Construction on Speedway Begins

This article (attachment IMSconstruction031609) published March 16, 1909, in the Indianapolis Star, reports that the contract for grading the Indianapolis Motor Speedway racing surface had been let (another article elsewhere on First Super Speedway reports the winning company was King Brothers Construction) and the 35 men had immediately started working on the project. An additional number of workers, totaling over 200 in all, were expected to be on the job within a week's time.
This development whetted the appetite of automobile enthusiasts for the upcoming 1909 Indianapolis Auto Show, scheduled for March 22-27. A group of autophiles ventured out to the Speedway the previous day and returned with enthusiastic approval. An eight-foot miniature model of the track was created on the grounds facing Crawfordsville Pike to help visitors envision the finished product. Ernie Moross, the man Speedway President Carl Fisher hired as the first "Contest Director" for the Speedway is credited for creating the scale model. This does not fit entirely into a timeline of events as a later article reports Moross was not hired until May. Lewis Strang, one of America's top drivers, was captured contemplating the model in a famous photograph. A slightly different pose from the one most frequently used ran in the Indianapolis Star on March 21.
The article notes that the Speedway was neighbor to a "Poor Farm," and while such institutions were typically used to house the poor under the condition that they work a farm and maintain the building, the specific circumstances of this particular institution are unclear. The article discusses the two events expected to take place on the Speedway grounds - a June 5 national championship balloon race and Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) motorcycle race anticipated for July. The article also touched on plans for the 1909 Indianapolis Auto Show, in particular, the annual parade of automobiles.
On April 4 the Star published several images and a brief article describing progress on the Speedway project. Curiously while they note that the first official event would be the national championship balloon race it also reports that plans called for racing to begin April 23. Given the images associated with the article, this is obviously a stretch. The article suggests that the Speedway, while six miles to the west of downtown, was easily accessible especially to the motorist as Fall Creek Road provided ideal "spinning around." Garages, restaurants and "spacious restrooms" were reportedly under construction. See attachment IMSconstruction040409 for the images and associated information.
By April 25 the Indianapolis Star reported (attachment SpeedwayFlags042509) that 300 mules, 150 scrapers (I'm guessing these were metal blades affixed to wagons), five steam engines, four six-ton, and three 10-ton rollers were all applied to the task of building the giant Speedway. Just weeks earlier only 72 mules and three steam engines were on the job. In all likelihood, the project team underestimated the magnitude of the task, especially within the time frame they had set out for themselves - an optimistic 60 days.
At the time the Speedway promised separate garages for each car in a race with an 80-foot flag pole above each. In order for spectators to know the status of the car, its team flag would fly as long as it was in the race. The article reports that 20 grandstands seating 40 people each would be erected as well as gas and oil "houses" at convenient spots along the course - along with water towers. All of this seems a bit bizarre given that it was nearly May and plans called for the first races in July. The positioning of these supply depots seems to indicate that the concept was to distribute supplies around the track. If all of this meant the thinking was something different from a centralized pit area or that there would be so few seats available to spectators one can only speculate. On the other hand, the information in many of these reports also leads me to believe that reporters didn't always clearly understand what they were being told. That, along with what appears to be constantly changing plans by the Speedway makes me cautious about asserting these details as facts as opposed to information - good or bad - that was shared on a specific date.
The Speedway also had a habit of asserting assumptions as fact. For example, the information in this article asserts that by coating the surface with asphaltum oil and crushed stone the challenge of dust found on dirt tracks or roads would be eliminated while permitting unlimited speed. Speeds of 112 MPH were predicted for the turns, but that would not be reached for several years. Another assertion has it that plenty of runoff area was provided so to avoid any danger to driver or spectator. Given the tragic results of the first Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race, this, again, was an assertion that fell short of reality.
The Indianapolis Star published another progress report on May 13 (attachment IMSconstruction051309). Much of the track grading was complete except for a stubborn area caused by a creek running through the property. The creek required the construction of a drainage system and two bridges. A particular problem area was the south end of the oval. It had become apparent the infield road course would not be ready in time for the anticipated July motorcycle races. As for the motorcycle event, combined with the convention the paper projected that over 7,000 bikers would visit the city.
Among the structures that had been completed were: a restaurant, the Aero Club clubhouse, balloon storehouse, superintendent's home, officer's quarters, several private garages and the press and judges' stands. Also, the five miles of high board fence had been erected and was being painted white with "a large spray."
I found the article in attachment FisherBell062909 exceptionally interesting and the heading gives it away: the use of farm dinner bells for their alarm system.
dinner bell
According to this June 29, 1909, Indianapolis Star article, President Fisher believed there was no way police whistles could be distinguished above the din of racing engines, cheers and the general buzz of voices at the track. The article reports that the devices were to be positioned at three points around the track and would be used to alert officials of an emergency. My guess is that they settled on three stations because the officials were in the judges stand at the finish line and there were limits as to how far away a bell could be placed and still be heard - but that's speculation.
Beyond the bells, this article provides a tidy update on progress at the track - which sounds impressive given that ground was not broken until March which means crews had been working something short of four months. The track surface had been covered with gravel and sand and was awaiting a coating of asphaltum oil. Once that was soaked into the materials steam rollers were in place to pack it all down. In the meantime, carpenters were at work erecting a roof above the grandstand seats already in place. Two tiers of box seats had been built and stretched along a 200-yard promenade. Another six boxes extended closer to the track at the "tape," which is what the paper called start-finish. Interestingly the article suggests in a casual tone that such seats place spectators in danger of death or injury. Check out this excerpt from the article:
"While they are placed at points of great vantage for witnessing the races they are not conducive of extreme safety in case one of the fast machines is so unfortunate as to carom over the high bank at that point, as small kindling will be all that will remain of them. However, at that point of the bank, there is small chance of danger or mishap unless a wheel should collapse or some unforeseen accident dash the machine beyond the control of the driver."
Immediately outside the track, the article describes a note on construction that illustrates how different the setting was then from today. This is in reference to the banking outside the turns which was a grassy incline recently laid with sod. Today if you go to the outside of the turns you will find a buttress of reinforced concrete. As noted in an earlier article there were "thousands" of trees that had been planted about the grounds.
An advanced telecommunications system was being installed which I can only assume would work in concert with the previously mentioned farm dinner bells to communicate emergencies to the officials. More typically the phones would report updates on races that could be relayed from the officials to the scoreboard workers who in turn posted the information so the fans in the stands could better follow race developments. The article reports that the aerodrome, restaurant, and concession stands were all finished and painted in the Speedway's white with green trim trademark color scheme. Gates to the facility were open at the time and people were encouraged to stop by and check out the work in progress.

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