Curtain Going Up @ Brickyard

The attachment below contains an article previewing the May 1910 "national championships" race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It first appeared in the May 15, 1910 Indianapolis Star. The article is written by one of the giants of motorsports journalism of the day, Peter Paul "P.P." Willis. Check out the images that appeared in support of the article:

The article is great reference concerning the improvements to the facility that were installed since the tragic inaugural auto races that resulted in five fatalities in August 1909. It also trumpets the glamour and expected spectacle of hair-raising exploits set to take place within two weeks. Willis' mastery of prose is evident - along with a tone that insinuates a more cavalier attitude concerning human safety than could be tolerated today. Read this excerpt:
"Every daredevil pilot who will sit behind the wheel, crouching there as the miles roll beneath him, with muscles tense and sinews taut, is ready to urge his car into the face of death if need be in order not to be passed. Such is the spirit of the motor age!"
Hometown pride is another theme to the article as Willis touts the collective might of Indianapolis-based factories. He calls out local firms Marion, National, Marmon, Empire, Cole and American and says, "This squadron of speed demons, including both big and little craft, forms a strong array of motor talent and promises to uphold the fame they established in the recent races at Atlanta. Many foreign cars, such as the Benz and the Fiat, will invade and seek to wrest the victorious wreaths, but the Hoosier manufacturers and pilots only say, 'wait and see'."
Willis also reports that seeing the promise of new speed records enthusiasm for the upcoming Speedway contests extended well beyond Hoosier-land. Without specific numbers he cites "reservations" presumably for hotel rooms and ticket purchases from motorists in Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Louisville and Toledo as evidence.
As for the Speedway grounds, Willis reports that track President Carl Fisher had announced an expanded seating capacity to 40,000 between bleachers, grandstands and boxes. Willis also indicates that there was more space set aside for automobile parking. The promised Indiana Auto and Aero Clubhouse is still anticipated by the time of the May races which would seem implausible to even cursory critical assessment. The projected capacity for that facility - which I do not believe was ever erected - was 1,000 people.
Willis notes precautions in the form of physician's exams to certify the health of drivers as well as a reference to protecting spectators. The protection of spectators is probably with regard to the hiring of Indiana National Guard soldiers although that organization is not named.
By this time the paving of the track with bricks was common knowledge but the latest wrinkle had been the result of winter ravaging the surface, expanding and contracting with enough force to break away the concrete that was supposed to smooth the sharp edges of the bricks. Practice runs had demonstrated that the unintended configuration was abrasive enough to yield a new threat: dangerous tire blowouts.
The solution? As Willis reveals the Overland Automobile Company donated 15 "test cars" to drag weights over the track in order to "shave" rough edges. Basically the weights chipped at the edges and while Willis amusingly reports the resulting surface "resembles a billiard table," there was a modicum of truth to the analogy. The edges were no doubt relatively duller than the standard unmolested brick.
Another concession to safety was the construction of a retaining wall at the edge of the track in the corners. This is described as "thick and high enforced wall of cement." While there was no wall lining the course on the stretches track officials had installed sand pits between the edge of the running surface and the fence just before the seating. This, Willis asserted, wiped out "all fears of danger." Drivers who had taken to the track reportedly gave it a firm thumbs up for safety and record-breaking speed.
The article makes an interesting point with respect to the state of racing at the time. Willis says, "...there are only two speedways in America, one board track and one speedway in England, it can be appreciated how few men there are in the race-promoting profession." (His reference to the American speedways concerns IMS and Atlanta speedway while the board track was Playa Del Rey and the English speedway was Brooklands).
Willis gives a shout out to Ernie Moross for all his productive labor in the off-season. Moross more than anyone saw to massive facility upgrades and event planning. Willis attempts to catalogue Moross' responsibilities by mentioning his assistance to develop the competition rulebook; managing "Maine to California" advertising; seating arrangements; policing the grounds; receiving entries and developing the event card. This also included his work to attract recognized events such as the Cobe Trophy and the Lowell Cup.
With respect to the schedule of events, Willis notes that Moross had mixed things up with races of different lengths occurring on each day. The result was an agenda of sprint races as brief as five miles leading up to each day's feature event as long as 200 miles.
Speedway President Carl Fisher had opened an IMS office in downtown Indianapolis for the easy access of customers wanting tickets or members of the automobile industry with inquiries. No doubt another Moross product, 50,000 souvenir books were issued promoting both Indianapolis and the Speedway. Willis reports the books had been distributed to points across the United States as well as Mexico and other international locations. Highlighted points about the Speedway from the book are listed:

