Since 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the home of "the greatest spectacle in racing" - the Indy 500. For almost a full century, the world's elite racecar drivers have arrived to Speedway, Indiana, looking to permanently become part of the history and lore of the famed Brickyard. The track was the innovation of Indiana entrepreneur, Carl Fisher, who thought that the track would be ideal for car manufacturers to test their vehicles and equipment - but with a catch. They would test their models against those of other car manufacturers.
After purchasing a tract of land for $72,000, Fisher and his colleagues penned the institution's articles of incorporation on February 8, 1909, officially establishing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company and making Indiana the breeding ground for auto racing for years to come. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened on June 5, 1909 with a hot air balloon race, and on August 19, the first car races were held on the track before a capacity crowd of 15,000 excited fans.
Though the first race ended in tragedy - with three deaths and others injured - the event would not be a portentous omen for the track, as races continued with great success. In December 1909, the track reopened with a freshly-paved surface and new guardrails, proving that auto racing would stay in Speedway.
On May 30, 1911, the first 500-mile race was held on the track, kicking off the celebrated Memorial Day tradition of the Indianapolis 500. American driver Ray Harroun took the checkered flag and brought home $27,550 for his victory behind a Marmon Wasp. Two years later, the Indy 500 began drawing international attention, as cars from England, France, Italy and Germany were included in the competition. Ultimately, the French driver Jules Goux brought home the purse after steering his 1914 Peugeot past the field of drivers.
Long tradition of the Indy 500
Since the early years of the Indy 500, the participating cars have become faster and more powerful, traditions have been set and history has been made. Over the 93 races that have taken place, legends have been born, tragedy has struck and milestones were passed.
1960's duel between Roger Ward and Jim Rathmann remains one of the major events in Indy 500 lore. For almost the entire second half of the race, the two competitors were never more than a couple car lengths apart. The race included eight lead changes during the last 40 laps and three within the final 10. With his tires wearing, Ward was forced to slow down after the 197 lap, and Rathmann sped by to take the checkered flag in a 12-second victory.
Despite the legendary Rathmann-Ward race, no competition had a tighter finish than 1992's race, when Al Unser Jr. beat out Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.
The race has also been a mirror of social change in the U.S. In 1971, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway allowed women in the pits and garage area for the first time. In 1976, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to enter the Indy 500. In 2010, four female drivers will participate in the race, including Danica Patrick, Simona De Silvestro, Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher.
Throughout the years, drivers, car manufacturers, pit crews and fans have developed traditions that withstand to this day.
Each year, eager fans populate the grandstand and infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and wait for the winner to throw back a bottle of milk in a tradition of victory that began in 1933. In the 2010 Indy 500, Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves is looking to repeat last year's victory and get another taste of that Indianapolis milk.