Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Learn more about the history and home of auto racing's greatest spectacle, the Indy 500.
By: Susan McKee
Indy Speedway & Hall of Fame Museum, Indianapolis

Indy Speedway & Hall of Fame Museum, Indianapolis

Warner Trophy, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1909, four visionary automotive pioneers in Indianapolis pooled their ideas and their resources to build the Indiana Motor Parkway on the far west side of town as a proving ground for horseless carriages — a place to test out the latest improvements and changes in engines, tires, chassis and accessories.

James A. Allison, Carl G. Fisher, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler hoped their facility would help to bolster the state's nascent automotive industry. Little did they expect that their test track would grow to be the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, attracting race cars and spectators from around the world to an iconic competition held for — thus far — a hundred years.

These days, of course, it’s not possible to mention Indianapolis without thinking of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the “parkway” was renamed soon after it opened). Indy — the nickname for both the track and the city — means auto racing to a worldwide audience (even the category of car raced at the speedway is termed the “Indy” racer).

The first major race at the IMS — the inaugural Indianapolis “500” — was held May 30, 1911. The winner was veteran racer Ray Harroun, averaging more than 74 mph in his bright yellow Marmon Wasp. The car is now on display in the Hall of Fame Museum on the Speedway grounds.

This museum, located inside the famed oval track, has the actual winning cars of many of the races, plus an impressive collection of racing trophies, videos, photographs and other race memorabilia. When the track isn’t in use for testing, special buses take visitors on a trip around the famed 2-1/2 mile oval.

In 2009, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the track, and 2011 was the hundredth anniversary of the first 500-Mile Race.

The speedway itself is said to be the largest and highest-capacity sporting facility in the world. Although exact figures are a closely-held secret, it’s estimated that 257,000 people can sit in the grandstands. Infield seating raises that capacity to close to a half-million spectators for the annual 500-Mile Race.

Yet, the speedway didn’t start out with an automobile race. The first contest, held in 1909, was the United States National Balloon championships. Then, there were a series of motorcycle races hosted by the Federation of American Motorcyclists. Automobile racing took over in 1911, and there’s been a 500-Mile race every year (except for a gap during World War II).

The IMS hosted the United States Grand Prix for Formula One for eight years (ending in 2007). Each summer, it hosts the Brickyard “400” for the NASCAR circuit. Another annual race, the MotoGP, part of a motorcycle road racing series, was added in 2008.

James A. Allison’s estate, Riverdale, is now the campus of Indianapolis’ Marian College.

Tony Hulman, a businessman from Terre Haute, purchased the IMS in 1945, and ownership has remained in the Hulman family ever since. Anton H. "Tony" George, grandson of Tony Hulman, was named president of the Speedway in 1990.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Indianapolis Essentials

Here are all the favorite local spots, including grocery stores, farmer's markets, bistros, parks and museums.

Indianapolis Life and Lore

Learn the resident lingo and layout to blend in with the locals.

Profile: Indianapolis, Indiana

Brush up on the basic facts about the capital of Indiana.

5 Great Neighborhoods in Indianapolis

Find out why these communities, from Fountain Square to Broad Ripple Village, are the most popular with locals.

Indianapolis: Like No Place Else

From fast cars to football, here are the things that make Indianapolis unique.

10 Great Neighborhoods in Chicago

From River North to the Gold Coast, to Wicker Park and the South Loop, discover some of Chicago's best neighborhoods.

Cincinnati: Like No Place Else

The Ohio River is a critical part of this Midwestern city's identity.

St. Louis: Like No Place Else

Check out all the standout spots that tourists and locals love in St. Louis.

Kansas City: Like No Place Else

These events and attractions, from classic barbecue to magical holiday lights, make this Missouri city unique.

Kansas City Essentials

Go where the locals go for food, drinks, music and more.

On TV

9am | 8c
9:30am | 8:30c
10am | 9c
10:30am | 9:30c
11am | 10c
11:30am | 10:30c

Hawaii Life

12pm | 11c

Hawaii Life

12:30pm | 11:30c

Hawaii Life

1pm | 12c

Hawaii Life

1:30pm | 12:30c

Hawaii Life

2pm | 1c

Hawaii Life

2:30pm | 1:30c

Hawaii Life

3pm | 2c

Hawaii Life

3:30pm | 2:30c

Hawaii Life

4pm | 3c

Hawaii Life

4:30pm | 3:30c

Hawaii Life

5pm | 4c

Hawaii Life

5:30pm | 4:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

My Lottery Dream Home

8pm | 7c

My Lottery Dream Home

10:30pm | 9:30c

My Lottery Dream Home

11:30pm | 10:30c

My Lottery Dream Home

12:30am | 11:30c

My Lottery Dream Home

1:30am | 12:30c

Top GAC Shows

Flea Market Flip

Sundays at 8|7c

Living Alaska

Mondays at 9|8c

Top 20 Countdown

Consult Program Guide

Flippin' RVs

Wednesdays 9|8c

Get Social With Us

Let's explore this country together.