The world's greatest race course, built on the northwest fringe of Indianapolis in 1909 as a proving ground for automobiles, has been an important factor in the development of the present day motor car as well as the home to this May's 89th Indy 500.
Many refinements embodied in our modern cars can be traced directly to high-speed tests on the challenging two-and-one-half mile course at this great outdoor laboratory, and new ideas are being tried in actual competition with each succeeding year. Even today, the original precepts of the Speedway's four founders are still being observed.
The founders -- Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler -- pooled their ideas and resources to build the Speedway. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and his associates purchased the plant in 1927. In the fall of 1945, Tony Hulman, of Terre Haute, Ind., obtained ownership.
The Speedway was opened as a crushed stone and tar track on August 19, 1909, for three days of racing. Accidents in the initial events, however, convinced the management that a paved surface was necessary for the safety of the drivers, and work was started immediately. Three million, two hundred thousand paving bricks were required for the project. The job was completed in time for another series of races starting on December 18 that year.
Sub-freezing weather forced cancellation of the event, but various racing programs were held during May, July and September of 1910. The first 500-mile classic, first named the International Sweepstakes, took place on May 30, 1911. Except when our nation has been at war, the Indianapolis 500 has been an annual event ever since.
Parts of the track were resurfaced with asphalt beginning in 1937, and the entire track was resurfaced with asphalt in 1976, 1988, 1995 and again in 2005. A 36-inch strip of the original brick remains intact at the starting line.
When Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in November 1945, he named himself chairman of the board and installed the late Wilbur Shaw (killed in a private plane crash in 1954) as president. The facilities were in deplorable condition after four years of steady deterioration during World War II, but a long-range program of major improvements was launched immediately. All of the old wooden grandstands were replaced with structures of steel and concrete as rapidly as possible in succeeding years.
Following Tony Hulman's death on October 27, 1977, Mrs. Mary Hulman became chairman of the board with Joseph R. Cloutier as president. John R. Cooper was named president on October 17, 1979, with Mr. Cloutier continuing as treasurer until Mr. Cooper resigned on May 7, 1982, at which time Mr. Cloutier again was named president.
In May of 1988, Mrs. Hulman was named chairman of the board emeritus and Mari Hulman George was named chairman of the board. After Mr. Cloutier's death on December 11, 1989, Anton H. George, grandson of Mr. Hulman, was named president.
The first museum-office building at the main entrance to the grounds was completed in 1956. The Control Tower, Tower Terrace and Pit Area were built in 1957 -- along with a new tunnel under the backstretch -- and other improvements followed quickly. These included new Vista stands on Turns 1, 2 and 4; new tunnels near the head of the main straightaway and between Turns 3 and 4 at the north end of the track; and new electric scoreboards.
In 1973, hospitality suites were added outside Turn 2, and a new four-lane tunnel was built at the south end of the track between Turns 1 and 2. The new multimillion dollar Hall of Fame Museum was opened to the public on April 5, 1976.
In 1977, new Paddock Penthouse seats were added, and four more sections of Tower Terrace seats were built in 1978. Grandstand C, with 27 hospitality suites built above it on the outside of the main straightaway, was erected in 1984. Known as the Hulman Terrace, each suite has its own section of 80 penthouse seats.
A new South Vista stand was erected for the 1985 race, and all the infield restrooms were replaced with modern facilities. In 1986, a new garage area complex was built which includes 96 individual garages for race teams and new accessory rooms accommodating up to 25 participating companies. Six new Tower Terrace hospitality rooms were also built adjacent to the new garage area.
Fifteen electronic message centers were installed for the 1987 race, and a new Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and eight new concession stands were erected for the 1988 event. The entire track and pit area were resurfaced for the 1989 race and Grandstand A was remodeled. For 1990, the Terrace Extension stand inside the main straightaway was replaced with a new Tower Terrace stand with 38 executive suites. A new Wheelchair Accessible Seating stand was erected inside the track at the short south straightaway, and half of Grandstand E (Turn 1) was remodeled. The wooden seats in the Tower Terrace section north of the starting line were replaced with aluminum.
In 1991, the remodeling of Grandstand E was completed, a new drainage system was installed in the infield, the garage area parking lot was blacktopped, a new safety patrol office was constructed, the Hanna Medical Center was enlarged and new restrooms were added to Stand B and Penthouses A and B.
For 1992, the backstretch maintenance buildings were removed, a new maintenance and storage complex was built outside of Turn 4 and a newly designed, energy-absorbing attenuator (crash pad) was installed at the pit entrance on the north end of the outside pit wall.
The North Vista grandstand was erected in 1993 along with new outside walls and safety fences. Also installed were warm-up lanes (22' wide) in all four corners and warning strips (30" wide) below the white line in all four corners and short chutes.
Renovations in 1994 include an alteration of pit lane complete with reinforced concrete walls and the addition of concrete sections to the paved asphalt surface. Victory Lane was transformed into a circular, rotating lift in the Tower Terrace horseshoe, and a new, 97-foot-tall scoring pylon with modern electronics replaced the pylon that has marked the main straightaway since 1959. In addition to track renovations, the new IMS Administrative Center was completed at the corner of 16th and Georgetown (outside Turn 1) and now houses most IMS offices.
In 1995, the track was completely repaved with a high-density asphalt surface. The top three inches of the track were milled and replaced with the new asphalt. Concrete walls and catch fencing was installed along the inside of the backstraightaway, which was widened by 30 feet.
Grandstand renovations in 1995 include the refurbishment of Stand J in Turn 4 and the removal of the North Terrace and Fourth Turn Terrace inside Turn 4. A new viewing mound was created in their place. In addition, Stands L, L South and M in Turn 3 were removed, and the Northeast Vista was refurbished and extended beyond their original locations well into the back straightaway.
And just this year, IMS got a diamond-ground surface that appears to be grippy in practice. Cars are achieving 4 mph faster speeds consistently in 2005 than they did in 2004, and some of that is attributed to the recent resurfacing, the first to happen since 1995's project.
Today, the race course varies in width from 50 feet on the straight stretches to 60 feet on the turns. Each of the four turns are 1,320 feet (1/4 mile), the front and back stretches measure 3,300 feet (5/8 mile) and the straightaways at the north and south ends are each 660 feet long (1/8 mile). The corners are banked at 9 degrees and 12 minutes and the walls are reinforced with SAFER barriers, responsible for greatly lowering G-force upon impact, protecting drivers who hit the wall.
Reserved seating at the Speedway currently holds in excess of 250,000 spectators, and thousands more can be accommodated in the infield. The Speedway never gives attendance figures, leaving media and fans to guess how many spectators show up each year. Speedway property (559 acres) also includes the Brickyard Crossing, a championship golf course with 14 holes outside the track and 4 inside. It was opened to the public on September 10th, 1993. It will feature the Brickyard Crossing Championship, a Senior PGA Tour event, this September for the third year running.
The first 500-mile race in 1911 was won by Ray Harroun at an average speed of 74.602 mph. The race record of 185.981 mph for the full 500 miles was set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk. Luyendyk also holds the one-lap record of 237.498 and the four-lap record of 236.986 both set during the official time trials in 1996.