tv Origins of the Indianapolis 500 CSPAN December 27, 2019 7:42pm-8:01pm EST
>> we're at the indianapolis motor speedway home of the largest single day sporting event in the world, the indianapolis 500. next to me is the car that won the first indianapolis 500 in 1911. we learn more about the race and why it's based here in indianapolis. >> white flag. >> white flag. >> white flag. >> tomorrow the speedway will be quiet. waiting for the next running of >> the world's greatest race.
>> quite a race. >> quite a race. >> >> it's not just a race. there's all kind of community events going on, autographs with the drivers. memorabilia sale. it is nonstop entertainment for an entire weekend. (music) >> >> once the race begins i think a lot of people look at it as we just threw a big party and now we can get down to watching a serious race go on and see who wins. and everyone's kind of let down after the race is over because you have to wait another 364 days. >> >> final lap and it's three-way shootout into the home stretch less than half a mile. he wins. he's made the indy 500. >> >> the indianapolis 500 is the largest single day sporting event in the world and has been
for many years. the speedway track about 300,000 people here for the race year after year. in terms of what it is, if you look at that literally it's a 500 mile race, 200 laps of this two-and-a-half mile oval. and here at the speedway, it is but for a lot of people it's grown into more than just a race. it's family reunions, reunions with friends. a tradition-laid nt event. the indianapolis in the spot light. you know, for a lot of people it's just become something that's treanssquended sports. transcended sports. it was founded in 1909 as a company and built between march and basically completed in august of that year although they found very quickly they had to make major modifications but it was an entrepreneurial
enterprise. there were four founders of the company. a gentleman named carl g fisher was the chief founder. jim alison was kind of the number two guy. he was president of the speedway for a wile. and then two other gentlemen, arthur and frank were the oirt cofounders. and the reason they built this place was they saw the potential of the automobile but and there was a lot of automobile manufacturers in indianapolis. they nead add place to test those cars. the idea was to have this big test track here where all these local all theo makers could test their products and then suddenly they start to realize you know what race them ond weekend and then sell them on monday. so that's kind of how the idea of racing here started. when carl fisher and his associates built this track, indianapolis was actually number two in the nation as far as the number of auto manufacturers within the city. number one at that time was cleveland. so indianapolis had
a burgeoning auto industry. the companies needed a place to test their cars and a lot of roads were just rut dirt paths, nothing they could really get up to speed. so this place was built and testing began in that regard. however, there was a guy named henry ford that came up with a process using an assembly line to build cars. so when henry figured that out and the model t started being built up in detroit, any manufacturing hubs in automobile shifted basically from indianapolis or cleveland or you name it to detroit. the first event of ni kind, any kind of sporting or competitive event was a balloon race that took place in june of 1909. they launched out of the infield a few feet from where we were and one of the balloons made it all the way to tennessee and was the winner.
the second event to take place here was in early august of 1909 and that was a motorcycle race. so you had two wheelers before the race cars. they had a very hard time with the surface which was the original surface crushed tar and rock. that did not suit motor cycles at all. so unfortunately that event was cut short because of some accidents. and then the following week, which was the weekend of august 19, 1909 that was the first time there was automobile racing here. that was a little more successful. the track started to break up, however, by the third of racing, and then that was canceled as well and that's when the bricks were laid down in the fall of 1909. >> >> the car we're standing next to is the wassp because of the long yellow tail on the back of it. this was the inaugural indianapolis 500 winner. so significant in global motor sports history. this was built in indianapolis
in late 1909 actually raced here at the speedway in 1910 and it was crashed in 1910. took back to the factory, they rebuilt it. and then a gentleman took this car to victory lane in 1999 and he was very smart about it, very methodical. everybody went out during the race just to go as fast as they possibly could. ray came to the conclusion that if he held a steady 75 mile an hour pace for the entire 500 miles he would have two fewer pit stops and could get by on two sets of tires. so he did that plan, stuck with it, and won the race as a result. so the average speed of the inaugural 500 was just under 75, compare that to today's track record for the 500 miles which is up around 187 miles an hour. it's amazing to look at the difference in the engineering of these cars versus what you
have today. the first thing you probably notice are the tires are very, very thin. these firestone tires were a staple for many years. firestone still races here today. the most notable par of this car has to be the rear view mirror. the reason is because when all these competitors showed up for the inaugural indianapolis 500 you had 42 cars that started the race, every one of them had a riding mechanic chept here in the wassp. the idea of the riding mechanic was not so much to be amechanic to be an extra set of eyes just out of safety for the driver. everybody thought ray was going to be dangerous on the track because he did not have a mechanic. being the engineer that he was, he came up with the idea of i am going to cut out an eight inch piece of glass per dime going to frame it in metal and i will have this mirror. truth be told, when he was out there on the bumpy rick surface, he probably couldn't see anything
anyways. he satisfied that she was satisfied everyone was able to race. as it were, you had the first car with a rearview mirror anywhere in the world and also won the 500. the primary founder's first inclination was to build a five mile oval testing ground. he actually looked at doing that in southern indiana. it is very hilly down there. he could not find any level ash he could not find enough level ground to build a five mile track. he had the idea of a three mile track in the track designer the engineer he hired came to realize that a few had two long search ways, and 490 degree turns with short shoots between the north and south turned, you you could put a three mile track in here but barely. he told fisher if you ever want to
