Track historian talks first Indianapolis 500 race

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be May 29

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – When the Indianapolis 500 started in 1911 the track that we now know as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in its third year.

Track Historian Donald Davidson said a lot of people think it started with the 500, but it actually started with some trials and tribulations until the 500 made a home run.

“They had a huge crowd on race day and estimated 80,000, but as with all the way through current times there’s always an estimate but they did estimate 80,000,” Davidson said.

Davidson said thousands came through Union Station to make their way to the race. He said from the get-go it was very much a society event.

“There was the boxes and people with their out of town guests, you know the ladies with all their finery and the dresses all the way to the ground so right from the very first year was a success,” said Davidson.

In 1911 there were even concession stands where you could buy things like cheese sandwiches, coffee and cigars. Davidson said a lot of people brought their own food with a waiter and a butler to cater the food.

The first race ticket price was only $1, Davidson estimated.

“If you didn’t have a grand stand, you sat in the infield inside turn 1 and the reason why that was established was because when the track was built it was farm land and the attraction was there,” said Davidson.

The winner of the 1911 race was Ray Harroun.

“Ray Harroun was an engineer and he drove racecars but he said, I didn’t think of myself as a race driver, I was an engineer and I drove the cars because I wanted to see if everything was working the way that I thought that it should,” Davidson said.

Harroun won $10,000 for the race. Davidson said it was a $25,000 purse with $10,000 to the winning team.

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be May 29.

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