When architects Carl Fisher, James Allison, F.H. Wheeler, and Arthur Newby first broke ground on March 15, 1909, they had high hopes for the venue. The track was opened five months later on August 12, an impressive feat in itself. We can only imagine the look on their faces if they were able to see what this place has become.
What is now known to all of us as the Racing Capital of The World began with a $72,000 purchase of 328 acres of farmland just outside of downtown Indianapolis.
As you descend upon 16th & Georgetown, an indescribable feeling overwhelms you. The sun glistens over the pagoda, and you feel the cool morning air in the shadows of the grandstands. Generations of people have experienced the cultural touchstone known as Race Day in Indy.
There are only three major venues in the world that are older than IMS.
To put it into perspective, William Howard Taft just succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as the President of the U.S. when the speedway was being built. The construction had just begun on the Titanic ship, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Yale University were the champions of baseball and college football.
Obviously nothing will ever compare to the rich history and tradition of the Indianapolis 500, but it has now been 20 years since the stock cars rolled onto the famed 2.5 mile speedway. The first stock car test was held on June 22, 1992 with the first NASCAR race taking place two years later.
There have been many events that took place here, including the Opening Ceremonies for the 1987 Pan American games. The early years of motorcycle and balloon races are well documented, but Eddie Rickenbacker actually had a plane here in the early 1930s. In 1931, Cummins set out to break the engine endurance record with their new diesel motor. They crushed the record, logging 13,535 miles around the track in two weeks without ever stopping.
The NASCAR and IndyCar comparisons have already began through various media outlets. It happens every year, and should come as no surprise. It would be like having a dog race at Churchill Downs and comparing the dogs to the horses. Obviously the speed is the biggest topic, but it really isn’t comparable, as evidenced by the records of each type of car.
The track record for one qualifying lap in open-wheel belongs to Arie Luyendyk. In 1996 he went 237.498 mph in 37.895 seconds. The record for NASCAR is owned by Casey Mears. In 2004 he went 186.293 mph in 48.311 seconds. He is the nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears.
There will be no shortage of drivers with open-wheel ties at IMS this weekend. Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, Juan Montoya, Scott Pruett, Scott Dixon, Tony Stewart, Sam Hornish, and Danica Patrick will all be racing this weekend. You can add to that David Donohue and Alex Gurney, the sons of legendary drivers Mark Donohue and Dan Gurney.
When you think about all of the legendary drivers that have raced here in some fashion, it’s mesmerizing. Name a great professional driver, and chances are they have raced at IMS.
There were plenty of people groaning about the sight of NASCAR at the speedway in the early ’90s. After a few years though, the idea of driving a stock car around IMS has become accepted. They have also hosted Formula 1 races, and now MotoGP. No matter how you slice it, racing is racing, and there will be plenty of that on display this weekend at the Greatest Race Course in the World.
This year is the first time in IMS history that races will take place on the 2.5 mile oval and 2.534 mile road course on the same weekend. The move of the Nationwide race from Lucas Oil Raceway to IMS has resulted in a lot of criticism. The track sold out all 28 years it hosted the Nationwide cars.
This place has been the home of the biggest race in the world for more than a century. It has also hosted Formula 1, NASCAR, MotoGP, and now the Grand Am Series. As much as you love racing, you have to love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just as much.