IMS Timing & Scoring - 1909

This is an interesting article that sings the praises of the state-of-the-art timing, scoring and communications system installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its first motorized events in August 1909. Published in the Indianapolis Star on July 18, 1909 the article tilts its focus toward anticipation for the inaugural automobile races.
To me the article is a good example of common trait of reporting in these days - that of claiming the infallibility of human designed systems and technology. I see this characteristic repeatedly in articles of the day where systems are called "perfect."
In this instance the article focused on the the timing system created by Warner Speedometer Company of Arthur Pratt "A.P." Warner and Charles "C.H." Warner. Estimated to cost $10,000, the description lacks precision but asserts the system could record times to the one hundredth of a second. The times were all recorded on a ticker-tape style paper for record keeping.
Interestingly, a 60 foot steel tower with clock-like dials atop of it is described. The timing device in the judges' stand was designed to not only score and record times but activate the dials at the top of tower to display the numbers of the leading cars. Whether this system actually performed in this manner or not is unclear.
Referring back to the article's proclamation of perfection note this excerpt:
"A perfect automatic list will be kept and each lap recorded as the cars pass the tape, while the separate kilometers and miles will also be made a matter of record, if it so desired, by adjusting the timing wires at the mile and kilometer posts. Scoring with the new timing device will be easy and accurate while errors will be impossibe."
The automatic scoreboard was supposed to display numbers 18 inches in height which the organizers believed people could read from a third of a mile away. Despite the claims of perfection the Speedway planned to employ a back-up system of scorers manning stop watches.
In addition to the automatic scoring and timing an extensive telephone system was installed for the purpose of connecting all corners of the course for instant updates on the progress of races. This communications network was also to be used as part of the methodology of dispatching the security force which they hoped to staff with soldiers.
According to the report the already traditional flag system would be complemented by a "signal wire" stretched over the track. The idea was to signal the leader on the final lap so that everyone, spectators and drivers alike, would know who was leading.
Aside from the checkered flag to signal the conclusion of competition the other flag colors had meanings quite different from today. What the article reports is described as follows:

  • Red Flag - Clear Course
  • Yellow Flag - Stop Immediately
  • Green Flag - Last Lap
  • White Flag - Stop for Consultation


IMSplans071809.pdf3.43 MB