August 19, 1909: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has its first race
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the few places to get your motor running. Home of the Indy 500, this raceway has been featured in numerous films, including 2013’s animated hit Turbo. Before the barrage of races, their first one was a doozy.
The slowest race ever
Construction on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started on March 15, 1909. While many assumed this project would take a lengthy time, it was completed in a few months. To test the waters, they held a balloon race on June 5, 1909. While you might think this couldn’t draw a stick figure, folks came out in droves. 40,000 people filled the speedway to watch balloons slowly glide across the finish line. Following this race, they decided to bust out the race cars for a three-day event in August.
Start your engines
On August 19, 1909, seven races were scheduled that day with 20,000 people in attendance. The very first race at the track saw Louis Schwitzer taking the victory in his Stoddard-Dayton. The following three races saw Louis Chevrolet, Wilfred Bourque, and Ray Harroun winning their respective runs. The highlight of the day was the Prest-O-Lite Trophy Race, which has Bob Burman take home the trophy.
Trouble on the tracks
Unfortunately, the remaining races that day were canceled for safety reasons. Driver Wilfred Bourque and his mechanic Harry Halcomb perishing in a car crash in an earlier race. During Chevrolet’s race, a rock crashed into his goggles. While the second day had no problems, the third day led to more chaos. Driver Charlie Merz’s mechanic Claude Kellum and two spectators died in a car crash. Fortunately, improvements were made on the speedway to adhere to AAA standards.
With 110 years in business, the speedway still adjusts to modern times. “We’ve held onto our traditions in a way that’s allowed us to be special. Our challenge is how to change enough of the way we present it so that we’re attracting that next generation,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles told ALSD.