Speedway: Paradigm Shift

Published June 23, 1909 this Indianapolis Star article discusses plans for the first auto race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which was still under construction at the time. Speedway Contest Director Ernie Moross had applied for American Automobile Association (AAA) sanction, an essential aspect of any major race meet in the United States. Some initial thoughts about the trophies and races planned for the August 19 through 21 race meet are shared although those plans evolved a bit before the final flag was waved. For example the article reports that the Prest-O-Lite Trophy would be for 300 miles when instead it became a 100 mile affair - but overall it was good enough information to give readers a sense of what to expect. This was especially true of the promise of a giant race for the greatest trophy ever presented up to that time - the stirling silver Tiffany designed Wheeler-Schebler Trophy.
The implicit endorsement of a great event was made by the suggestion of an entry list chock-full of the greatest automobile brand names of the day: Buick, Ford, Chalmers-Detroit, Locomobile, Apperson, Knox, National, Stoddard-Dayton - all American marques. Expected foreign entries included: Fiat, Darracq, Mercedes, Benz and Isotta.
Moross knew his talking points. He hammered home the unprecedented speeds expected at the track as well as the fact that the 2.5 mile course was shorter than the typical 20-plus mile road courses found annually on Long Island with the Vanderbilt Cup or more recently with the Cobe Trophy at Crown Point, Indiana. He said that spectators could see all the way around the track which raises the question: was he telling the truth? If so the viewing experience at the Speedway would have been vastly different than it is today.
Moross stresses that the Speedway would prove to the precursor to the demise of the great road races and to some extent he was accurate in his prediction as American road racing went into a sharp decline. It would be decades before it would resurge to any extent as much because of the challenges of using public roads as the fact that places like the Speedway provided a superior viewing experience for fans and the paying customer voted with his or her (mostly his in those days) ticket-purchasing dollars. Moross used the Cobe Trophy held just days earlier as an example. The race was 17 laps and 395.66 miles. That meant the spectators saw the cars that survived to the end pass 17 times. At the Speedway's 2.5 mile oval he pointed out that a race of that distance would require 158 laps. The choice was obvious Moross believed - and he was right.
Moross also hailed the accessibility of Indianapolis as a city capable of hosting 40,000 visitors in comfort and style - unlike remote countryside locations like Crown Point or even Long Island where people were left few options but to camp, triple-up with strangers in hotel rooms or stay up all night roaming the area. The result, Moross offered, was a crowd that was tired and frustrated by race time.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was most definitely busting the old paradigm of spectating at an auto race - and defining the American experience the sport would offer throughout the 20th Century.

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