Our good friend Tim Lopata of Forge Muscle Car Show fame as done us another huge favor and provided us with this longest film know to exist of the first 2011 Indy 5oo race! This is truly a piece of history for any race fan or car gear-head. Remember, this is 1911, the film is black and white and there is no audio. You must read the descriptions as the film plays. What I miss most about watching this is the live piano player that would have played background music in the theatre back then.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was constructed as a dirt track in 1909 but was much to unsafe to hold a 500 mile race. The track was paved with bricks and the first 500 mile race was held on Memorial Day in 1911. From the looks of this film the brick track was about as dirty as a dirt track when the race started. The first Pace Car (this was the first time a race ever had a rolling start) was a Stoddard Dayton Roadster driven by Speedway President Carl G. Fisher. The one lap pace lap was conducted at a speed of 40 mph in front of 80,000 spectators.
The start included 40 cars lined up in 8 rows of 5 cars each! Before long pit stops began and oil from cars exiting the pits started to “oil down” the brick in Turn 1 creating the potential for a considerable hazard. Track management ordered sand to be spread over the oil. No yellow flags, just run out on the track and throw a bucket of sand down! I guess this was not considered a hazard.
Oil was not the only problem. Tires and wheels of the day were a constant threat to the safety of the drivers and the ride along mechanics.
Number 8, a Case, broke a steering knuckle on the front stretch on lap 87 and began wobbling down the front stretch using up a considerable amount of the “racing grove”. The #8 mechanic, Anderson, was ejected from the car and thrown to the track. Number 7, a Westcott, in an effort to miss the mechanic hit #35, an Apperson, which was in the Pits getting a tire replaced. The #35 turned over by the impact and the #7 Westcott turned end over end landing on #18, a Fiat.
The resulting confusion caused the officials to temporarily loose count of cars on the track which threatened the early termination of the race. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the accident and officials returned to their duties with the racing continueing.
Unfortunately, one fatality was recorded at the race.
Ray Harroun won the first 500 in the #32 6 cylinder Marmon Wasp with 477 cubic inches of displacement in a time of 6 hours 42 minutes and 8 seconds. He won $10,000.