The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is one of the largest single-day sporting events on earth. It was the brainchild of four local businessmen, Carl Fisher, James Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby. They purchased 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis in the hopes of furnishing a superior proving-ground for the industry’s latest models.
Holding the occasional race, they speculated, would not only yield profit from admission fees, but turn more than a few spectators into car owners. At that time, there were 36 automakers in Indiana, ten in Indianapolis alone.
Hot air balloons were the first to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June of 1909, followed in August of that year by events for motorcycle and, finally, automobile. The track’s surface of crushed rock and tar was barely laid before the cars took their positions.
Before the scheduled 300-mile race was completed, the three-day extravaganza would see injury, death and the disintegration of the racetrack’s surface. The speedway’s debut drew in 75,000 fans.
A massive overhaul of the track’s surface followed. 3.2 million bricks were brought in by rail from the Wabash Clay Company of Veedersburg , Indiana , and the legendary “Brickyard” was born.
The first official Indianapolis 500-Mile Race took place on Memorial Day of 1911, with Ray Harroun setting the winning pace of just over 74 miles per hour in his Marmon Wasp.
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