Early Speedway Medal

This medal (front view - see rear) was brought to my attention by automotive artist Richard Lewis. This medal is a sterling silver version of the same mold that produced a gold medal that was awarded to Barney Oldfield for the first 100 mph lap around the Brickyard in 1916. At the time, I thought the Oldfield medal was a one-off award to recognize his amazing accomplishment - especially since the Christie racer he drove at the time was perhaps as old as 8 years.
Richard's find prompted a call to Donald Davidson, chief historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As usual, Donald provided excellent information. According to Donald, these medals were produced in large numbers in both silver and bronze. They were first created in 1909 and awarded to first and second place finishers in all events at the Speedway. Donald isn't sure, but thinks it is even likely the medals were awarded not only to the successful drivers of the five auto race meets (including the December 1909 event at the Speedway) during 1909 and 1910, but also the riders of the August 1909 motorcycle race meet and the balloonists of the two national championship events in 1909 and 1910 as well as the airplane pilots of the June 1910 aviation meet. These medals demonstrate that Speedway management not only saw the facility as an auto racing track, but a multi-purpose facility capable of hosting a variety of events, especially those associated with aviation. At one point in 1909 they even considered a bid to host the Olympic Games.
Given the wide variety of contests at the meets during the early years - especially the auto races - it is conceivable the Speedway could have distributed as many as 40 medals at a single event. Donald believes more medals were produced than could be distributed at these events before the Speedway management decided to change course and stage a single great event - the Indianapolis 500 - in 1911. As a result, a new purpose for the medals emerged and they were awarded to people achieving success in any number of roles associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and racing in general. Donald has seen a number of these medals, but this is the first one he has come across with no inscription on the back side. In every other instance there was an inscription on the back that explained the individual's accomplishment or contribution. Note that the medals were produced by Tiffany & Co.

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