Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayIndianapolis Motor Speedway is the oldest surviving automotive race track in the world, having been in existence since 1908. Originally, the surface of the track was of crushed stone and tar, and when the first race there took place in August 1909, several drivers were killed because of the lack of a smooth surface. This eventually let to the surface being paved with bricks, and gave the track its popular moniker "The Brickyard."
The track, a flat 2½ mile oval which is almost rectangular in nature, hosted the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, which Ray Harroun won at the brisk average speed of 74.602 mi/h. A classic race in 1912 followed in which Ralph DePalma lost a 5 lap lead with 5 laps to go when his car broke down, and as his car was being pushed around the circuit, Joe Dawson made up the deficit to win the race. These races gave Indy a worldwide reputation—international drivers began to try their hand at the race, and three of the next four winners were Europeans, with DePalma being the exception.
The race was interrupted by World War I, and Indy served as a military hub for repairs. When the race was back on, speeds picked up and by 1925, when Peter DePaolo won the 500, the best cars were averaging 100 mi/h for the race. By the early 1930s, however, the increasing speeds began to make the track increasingly unsafe; between 1931-1935 there were 15 fatalities at Indy. This forced another repavement, with tarmac replacing the bricks in parts of the track. The unsafeness of the track didn't stop Louis Meyer, who during this period won three 500s. As the '30s ended, Wilbur Shaw became the first back-to-back winner at the speedway.
At the beginning of the '40s, the track was beginning to need improvement. In 1941, half of "Gasoline Alley," the pit area, burnt down before the race. When the U.S. involvement in World War II cancelled the race for 4 years, the track was abandoned and was in bad shape when drivers returned in 1946. The track was sold to Tony Hulman at that time, and major renovations were made to the track. The stands were remodeled, suites and museums were added, and many other additions helped bring back Indy's reputation as a great track.
Several drivers helped bring back its reputation as well: three-time winner Mauri Rose starred after the war years and after him came Bill Vukovich. In the 1950s, cars at Indy were going 150 mi/h around the speedway, which helped draw more and more fans. During the '50s, the track got enough of a reputation that it made the Indy 500 a Formula One event for 11 years (1950-1960), even though most of the drivers never raced abroad, and most Europeans at the time never raced there (Alberto Ascari was the only driver to do so).
After the last Indy 500 recognized by Formula One, the track became completely asphalt, with the exception of a distinct line of bricks at the start/finish line. Ironically, a wave of Formula One drivers came to the speedway in the 1960s, with Jim Clark winning in 1965, and Graham Hill winning the following year in his first attempt at the speedway. There were enough Americans to compete with them, with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Bobby and Al Unser leading the charge in the '60s and '70s. The Speedway in the '70s was becoming much more than a race track, as it began to feature a pair of golf courses and even included a hotel.
The 1980s brought a new generation of speedsters, led by Rick Mears, who recorded the first 200 mi/h lap at the speedway in 1982, Danny Sullivan, and Bobby Rahal. In 1989, F1 veteran Emerson Fittipaldi won the race and recorded the first 220 mi/h lap in the process; Indy had never seen even a 210 mi/h lap before then. Arie Luyendyk won the following year, and did so in the fastest 500 ever, with an average lap of 185.981 mi/h.
Up until the 1990s, the 500 was the only racing done on the Brickyard. However, when Tony George (Hulman's grandson) purchased the track, he brought more racing to the speedway, with the NASCAR Brickyard 400 and an International Race Of Champions (IROC) race. Even the golf courses got new interest, and a Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour) event is hosted here. The 500 itself got a new look to it in 1996, when it became an event of George's Indy Racing League, formed as a rival to the CART league.
In 1998, George got a deal to bring Formula One back to Indy, and back to the States for the first time since 1991. Two years of renovation and new construction for an Indy-based road course led to the first US Grand Prix there in 2000, a race which was a great success. The 2001 event's success (185,000 fans were reported in attendance) was even more important with the race being the first major sporting event in the States after 9/11. The event's popularity is expected to potentially bring an American driver back to Formula One for the first time since 1993, though judging by the performance of foreign drivers in American domestic open-wheeler series it is unclear whether any of the current crop of American drivers would be competitive.
In 2003, the Infiniti Pro Series, a "minor league" series to the IRL, made history with the first May race other than the 500, the Freedom 100.