Motorsports in Indiana; Jungle Park & Indianapolis Motor Speedway History, Museum & More
Indiana has a long history of motorsports. Indianapolis Motor Speedway goes back to 1909. Carl G. Fisher envisioned the race track from experience gained in Europe. He wanted a facility to test cars before delivery to customers. Taking construction concepts from the Brooklands Circuit in London, Fisher proposed a 3 to 5 mile circular or oval track. Fisher finally decided on an oval 2.5-mile track.
First Event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The first race was a balloon race held on June 5, 1909. The initial surface was rock covered with tar. Paving was in its infancy with very few miles of pavement anywhere in the US. A motorcycle race held on August 14, 1909 created concerns about the track, a two-day event was canceled before the first day was complete because of the tracks surface conditions. Drivers arriving for the first car event found the drivers and cars covered with dirt, oil and tar with ruts and chuckholes, this was August 19, 1909. Numerous land speed records where broken but on third day tragedy struck with two spectators, a driver and a race mechanic where killed due to the haphazard track conditions. (Race mechanics road with the drivers during this period).
The surface was reconditioned using 3.2 million bricks, gaining the track’s moniker as “The Brickyard.” A thirty-three-inch protective concrete wall was installed to protect the spectators. Races where sanctioned up through 1955 by the AAA. 1911 saw the first 500-mile races. Previously races ran from 100 to 200 miles with two to three races, but the single 500-mile race on Memorial Day saw the marketing shift to a single 500 mile race a year. Shut down during World War II, but races continued in 1946. Today the raceway hosts Formula 1, NASCAR races and motorcycle races.
Abandoned Race Tracks; Jungle Park Speedway
While the Indianapolis Speedway marks a triumph for American racing, another track is infamous, the Jungle Park is a ½ mile oval dirt track with a ¼ mile oval in the infield. The track started life in 1926. During the infancy of auto racing, safety equipment was virtually nil. No helmets, seat belts or roll cages. The track rules are notoriously lax, leading to the death of a track official fixing a divot in track, and run over by a racer. A woman was killed in the second season. Two months later the first driver was killed, and a spectator was injured when a car went into the fence protecting the stands and launched a pole into the spectator’s head. The next two years saw the demise of another three drivers. No retaining wall meant that if the car left the track it was launched into the trees or the nearby Sugar Creek. One incident was a car fire, the spectators put it out with beer. The officials were so lackadaisical, that the guy timed one race’s qualifications using a silver dollar to mimic a stop watch. In a dying gasp in 1960 saw a car hit a hole in the track launching the car into the grandstands.
Military & Automotive Museums in Auburn, Indiana
Today the woods are reclaiming the race track, a few stands are still there, but mostly mother nature is reclaiming the track. Jungle park was used for decades as a canoe livery. But today it is nothing but a mute testament to the thrills and dangers of early auto-racing and the proving ground for seven future Indy 500 championship drivers.
Early Indiana was the birth place of American auto racing and Kruse Museums is proud to honor it with our Northeastern Indiana Racing Museum. Come by and see it for yourself today!