1906-1910: The Foundation Years
With the motor industry booming and few facilities to cater for the industry’s development, a group of investors led by Carl G. Fisher set out to find a suitable location to build world’s best testing facility and race track.
More than 100 years later the Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains as one of the world’s greatest sporting and entertainment facilities.
1910s: The 500 is Born
After plenty of teething problems, the Indianapolis Speedway starts a new decade with a series of races in 1910, but organisers learn reasonably quickly, that they need to do something more to encourage the manufacturers and crowds.
The Indy 500 is born in 1911 with a $US25,000 prize purse. Rules came and went, although drivers drinking champagne during the race was banned for good!
The early years would not get much easier with the advent of World War I disrupting the event in 1917-18.
1920s: The Decade of Duesenberg and Miller
The Indianapolis 500 came extremely close to being lost forever when a bill was passed to ban “commercial sports” on Memorial Day, but Indiana Governor – Warren McCray – stepped in and had it vetoed.
This was also saw the rise of Duesenberg. A four-lap qualifying system was adopted and ridealong mechanics discarded.
The speeds continued to climb, unfortunately so did the fatalities. Ridealong mechanics were no longer required and Tommy Milton became the first repeat winner.
Maude Yagle capped off the decade by becoming the first woman team owner to win the race.
1930s: Tough Brave Times at the Speedway
The innovation continued in the 1930s with diesel engines and the first four-wheel drive cars. The deadliest month in 500 history in 1933 encouraged new rule changes including fuel limits, mandatory crash helmets and the installation of safety lights, but that did not stop 1935 from being another horror year.
Rookie tests were made compulsory, all four corners of the track paved and outside fencing reconfigured. 1936 was the only year from 1929-1940 that did not result in a death at the speedway. It was also the first year of the Borg-Warner Trophy – Tough and brave times –
1940s: The Roaring 40s
The Speedway and the Indy 500 came under serious threat for a second time after failing into a state of almost disrepair during World War II. Eddie Rickenbecker considered selling it to real-estate developers, but three-time winner Wilbur Shaw brokered a deal for it to be purchased by Tony Hulman.
The deal was a game changer. The race resumed to a packed house in 1947 after a four year break.
1950s: Here Comes the Rest of the World
The Indianapolis 500 was taken to the rest of the world in 1950 with its inclusion in the inaugural World Driver’s Championship.
Despite the points up for grabs during the next 10 years, the Indy 500 never really became a focus for the Europeans.
It was the era of Bill Vukovich who won back-to-back races in 1953-54 before being tragically killed while trying to become the first three-peat winner in 1955.
Troy Ruttman became the youngest winner of the race in 1952 at 22 years and 80 days – Just 13 days older than I will be if I qualify for the 2016 event!
1960s: The Rear-Engine Revolution Begins
The 1960s was an amazing era at the Speedway and the period where some of the real legends of the sport developed their reputations.
My grandfather Sir Jack debuted the first rear-engined car in 1961, the same year AJ Foyt won the first of his four Indy 500s and the track was fully paved, except for the yard of bricks at the start-finish line.
It was also the decade of the “English Invasion” with Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill both having their names etched on the Borg-Warner Trophy. And don’t forget the turbine cars, the success of the turbo or the disappearance of front-engined machines!
1970s: Here Comes Penske
Everything went up a notch in the 1970s. The professionalism, the speeds and the prize money. The decade launched with a full field of turbocharged cars and a prize pool in excess of $US1 million for the first time.
Roger Penske won his first race as team owner with Mark Donohue in 1972 and a second with Rick Mears in 1979.
Janet Guthrie also became the first woman to qualify for the event. The decade also saw the establishment of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) as a result of political upheaval in the sport.
(Click here for a year by year)
1980s: Were These the Glory Days?
In regards to numbers, the 1980s are regarded by many as the “glory days” of the sport. In 1984, there were an amazing 117 entries for the race and 87 of them were at the track at the one time.
Roger Penske continued to successfully build his empire and 1988 his team dominated the month of May and took another win with Rick Mears.
The race became a part of the CART Championship in 1983. My dad Geoff made his debut in 1981 and 1988 was the only race he missed in the decade.
1990s: A New Era for too Many Reasons
While the early 90s produced some memorable wins and cars, like Arie Luyendyk’s Domino’s Pizza car in year one, It will also be remembered as the start of the “split” and the creation of the Indy Racing League.
Nigel Mansell made two Indy 500 starts – his first start coming the year after being crowned Formula 1 World Champion – and Mario Andretti made his last.
Team Penske cars won the race from 1991 to 1994 and then Aussie brothers, Barry and Kim Green brought French-Canadian and F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve to the show.
The first race under Indy Racing League rule was held in 1996, causing the big split. It was a sad time for the sport as the politics and movement of teams continued into the 2000s.
2000s: New Champions, Controversy and Girls
The sport’s upheaval continued in the 2000s. Chip Ganassi became the first to cross the CART-IRL divide and won the race with Juan-Pablo Montoya. Roger Penske followed suit the following year and won with Helio Castroneves.
Team Penske was permanently in the IRL by 2002 and Castroneves was awarded another win over Paul Tracy in one of the most controversial finishes ever. Danica Patrick became the first female to lead the race in 2005 and Scott Dixon became the first Kiwi winner in 2008.
2010s: 100 Years, 100 Races, What Next?
The current decade of racing has seen more chassis and engine changes and some of the best finishes we have seen at the Speedway. The decade started with a record four females in the race and that trend has continued.
Dario Franchitti stamped himself as one of the sport’s true greats with two more victories and we saw Dan Wheldon win his second 500 before the sad circumstances where he was killed at Las Vegas in the final race of the 2011 season.
Tony Kanaan finally got his long-awaited win at his 12th attempt. This is significant for me as the KV Racing team is PIRTEK Team Murray’s technical partner. Ryan Hunter-Reay brought the trophy back to the States as the first American winner since 2006 and Juan-Pablo Montoya got win number two in 2015.
In 2018, Will Power became the first Australian to ever win the 500.