This year marks the 100th running of a race first held in 1911, when Ray Harroun won | writer Peter Higham
On May 29, we will witness the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – the pinnacle of US open-wheel racing since its introduction in 1911. Traditionally held on Memorial Day (May 30), it has been scheduled for the holiday weekend since 1970.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 and was first used that June to host a balloon race. From 1916 to 1994 just one event was held at the venue each year, but NASCAR, Formula 1 and MotoGP have all since featured. That 1916 fixture was uniquely organised as a 300-miler, as owner Carl G Fisher questioned whether his event was too long for the general public.
The first car races were held on the 2.5-mile oval in August 1909, but the surface of packed rock and tar broke up and the occasion was marred by five fatalities. That prompted Fisher to seal the surface using approximately 3.2 million bricks, hence the nickname ‘Brickyard’. Fully paved with asphalt since the 1962 race, an iconic ‘yard of bricks’ remains at the start/finish line as a reminder of the past.
Original pole-sitter Lewis Strang claimed the honour as his was the first car to be entered, but qualifying and practice soon dominated the whole month of May. Keen to refresh the format and bolster attendances, a race was added on the road course in 2014 and qualifying is now decided over a single weekend. AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr and Rick Mears are the most successful Indy 500 drivers, with four wins each.