race cars here, there is not going to be room for them. they incited instead of three miles to would have two long straightaways, four turns that for one quarter of a mile each, eight mile short shoots, that adds up to 2.5. that is the early races were cut short from the problems we have on the roads today. there were potholes. the surface started to break apart. when you are driving a car at 70 miles an hour circa 1909, you hit a pothole, it is not going to end well. there were a couple of serious accidents. that is when the call went up to cut short the races on the last day and seek out a more stable surface. again, that is how we came to the conclusion that brick would be the best way to go about it. the car is heavier now. this is the next generation after ray's big win in 1911. this was a
purpose built racing car. it was built from 1928, you have art deco design from the error, but what is most important is it was built by harry miller out of california. he became a famous designer of engines and cars, won many indianapolis 500s over the years. another notable piece is that the driver of this car in 1928 was a gentleman called louis meyer. he won the race in 1936. when he won his third race, he became the first driver to win three times. he was also the guy who asked for a bottle of buttermilk and victory lane. that started a tradition that lives to this day. when the winter comes in today, and has been the case since the 1950's, the winner gets the wreaths,
regular milk not buttermilk anymore. all of the winner has to do is take a chug of the milk and they get $5,000 from american dairy producers. >> >> the milk bath. all over his face. didn't waste anything. the bottle is gone. >> >> you could say this is a good example of the third generation of indy cars. some people may argue with that, but you went from the race on sunday, by on monday kind of car in the early 19 hundred in the early 1900s. you had the roadster era develop in the 1940's. this is one of the prime examples of the road sir. this car was driven by belt bill. when he drove it in 1952, he was toward the end of the race. he had the race wrapped up and the steering failed. he came back in 1953 in 1954. he
absolutely dominated the race. >> he is coming down the chute. >> not a lot of difference visually in these cars than what you saw in 1928. obviously a lot lower to the ground. the reason for that was it was much better to get around the corners. they were thinking a lot about weight in these cars. the engine was transferred to the site. note the side in order to help the car better get around the corners. all they have to do is turn left, so they have the engine on the left side for a better way to transfer. the axle protrudes more to the right side for cornering. everything was done with turning left in mind. these are thorough. racecars thorough bread racecars. the first coating of asphalt was put down in 1939. that was just
in the corners. over the years, more of the bricks were paved over with the asphalt. finally, the last brick on the track was a couple hundred feet on the main straight away. that was paved over 1961. the most important link to our past. at the finish line, it it is vintage 1909 bricks. they may not have originated at the starting line, but as the track has been repaved three years, those bricks at been pulled out and saved. when they are done repaving, they put the brick. they are vintage brick. we have a great example here of cars from team penske. roger penske and the industrialist has been
successful and a major force in indycar racing for 50 years. this is team penske's first entry in 1969. this was a low low with a lola chassis built in great britain. the chassis is similar to the roadsters from the 1950's. you can see a bit of a waiting on the back. they are just starting to figure out how the aerodynamics worked on these cars. you come here three years later and all of a sudden we have wings on the front and a huge ring on the back. the difference in qualifying speed for a car like to send a car like this, 1970 two, about 20 miles an hour. speeds went up tremendously because you have wings that act like the opposite of airplane wing spirit airplane winks create lift and get the plane off the ground, indycar wings are designed to keep them on the ground so they can go
through corners much faster. what you have here is a very modern indycar. this chassis was built by the company out of italy. these chassis were built about a mile from the track right here in speedway, indiana. this car won the race and 2018. australian drive or tesch australian driver willpower. these can run average lapse. the biggest difference between these cars at the cars that you see back here is the space-age material. this entire car is built with carbon fiber. a lot of influences from airplanes in this car. not only because the wings and the balance, but from a safety standpoint. the driver circle kuhn did not car. that is all to be able to hit the wall at 220 miles an hour and come out safely. the name of the game in terms of cars is to improve the competition. you have very reliable engines.
very safe cars. the competition has been better than it has been in many years. >> this is his best chance of far. >> there are a lot of differences in auto racing and the stick and ball sports like football and basketball. if there is one thing that holds true with all of it it is the competition, the desire to win. some kids when they start out early in their life, they want to hit that ball and they want to get a guaranteed contract and be a major league star. there is other people that mom and dad take them racing at it is very much a family sport. a lot of names over the years have all been involved in the sport together. the desire is to win. just like in at the other sport. this is the super bowl of auto racing. there is only 73 people as of 2019 who have
that kind of qualification. if you had grown up around auto racing, that is a big deal. it is what has made indianapolis recognizable for many years. fortunately, we are in a town that has really grown over the last few decades in that the indianapolis 500 is no longer the only game in town. we have a lot going on. a lot of amenities. the colts, the pacers, but this is still the ground crown jewel as far as global recognition. people know indianapolis because of racing. with a healthy sport, healthy track, i do not think that will change.