|The Brickyard is 100 Years Young - Wednesday, July 29
We started our day at 7:00, taking our baby into the Fishers Ford dealership for it’s 45,000 mile service. Then we headed for Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s the biggest racetrack in the world so we had no trouble finding it.
We came to the track from the north, arriving at the west end which is the main straightaway. We drove along the backs of the main grandstands, which are three quarters of a mile long, without seeing any open gates, so we turned east on 16th street and followed the south end grandstands to the short stretch between turns 1 and 2, and there we found the tunnels that take you under the track to the infield. The tunnels look narrow and low, but this is where the car haulers bring in that priceless hardware so we figured they could handle a modest little motorhome.
Past the tunnels there is a gate and a guardhouse. A friendly guard waved us through and pointed to the parking area. Behind him was a large fountain and behind the fountain stands the Hall of Fame museum. Inside we were immediately greeted by a man who chatted with us like he’d known us for years, answering our questions and going out of his way to make us feel welcome. This attitude was to be repeated by everyone we met. The speedway staff is uncommonly friendly and well trained.
We had called ahead and made reservations for a tour of the grounds. Not knowing when we’d get there we’d made them for the 3:00 PM tour. While we were deciding what to do first they announced that the 11:15 AM Grounds Tour was boarding, and since they had room for two more we boarded that bus and got our tour in early. It was to be a most fascinating hour.
The speedway is celebrating it’s Centennial this year - and next year - and the year after that. The reason for making it a three year event is this. The racetrack was completed and opened in 1909 a hundred years ago this past June, but the first race was a hot air balloon race and they didn’t run the first 500 mile car race until 1911. So instead of naming any one year their centennial, they are celebrating all three years and calling it the Centennial Era. That makes a lot of sense and gives a lot more people a chance to get in on the celebration.
Our tour of the grounds started off with a lap of the track, and it is a real thrill to see it from this perspective. The bus stopped at the north end between turns 3 and 4 to show us the new SAFER barrier recently installed on all the turns. SAFER stands for Steel And Foam Energy Reduction, and as the name implies it’s a combination of steel tubes backed up by Styrofoam spacers that absorbs impact and allows drivers to walk away from crashes that once might have killed them.
Across the track the guide pointed out a low building with a hot air balloon painted on it. He said it was the site of a row of outhouses for the first balloon race, and that the painting commemorates the fact that a balloon in that race knocked over one of the outhouses that had a woman in it at the time.
The bus made a second stop at the Start/Finish Line, which is in front of the grandstands and the famous Pagoda. The track gets it’s nickname The Brickyard, from the fact that it once was paved entirely with red brick. One can only imagine the work involved with laying three and a half million bricks and getting them compacted and leveled. The brick was later covered with asphalt, but they left a three foot strip of the original brick at the Start/Finish line to commemorate the original paving.
At one time they only ran one race a year here, but they later added an annual NASCAR race called the Brickyard 400, and more recently an annual motorcycle race called the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. There is a fourth race run by Formula One cars, but it has not been run the past couple of years because of some problem being negotiated. For one thing the F-1 organizer doesn’t like the three feet of brick for some reason, but much as they want that race back it is doubtful if the track management is going to give in to them on that point. That three feet of brick has too much history to pave it over for a bunch of foreigners.
The guide took us inside both the Media Suites and the Pagoda itself, for a behind the scenes tour that the general public only gets to see on TV if they are lucky. The track management is generous in allowing visitors to take pictures of anything you wish, and the guides will take your picture for you at some of the more famous locations like the Winners Circle. The bus took a loop through Gasoline Alley where the garages are located, and past the fueling pumps. Indy cars used to run on methanol. They now run on ethanol but some of the pumps still say ‘methanol’. NASCAR runs on unleaded gasoline and their pumps just say ‘racing fuel’.
Back at the Hall of Fame we watched an excellent video, and then toured the exhibits which are nothing short of beautiful. The Hall of Fame has many of the winning cars from over the years, and they have these on display in chronological order from the #32 car that won that first race in 1911, to their most recent addition from the 1995 race. It is fascinating to see the evolution of the machines. The Borg Warner Trophy is on display, as well as a number of cars and motorcycles that have made racing history in various ways over the years.
We ended our visit with a shopping spree in the track gift store, and then got back on the road and drove another hour before stopping for the night on the outskirts of Crawfordsville. Our destination is Iowa and the Winnebago factory in Forest City, but we have a few days to get there and a few stops planned along the way.
It should be noted that one casualty of our stop at the IMS track is our next year’s itinerary. For two years now we’ve been talking about when to bring our RV back to California and how and where to do it. The time keeps getting longer as we keep finding new and interesting things we want to do in the east and Midwest, but we’d pretty much settled on bringing it back next year with a trip across Canada. Now it looks like that may get stretched to two years so we can go to the INDY 500 Race either next year or in 2011. Good thing we don’t have jobs we have to figure into our plans too. I don’t know how we ever found time to work all those years.