  • IMS had 41 buildings - garages, aerodromes, aviation sheds, clubhouses, cafes, restaurants, office buildings, oil houses and machine shops.
  • Grounds were illumintaed with gas and electric lights.
  • Grandstands and box seats had an estimated capacity of 40,000.
  • The venue was designed to park 10,000 automobiles. 
  • Turns were banked 16 feet and had a radius of 1,500 feet.
  • The Big Four Railroad trains and interurban car service to the main gates of the grounds reportedly provided "comfortable handling" of 10,000 people every 15 minutes.
  • IMS laid claim to the largest enclosed aviation park in the world with up to 15 balloons inflated and sent away simultaneously.
  • Telegraph and telephone wires connected the Speedway to Indianapolis and other "principal" cities across the country.
  • The telegraph and telephone wires combined with the electric timing system to provide an information network connecting essential points around the track: judges' stand, grandstands, scoreboards and measured points such as the kilometer and the mile where time trial runs were recorded.
  • The press stand contained 30 sets of telegraph instruments so reporters could file stories with their offices at remote locations across the country.
  • The track measured (and, of course, still does) 2.5 miles. This article reports that 3.5 million bricks were used in its resurfacing but all other authorities say it was "only" 3.2 million.
  • A cement wall three feet high and 11 inches thick lined the turns.

The article also shares the Speedway's intended season schedule although not everything promised came to fruition. Race meets in May, July and September are listed and did take place. A 24-hour endurance race was scheduled for August 12 and 13 but never happened.
The June aviation meet is on this calendar and it did take place. A national championship balloon race is promised for August 12 but as with the 24-hour race it somehow evaporated. However, the scheduled national championship balloon race for September was presented.
At this point I feel like the article makes an awkward segue to describing the important elements of the upcoming May race meet. It notes that Indianapolis had sufficient hotel accommodations that could be had without making prior reservations. A plentiful supply of admission tickets to the track was promised as well along with car parking. 
Automobile drivers were guaranteed the ability to cross the track to and from the infield up to start time of the races. There were reportedly 9,800 free parking spaces. The remaining 200 parking spaces could be reserved at a price of $2.00. The only advantage of these spots is the assurance that the customer was guaranteed parking on the grounds.
Admission to the grounds through the main gate was set at $1.00 while the price of entry through "field" gates (I assume these were at the south and north ends of the track but I am not sure) was 50 cents. I do not know this for certain but I am guessing that the field gates did not provide access to the grandstand seating lining the outside edge of the track. Effecitvely the less expensive entry was for infield seating. In addition to grounds admission the special box seats cost another $1.50. Grandstand seating was 50 cents on top of gate admission. Bleacher seating was available at no charge on a first-come, first-serve basis. Apparently there was box seating with the bleachers in the infield which sold at 50 cents in addition to general admission.
The convenience of the Speedway's location is stressed. It was reportedly a 12-minute trip by train and a 20-minute ride on interurban car service. The Speedway, reportedly a  $700,000 facility, was four miles from downtown Indianapolis at the time.
Some of the race-driving stars of the day are highlighted:

Strang, who was wrestling with marital problems at the time, was reportedly associated with the Marion racing team. 
The article makes an interesting point that speaks to the general car culture and business strategy of the automobile industries in Indianapolis and Detroit. While it concedes that Detroit was the country's number one producer of automobiles it asserts that Indianapolis had more manufacturers involved in auto racing at all levels. This could be a topic of discussion about the operating philosophy of the companies located in the two countries and why Detroit sustained its success in the market while Indianapolis companies eventually flagged. While Detroit focused on utility and price Indianapolis focused on performance. American customers cast their votes with their dollars.
The article also notes that a "millionaire race" was booked. The leading example was William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., a name well-established in auto racing lore as both the founder of America's first international road race but also a successful amateur driver. This race concept had been discussed before but never took place. 
The coup of attracting the Cobe Trophy is highlighted and optimism is expressed that the Lowell Cup would be a part of the awards at IMS as well. The latter never happened. The final few paragraphs of the article assert that auto racing is good promotion for the manufacturing companies as it demonstrates the quality of their products under tremendous stress. Curiously, the honesty of the sport is stressed, apparently distinguishing it from shady practices of horse racing and perhaps others where betting was well established (although bets were taken on early auto races). The elements of risk and danger are noted as attractive to spectators.

IMSdrama051510.pdf4.5 MB