From the Bookshelf: Indianapolis Motor Speedway & 110 years of racing

The year 1909 saw Carl G. Fisher et al., trading as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company, buying up land in Indiana – home state to many fledgling car companies. Fisher saw construction of just the second purpose-built, banked, oval track in the world (after Brooklands, 1907). Especially important to Fisher from the outset was to provide a forum for those manufacturers to test their cars to their (speed) limits – but motor sport immediately demanded its attention too.

The Indianapolis Speedway has seen all manner of American oval track racing over its long history – although the ‘Brickyard’ as its affectionately known (for the still extant yard of its original brick surface at the start/finish line!) has hosted Grand Prix racing too, notably in the earliest days of its modern era – but the premier example of course is its most famous race, the ‘500’, which is celebrated as an American icon and surely today an integral part of the nation’s culture. Davidson and Shaffer’s book is the most recent rendition, chronicling full details of nearly 100 years of the race. Fox’s book is a pictorial fest, with one of its most endearing elements being the thumbnail-sized photograph of every competitor in every year’s race. Bloemker’s is a very ‘1960’s tome’ in style, but workmanlike and contains the most literary narrative in this selection. Both Owen and Gabbard look at individual marques that have made a significant impact at the Speedway: Owen over many decades; while Gabbard is completely immersed in the 1960’s. After all, the 1965 rear-engined Lotus-Ford of Jim Clark, in displacing the front-engined roadsters, revolutionised all formulas of motorsport.

Last but not least, the piquant flavour of Hess’ small volume reprises the track’s original purpose (testing production cars). In April 1949, an Austin Atlantic covered nearly 12,000 miles (average speed 70.54 mph) over a week’s continuous running, breaking 63 records then held by American cars – one up to this side of the pond then!

Donald Davidson & Rick Shaffer, 2013. Autocourse official history of the Indianapolis 500 (2nd ed.). London: Icon Books.
Jack C. Fox, 1984. The illustrated history of the Indianapolis 500 (3rd ed.). Speedway, IN: Carl Hungness & Assoc.
Al Bloemker, 1962. 500 miles to go: the story of the Indianapolis speedway. London: Frederick Muller.
Dan Owen, 1998. Vintage & historic Indianapolis race cars. Osceola, WI: MBI Pub.
Alex Gabbard, 2004. Indy’s wildest decade: innovation and revolution at the Brickyard. North Branch, MN: CarTech.
Alan Hess, 1949. The Indianapolis records. London: Stuart & Richards.

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