Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Birthplace of Speed

Don Sherman
IMS Photo

Fisher and his partners agreed that motorsports wouldn't thrive without major track improvements. Construction engineer Andrews suggested paving the entire racing surface with either bricks or concrete. Bricks were twice as expensive, but they'd last longer and provide superior traction, in his opinion.

Since the first mile of paved public road was also under construction in 1909, Speedway owners had no experience on which to base their decision. Traction tests were conducted, proving the brick approach to be clearly superior. Funds were authorized to begin the repaving project less than a month after the pioneering racers left the track.

Five Indiana manufacturers supplied 3.2 million ten-pound bricks, which were each hand laid over a two-inch sand cushion. After the surface was leveled with a steamroller, gaps were filled with mortar. To safeguard spectators, a 33-inch-high concrete wall was also constructed in front of the main grandstand and around all four turns.

Although it was too late in the season to resume racing, eleven drivers and a few motorcycles returned in December for speed trials. Hardy spectators braved winds and 10-degree temperatures to witness Walter Christie top 100 mph in his purpose-built, front-wheel-drive racer and his nephew, Lewis Strang, achieve 112 mph in a Fiat. Race starter Wagner issued two proclamations: that the Speedway was now "a wonderful track and will allow for the speed that any car today has stored away in it" and that "100 mph is as fast as the American public will care for."

Give the man half credit. During the next seven years, no drivers and only one riding mechanic died racing at the Brickyard. However, Wagner underestimated the typical fan's zest for speed. No tears were shed in 1919 when René Thomas was the first pole-winner to qualify over 100 mph or when Tom Sneva cracked the 200-mph barrier in 1978.

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