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Plenty Of History, Tradition At Turn One Gate At IMS

Friday, March 23 marked what is becoming another Indianapolis Motor Speedway tradition and a sure sign that the Indianapolis 500 will soon be upon us. The placing of the racing flags atop what is now called the Turn One Gate (it used to be called Gate 1) began in the late 1990s as a way to celebrate and announce the beginning of a new IndyCar season. But it is the history of the gate, and what it has meant to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that intrigues me.

From 1909 until 1973, this Turn One Gate served as the main gate to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1973, the current four-lane tunnel under the south end of the track was constructed and, Gate 2 as it was called, became the center of activity and has served since that time much more like a main gate than Turn One Gate.

The reason the main gate was located at the corner of what is now 16th and Georgetown Road is because it was right across from where the railroad ran. There was either a small station, or at least a pick-up and drop-off point, that served the farming community but made for easy access to and from IMS. The approximate location of the stop is immediately south of the current administration building, about where the gas station is located on 16th Street.

The rail lines were placed around 1870. The tracks’ angle was in line from Union Station in Indianapolis on to Crawfordsville, Ind., and points beyond. When Lem Trotter brought Carl Fisher out to look at the farm property for sale, one of Trotter's selling points was that the large portion of the general public which did not own an automobile could get to events at the proposed speedway by train, be dropped off on the corner, and then walk across the street to the track.

For many of the early years, the majority of the Speedway’s grandstands were concentrated down around turn one because of the number of people entering the facility at this point. There would also be a huge congregation of people picnicking inside turn one in the area that eventually developed into the Snake Pit. When the race was over, fans could walk back across the street and catch the train back downtown.

The Race Day rail service ended in the early 1960s (either ’62 or ’63), although trains still ran until the early 1970s. The tracks were eventually taken up, and those areas are now used for parking during IMS events. The path of the train can still be easily followed on the south side of Crawfordsville Road when leaving the Speedway and heading west toward Interstate 465. On event weekends, the area that was once a railroad looks like a large, linear parking lot.

It may not be the official main gate of the Speedway now, but many a traveler today evidently still believe it is the main gate as throughout the year people park their cars to take pictures of the gate, its sign, the wing and wheel, and the seven flags that fly from the first day of the IZOD IndyCar Series season until the checkered flag falls on the last race of the season.

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