It was held on Tuesday, May 30, 1911 and immediately set the mark for motorsports competition worldwide.
Ralph Kramer, author of “Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 100 Years of Racing” (by KP Books) describes the epic day:
“The Big Four Railroad started running trains to the track at 4:30 a.m.; a full load was 1,100 people. Until 8 a.m., they ran every half-hour, then it was every 10 minutes. By noon, 38,000 people had made the 15-minute trip. The interurban line to the track proved ineffectual. It only managed to run three cars an hour on race day morning.
“If the situation downtown as hectic, the scene around the Speedway was pure bedlam. In the three years since the track was carved out of the countryside, Marvel’s general store had opened catty-corner across the Crawfordville Pike from the Ben Hur waiting station. Georgetown Road along the western edge of the track had been graveled, but otherwside, the area was still mostly dirt roads and farmland.
[Video courtesy of Tim Lopata: www.forgemusclecarshow.com]
“The track had already hosted big crowds, so the locals knew what to expect. But this crowd was bigger by a long shot. Thousands of automobiles and a few horse-drawn carriages crowded the roads and country lanes for miles around. Ten thousand infield parking spots were soon filled.
“All 33,000 reserved seats were long gone at $1.50 a piece. So people bought $1 general admission tickets and swarmed into the remaining grandstands. When they were filled, crowds either began lining the field fencing on both sides of the track or people bought special tickets permitting them to watch the action from their parked cars.
“Although some estimates had the crowd at 100,000, a number in the 80,000 range seems more plausible.
“Regardless, at 10 a.m., Fischer appeared ceremoniously at the starting line wearing a white suit and driving a Stoddard-Dayton roadster. He motored away with 40 snarling racecars, now wrapped in heavy smoke and the smell of benzene and castor oil, tagging along at a sedate 40 miles an hour behind him. It was the first known rolling start of a major auto race and the first use of a pace car.
“Carl brought the field down the long front straightaway. He pealed to the left near the starting line. Standing trackside, “Pop” Wagner waved his red flag. Thunder filled the air . And the first Indianapolis 500 was underway.
“Of the 40 starters, only 12 actually ran the full 200 laps. Despite dire predictions of whole-sale carnage, only one fatality occurred: Sam Dickson, a mechanic riding with Arthur Greiner, lost his life when Greiner’s car hit the wall in the Southeast turn.
“Ray Harroun, the quiet little Marmon Co. engineer who had won two shorter Speedway events in 1910 and then quit racing, came out of retirement to hustle his yellow and black #32 “Wasp” – now equpped with the first known rear view mirror on an automobiile – to a popular win. An episode during the race that had scorers scurrying to avoid an errant racecar left several lap times in question.
“Whether or not genial Ralph Mulford, who had a faster car but needed many more pit stops to replace worn tires, was in the lead at the end, history books will forever show Harroun and relief driver Cyrus Patschke as winning the first 500-mile race at the Speedway…”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 100 years of Racing
By Ralph Kramer
Indianapolis Motor Speedway has thrilled race fans for generations. Re-visit 100 years of racing with hundreds of rare photographs that capture the excitement and spirit of race day. Indianapolis Motor Speedway traces the track’s rise from 328 acres of farmland to today’s modern facility. Beautiful illustrations highlight the cars and personalities who have made the “Brickyard” a fan favorite for generations. To order >>