More on Brooklands & The Brickyard


More from England's Brooklands, the world's first paved, high-banked, superspeedway. From the image at the previous link, the steepness of the circuit's banking is evident in the background. Brooklands was so flat-out fast that world land speed records could be set on its closed, modified oval format.
Prominent Americans took note of Brooklands when it held its inaugural races in 1907. Launched by British Aristocrat Hugh Fortescue Locke King, the mission of the track was essentially the same as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - to provide a venue that would serve as a proving ground for its home country's automobile industry.
As for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it could not compare favorably in its original construction because Brooklands was paved with concrete while the Hoosier facility's running surface was crushed stone loosely held together with tar. With the disaster of that choice evident in the numerous injuries and deaths in its first motorized events in August 1909, the Speedway hurriedly paved the track with 3.2 million bricks during the autumn of 1909.
All along Speedway President and Founder Carl Fisher asserted that his track was "better than Brooklands ever was." He knew better. He had visited the English facility and had to be in awe - and envy.

Fisher was a risk taker, but also a businessman who calculated the potential ROI on his investments. That's why he originally chose the cheaper crushed stone and hastily pressed the track into service to quickly recover costs.
To that point, while Fisher was focused on a proving ground for American cars, he also promoted their competition as a tremendous entertainment to the general public to come purchase admission tickets. This was a key distinction with Brooklands, which was more remote, tucked away on the estate Locke King had inherited. Fisher enjoyed welcoming healthy-sized crowds to his facility - the fastest in America in 1910.
The common impression is that Fisher and his cohorts got the idea for their big Speedway from Brooklands, constructed two years earlier. The historical record indicates otherwise. Fisher and partners Jim Allison, Art Newby, and Frank Wheeler had gathered at the Indiana State Fairgrounds oval on November 17, 1905, and talked through the night by a campfire. The occasion was a 24-hour record run by a pair of Newby's National Motor Vehicle Company cars.
It was here they discussed the need for a high-speed American proving ground for the country's auto industry. A year later, after a spectator death in the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., founder of the race, announced that he intended to create a vast, concrete-paved thoroughfare that could support ultimate speed.

The quest for the right auto development facility was part of the national conversation during an era of cow paths and primitive unpaved roads. Fisher's team observed the Long Island project with interest. At one point Art Newby even visited with Art Pardington, project manager of the Vanderbilt project to assess progress. A man of action, he was unimpressed.
The Vanderbilt project struggled and fumbled with right-of-way challenges across the Long Island countryside that, along with naive assumptions about construction challenges, delivered incessant delays. The problems even forced the cancellation of what was then America's premier auto race, the Vanderbilt Cup. That was both shocking and disappointing.
What would eventually be produced was the Long Island Motor Parkway - the toll road that was America's first modern highway. It was a marvel in this age of a quest for "good roads," but never lived up to its promise as a suitable venue for auto racing.
We can imagine Fisher and his buddies rolling their eyes as they discussed their frustrations with the East Coast project and munched their steak and potato lunches at "Pop" Haynes Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis. They had hoped Vanderbilt would deliver the necessary development platform speedway - and foot the bill in the process.
Finally, in the autumn of 1908, they bit the bullet and secured land for their vision of a track five miles west of downtown. They hurriedly erected a pretty amazing facility that included grandstands and 41 other buildings to serve as garages, a judges' stand, concession areas, and clubhouses for VIPs.
The shortcoming was, of all things, the running surface. It was a coating that made comparisons to Brooklands' concrete flat-out ridiculous, and, more importantly, it was dangerous. Five deaths during their first weekend of wheel-to-wheel dueling indisputably proved the point.
Soon, speedways turned away from bragging rights as the fastest venues, to track records. Indeed, the term, "track record" morphed its meaning from the fastest speeds on any closed circuit, to the top marks set on a specific track. Fans of a certain age well remember Tom Carnegie's voice rumbling out, "And it's a new track record!" Just the track, folks, not the world.
Decades passed, bringing massively destructive World Wars. Both the Speedway and Brooklands were pressed into service during World War I as aviation facilities. Despite an offer by then-Speedway President Eddie Rickenbacker, the U.S. Military deemed his track as irrelevant to the needs of bigger, more modern airplanes in World War II. Brooklands was damaged in that conflagration and even largely dismantled as England desperately called on all its resources to repel Hitler's vicious, murderous onslaught.
In 1912, at the time of the picture captured here, none of that was imagined. The people you see in the image were peacefully pursuing their passions. They sought betterment for themselves and others in productive pursuits as insane leaders of nations plotted maniacal schemes that would produce devastation.