December 18 01:48 PM
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Welcome Race Fans

The Indianapolis 500

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The Indianapolis 500 may be known as the fastest, richest race in the world. Excessive speeds and a multi-million dollar purse make this event the creme de la creme of auto racing. Its beginning was far more modest.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself began as a dream in a man's mind. The man was Carl Fisher of Indianapolis, Indiana. Spurred on by a trip to Europe three years earlier, and problems with his own motorized vehicle, he desired to build a race track. This track would be used by car manufacturers to test their cars and equipment. They would test them against other manufacturers and their cars. Being a shrewd businessman, he also reasoned that people would pay good money to see races such as that.

He and his friends began to look for about three hundred acres of land available to buy. He found the land, and with other men joining him in the venture, purchased it for $72,000. On February 8, 1909, the articles of incorporation were filed with the name Inianapolis Motor Speedway Company.

This group of men would create what was destined to become a race course known worldwide.

In the early 1900's, with the beginning of the automobile age, interest began to increase in car racing. Carl Fisher wanted to begin construction on a great motor speedway. He found a few individuals ready to listen. One group of men in particular was looking for an attraction to draw attention to their new spa and hotel at French Lick, Indiana.

Mr. Fisher wrote a letter to a popular automobile magazine promoting the virtues of a three to five mile race track, as opposed to the more common mile track.

In other parts of the country, interest in racing was on the rise. Races were being held in various places. Groups began to discuss the possibility of building motor speedways in their areas.

The opening day for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was set for June 5, 1909. It was to begin with a hot air ballon race. On Friday, August 14, the first motorcycle races were held. There were hold ups, however, in getting the race track finished, which was discouraging to all concerned.

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The first actual race took place on August 19, 1909; the track was still not properly prepared. The grandstands were packed to their 15,000 capacity and beyond. Unfortunately, the events that occurred during the first races were tragic. Three competitors and two spectators lost their lives and others were injured. It was not a good beginning for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Before official action could be taken by the AAA, Mr. Fisher made an announcement. He stated that the Speedway would be made safe for spectators as well as drivers. The track was to be paved and guardrails installed before any more races were scheduled.

The formal re-opening of the track was sceduled for the weekend of December 17-18, 1909. The temperature was 9 degrees. Little more than five hundred spectators were present. However, despite the negativism of some, auto racing was here to stay.

The Speedway began to be used for many money making events; car races, hot air balloon races, stock car races, motorcycle races, and more. Soon plans were made for something new, bigger, and better. It was guaranteed land even more of a money maker and was scheduled for completion by 1911. The first Indianapolis "500" was to take place on May 30, 1911. The winner of that race was Ray Haroun, in his Marmon Wasp. The purse was $27,550.

The Indianapolis 500 of 1913 was the first real race with international interest, however. Cars came from England, France, Italy, and Germany, as well as the United States were to participate. The outcome was the first European winner. Jules Goux and his 1913 Peugeot won the 1913 Indianapolis 500.

Ever the far reaching businessman, Carl Fisher had proposed a plan to some other men for a super highway from the east coast to the west coast in preparation for the era of transportaion that was approaching. It took fifteen years, with the help of federal funds, to complete it. It was named the Lincoln Highway. Fisher knew this would make it easier for fans and drivers to get to the Indianapolis 500 each year.

Meanwhile, each year, the Indy 500 was growing larger. More grandstands were built to hold the people, tunnels were constructed under the track, and more Europeans were entering the race with their cars and racing teams. It was becoming known worldwide in only a few short years.

During WWI the Speedway suspended all racing activities and was used as an aviation repair depot and landing field for planes flying a midwest route.

Fisher, meanwhile, was devoting his time and finances to developing swampland he had purchased some years earlier in Florida. It came to be known as Miami Beach.

May,1919, saw the first Indianapolis 500 since the end of WWI. The purse was set at $50,000. They changed the date that year from May 30 to May 31. For the first time since 1911, tragic accidents claimed three lives.

In 1920, for the first time since 1912, an American entry won the 500. Gaston Chevrolet, driving a Monroe, was the winner.

In 1923 Carl Fisher declared that he wanted to sell his interest in the Speedway. He relinquished the responsibilities of Speedway management to his business colleagues. In 1927, after searching for a buyer for years, he sold the Speedway to Eddie Rickenbacker. Carl Fisher died in Miama, Florida, in 1939.

As the years passed, things changed at the Speedway. Engine sizes, speeds allowed, fuel amounts, safety features, crowd sizes, and other considerations were altered. During WWII it was not needed for any war efforts and was left empty. It changed hands, once again, after the war.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway re-opened in 1946 after being repaired and renovated. The winner of that race was George Robson.

Years have come and gone. Wars have come and gone. The Indianapolis 500 has gotten bigger than ever. The city of Indianapolis prepares for the event all year long but the festivities actually begin early in the month of May. The first stop for many is the Hall of Fame. This museum features over two hundred vintage autos and more than twenty five cars that have won the Indy 500.

The Speedway officially opens on the first Saturday in May. There are breakfasts, special events, parties, practices, and qualifications trials in the weeks before the race. When the big day finally comes there are over 400,000 fans watching with anticipation.

Indiana is famous for this race that outshines all auto races. The Indy 500 is the oldest auto race in the world. Car and car parts manufacturers still advertize that they are the best. People come from all over the world to see the race. The winners purse in 1911 was $27,550. In 1999 it was $9,047,150. The dream that Carl Fisher had is still going strong.

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Connie Sommerville
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