|DID – U – KNOW
by Facia Nearside
In the United States in 1909 only a few miles of road in the entire country were paved. Even worse for the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, race tracks of that period were simply dirt ovals which had been built for horse racing. Yet the newly formed American Automobile Association announced it would boycott all future events at the speedway until “significant improvements” in the track’s gravel surface were made.
Carl Fisher and his partners began looking for a solution to the problem. Following tests it was decided bricks would provide the most durable and appropriate surface for racing. 3.2 million ten-pound bricks were hand laid to do the job, and even before completion the nickname “brickyard” had been coined. By December 1909 the track was ready and speeds soon increased to over 100 mph confirming its success. In 1910 various length races were held almost every weekend and a national aviation meet featuring Wilbur and Orville Wright was also conducted.
In 1911 a change in strategy led to only one race per year. On Memorial Day, May 30, 1911, 80,000 spectators turned out to see the first 500-mile race. Forty cars competed with Ray Harroun taking the checkered flag. All 39 other cars had a mechanic riding with them, but Harroun opted to save weight by driving solo. In order to see what was happening behind him on the track, that day Harroun used a device never before seen on an automobile. He called it a rear-view mirror.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has had many improvements over the years, and is of course no longer entirely brick. But in order to pay homage to its humble but successful beginnings, the brickyard is still paved with one yard of bricks at the start/ finish line.
|Reprinted from British Boots & Bonnets Chronicle— June 2017 issue.