Icon: Indianapolis Motor Speedway


Chris Owens

This week The Checkered Flag takes a look at another motorsport icon, this time though we have put a different spin on it – rather than looking at a driver we are looking at a track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

Affectionately as the Brickyard for the 3.2million bricks that made up the surface for 52 years – between 1909 and 1961 – the

1911 Indy 500 (Credit: IndyCar Media)
1911 Indy 500 (Credit: IndyCar Media)

speedway itself can trace its origins back to Brooklands with a need to have a specially designed track to test cars.

The remaining bricks still at the circuit solely occupy a single solitary yard on the front straight and is the start/finish line – kissed by Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 winners since 1996 when Dale Jarrett started the tradition.

Interestingly the hill climb at Goodwood House features its own yard of bricks straight from Indianapolis.

The speedway was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher, who had initially envisioned a 3 mile oval with a 2.5 mile road course entwined within it but that got quickly reduced to a two mile oval when it was realised there wouldn’t have been enough space for grandstands.

However, the rectangular speedway eventually did have a road course added to it, but almost ninety years later. That was because of the bringing of Formula One to the circuit, a relationship that lasted until 2007 when Bernie Ecclestone declared the track wouldn’t see F1 until a new contract was agreed.

Memorably IMS was host to one of the most shambolic F1 races so far after 14 of the competitors retired before the start, the problem was with the Michelin tyres used by the 14 – the other six ran on Bridgestones. The Michelin runners were experiencing high wear on their tyres and believed they couldn’t safely compete, especially as tyre changes were outlawed in 2005.

Substantial work has never been far away from the track, chiefly during the 1930s when the inside wall was removed from the corners, hard crash helmets were made mandatory and a system of yellow lights was put up around the circuit.

Indeed the modern pit buildings have been standing for almost 30 years now, they replaced the classic ‘gasoline alley’ of old.

Kissing the bricks at Indy (Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Kissing the bricks at Indy (Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The new pit buildings have seen a number of new uses over the last decade with Moto GP hosting the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas along with Grand-Am brining endurance racing to Indiana.

IMS has, like many ovals in America, seen increasingly rapid average lap times in recent years with IndyCar seeing a 187mph average last year – a record set by last year’s 500 winner Tony Kanaan.

This weekend the speedway will see action on its flat banks once again as the 98th Indy 500 takes the green flag on Sunday – Memorial Day in America.