1906-1910: THE FOUNDATION YEARS

1906

Carl G. Fisher and partners begin searching for speedway-suitable property. And their original focus is on the resort town of  French Lick, in southern Indiana, eventually to be the hometown of basketball legend, Larry Bird.

Fisher had many interests including a company that made early car headlamps, owned the first car dealership in the US and later would help develop the city of Miami Beach in Florida.

1907

Carl Fisher proposed building a circular track three  to five  miles (five to eight km) long with smooth 100–150-foot-wide (30–45 m) surfaces. Such a track would give manufacturers a chance to test cars at sustained speeds and give drivers a chance to learn their limits. Fisher predicted speeds could reach up to 120 mph (190 km/h) on a 5-mile (8 km) course.

He visited the Brooklands circuit outside of London in 1907, and after viewing the banked layout, his determination to build the speedway was solidified. With dozens of car makers and suppliers in Indiana, Fisher proclaimed, “Indianapolis is going to be the world’s greatest center of horseless carriage manufacturer, what could be more logical than building the world’s greatest racetrack right here?”

1908

On December the partners acquire 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis for $US72,000. The basic 2.5-mile (4km) track was designed and developed with New  York construction engineer Park T. Andrews. It is basically the same to this day – what is it they say when you’re on a good thing, stick to it?

1909

Construction begins in March. The initial surface is composed of crushed stone and a tarry substance called asphaltum. A gas balloon race is hosted in June and an inaugural motorcycle race in August sees riders balk at the track surface. One week later, the first automobile race takes place, but is a disaster. The newly laid surface disintegrates, sadly, it caused five fatalities.

In September, $400,000 is raised and in just 63 days, the track is resurfaced with 3.2 million bricks – a mammoth effort! In December, carmakers are invited to run for record speeds. The extreme December cold in Indianapolis limited participation, however they were still able to exceed 100mph (160kph) on the straightaways – that’s some going. Pleasingly, there are no crashes.