In 1905, under the watchful eye of impresario Carl G Fisher, two of America’s motorsport pioneers, WF lap’ Clemens and Charles Merz completed 1094 miles of motoring at the Indiana Fairgrounds dirt track in 24 hours. In doing so, not only did they claim an international record, but drew world attention to the city of Indianapolis. For Americans of automotive persuasion, things would never be the same again.
A frequent visitor to Europe, Fisher was convinced of the need for the United States to match its trans-Atlantic rivals both on track and in the showroom. More than any American of his era, he realised the benefits racing could bring to car development, while stressing the need to entertain the spectator. Fisher was arguably the first to point out that winning on Sunday sold cars on the Monday. What he couldn’t fathom, however, was why people would watch a road race where competitors might pass by once every half an hour. In a letter to the editor of MotorAge magazine he wrote:
“There is little enjoyment in seeing a 50-mile road race, where only glimpses can be had of the cars as they come and go.There is no accommodation for the public in a race of this kind.”
He proposed an oval track to be used as a proving ground for manufacturers and for entertaining an increasingly car-crazy populace. Four years later, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was opened. That one act of vision has perhaps influenced American motorsport more than any other. Whether racing fans across the pond have grown up following stock cars or Indycars, they have primarily done so on short oval circuits that cater for the spectator first and competitor second. If you want to know why NASCAR’s Winston Cup boasts the highest attendance figures for any sport in America, then look no further than Carl Fisher’s belief that race cars should go round in circles.