Indy 500 History

There are many other auto races, but the mystique of the Indy 500 and its history stand alone. Visit anytime to learn about this special sporting event.

You have to travel far to find someone who hasn't heard of the Indianapolis 500 mile race. Barcelona, Spain...heard of it, Cozumel, Mexico...heard of it, Edinburgh, Scotland...heard of it, you get the picture. Whenever I travel I tell people I'm from Indy, (or close anyway) and the response is usually the same.

But what people don't know is the Indy 500 has a grown from a one-day race into more of a phenomenon. Even the locals tell you there's something special about Indianapolis in the merry month of May. There are many other auto races, but the mystique of Indy stands alone. You needn't attend the big race to enjoy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you can visit anytime.

The track at Indy is approaching it's 100th birthday. The 2 and 1/2 mile oval was completed in 1909, and it was early on, paved with 3.2 million bricks. It's still referred to as the "Brickyard," but only the start/finish line are bricked now, for nostaglia's sake. On May 30, 1911, the Speedway hosted the first Indianapolis 500 mile race.

Back in those days, mechanics rode along with the drivers, but at the first race driver Ray Harroun had no mechanic in his car. (The other 39 drivers did.) Instead, he mounted a rearview mirror to watch for traffic. Auto historians claim it was the first ever usage of such a mirror. Perhaps thanks to his new invention, Harroun won the race, amid some controversy. Another driver, Ralph Mulford claimed he hadn't been credited with a lap he finished when an accident distracted race officials. Nonetheless, Ray Harroun is officially listed as the first winner, and he averaged 74.59 MPH during the over six-hour ordeal.

The Hoosier capital dedicates the entire month of May for race celebrations and activities for the family. The 500 Festival hosts a number of events including Community Day, Mayors Breakfast, a parade, Kids Day, a Mini-marathon, plus a 5K run, and much more. Community Day offers tours of gasoline alley and pit row, plus a chance to meet some of the Indy 500 drivers.

Another year round attraction is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum located on the grounds of the speedway. The Hall of Fame was established in 1952 for the purpose of perpetuating the names and memories of personalities in racing and the development of the automobile industry. This is the place to get in-depth and personal about the "greatest spectacle in racing." And even those not-so-hard-core race fans can spend an enjoyable hour or two here. Be sure to see the video recounting the history of the Indy 500, showing every half hour.

A shrine to the auto racing, at least 75 cars are always on display, as well as an abundance of race memorabilia. The museum has more than one third of all the 500 mile race winners, including Ray Harroun's Marmon "Wasp" from the first race in 1911....but does it still have that ground-breaking rearview mirror? They own over 300 automobiles in total. Their vehicle collection is regularly rotated so return visitors can see something different.

A Hall of Fame Medallion is awarded to each inductee into the Hall, while their name is inscribed on a permanent trophy at the museum. The museum is open daily from 9:00 to 5:00 except for Christmas Day. During the month of May they extend their hours.

When it's not in use, finish off your visit with a bus ride around the famous track, albeit at a much slower pace than on that important day in May. Oh well, you speed demons can dream!

Rumors about the Speedway hosting another major racing event began in the early 90s. This rumor proved to have substance. In 1993, it was announced that NASCAR would add a race to it's Winston Cup stock car series, a 400-mile race to be held in Indy. A sell-out crowd of 350,000 race fans attended the first running of the Brickyard 400 on August 6, 1994. Indiana native Jeff Gordon raced to victory and into the hearts of many on that summer day. Young, personable and handsome, Gordon has become a public relations golden child.

The popularity of auto racing has reached an all-time high around the nation. But, for most, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 reign supreme.

© High Speed Ventures 2011