When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its gates for the first time in 1909, one dollar was the equivalent of $26.32 today, Yale was the finest college football team in the land and William Howard Taft had succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as President of the United States in March.
Indiana businessmen Carl Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler pooled their capital to build the Speedway as an automobile testing ground to serve the state’s burgeoning automotive industry. The group, led by Fisher, found Pressley Farm, a 328 acre parcel of level farmland that they purchased for $ 72,000. Located in the Indianapolis suburb of Speedway, the venue sits on the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Avenue, about six miles west of downtown. The facility is the first motor car track built in America and has a permanent seating capacity of approximately 257,325 with additional infield seating that brings the total to over 400,000. It is the highest-capacity sports venue in the world and took four months to complete, using 500 laborers, 300 mules and an assemblage steam-powered machinery. The original track consisted of graded and packed soil covered by gravel, limestone and a mixture of tar and oil. It proved to be a dangerous, dirty and inadequate surface for motor car racing and was paved with bricks less than one month later. Locals nicknamed the track “the Brickyard” and, although the track has now been modernized with an asphalt surface, the finish line is still comprised of a one-yard wide row of bricks.
IMS is relatively flat and the track is a two-and-a-half mile oval whose dimensions have not changed since it opened: four quarter-mile turns, two straightaways measuring 5/8 mile each and two “short chute” straightaways of 1/8 mile each that connect the first and second, and third and fourth, turns. The original grounds have been expanded to cover an area of over 559 acres today. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum was opened in 1956 in a building outside the speedway but moved to the infield between turns one and two in 1975. The old facility was demolished and replaced with IMS administration offices. The Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort, originally opened as the Speedway Golf Course in 1929, also sits on the grounds. 14 holes are routed along the backstretch outside the track and four are in the infield. IMS’s signature event is the Indianapolis 500, an annual open-wheel race held on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. 2016 will mark the 100th running of what is known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. The track also hosts NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, two Grand Prix motorcycle racing events and held the U.S. Grand Prix for Formula One from 200-2007. In addition, the speedway was the venue for the opening ceremonies for the 1987 Pan Am Games as well as the site for that event’s speed roller skating competition.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the only racing venue to receive that honor.
On this date in 1909, IMS hosted its first automobile race. Fifteen teams competed in a 250 mile race before an estimated 20,000 spectators.