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1911

First Indianapolis 500 is run

On May 30, 1911, the inaugural Indianapolis 500 is run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. The 200-lap, two-and-a-half mile race has since become a Memorial Day weekend tradition. With the exception of a break in 1917 and 1918 for World War I and from 1942 to 1945 for World War II, it has been run every year since, and is now the largest sporting event in the world, attended by about 270,000 spectators annually.

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was designed, the track was meant to have a crushed rock and tar surface. That surface was abandoned after only a few races in 1909, due to fatal results caused by unevenness. The rock and tar was replaced by over 3 million street-paving bricks that were filled in with sand and then mortar for strength. The track has since been referred to as “the brickyard,” although subsequent resurfacing has covered all but about three feet of the bricks.

At the first Indy 500 in 1911, 40 cars met the qualifications to race. Track founder Carl Fisher felt the large number could lead to danger, so he decided to lead the first lap around the track at about 40 or 45 miles per hour, before pulling off to the side. The “pace car” has since become standard practice at all auto races.

In the 30th mile of the race, 80,000 spectators watched as a driver from Chicago lost a front wheel, which caused his car to turn over on the track. Both the driver and his mechanic, who rode in the front seat with him, were thrown from the car. The mechanic landed against a fence and was killed instantly, while the driver escaped with a broken arm. The race continued, and the crowd watched nervously as accidents piled up, knowing another fatality could take place at any moment. None did, and Ray Harroun, driving a Marmon, was declared the winner with a time of 06:41:08. Harroun was the only driver in the race who didn’t ride with a mechanic. Instead, he employed a rear-view mirror, his own invention, to keep an eye on the other cars on the track.

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