun at an average speed of 74.602 mph. Except during America’s involvement in World Wars I and II, the Indianapolis 500 will be an annual event from now on. Almost a century later, many historians will look back on this event as perhaps the first to feature the use of a pace car, and they will also credit Harroun’s Marmon “Wasp” as the first automobile to use a rearview mirror.