Indy 500 Track
by Trevor Whenham - 05/15/2008
The Indianapolis 500 is the most famous open wheel car race in the world, and part of what makes it so special is the tradition and mythology that surrounds it. The Indy 500 track is the place that everyone who has ever got behind a wheel and dreamed of going fast has imagined themselves on.
The Indy 500 takes place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's so famous that it is in it's own town - Speedway, Indiana is entirely surrounded by Indianapolis and includes the track and little else. It was first built in 1909, which makes it the second oldest track in the country behind one in Milwaukee. More people can fit into the facility than into any other sporting facility - 257,000 in permanent seats, and 150,000 more in the infield.
The track itself is 2 ½ miles long. It is a regularly shaped oval, which is almost rectangular. The corners aren't nearly as banked as some other American tracks, but are much steeper than what can be found in Europe. The long straightaways are 5/8 miles long, and the short straightaways are 1/8 mile. Each of the four turns occupies a quarter mile. The asphalt track is essentially the same shape as it was when it was first built.
Despite all of the drivers and cars that have been on the track since the first Indy 500 in 1911, just one man holds every speed record that has been set surrounding this event. Arie Luyendyk won the Indy 500 in 1990 at a record average speed of 185.981 miles per hour. In 1996 he set every other speed record - the top practice lap at 239.260 mph, the top single qualifying lap at 237.498 mph, and the top speed for four qualifying laps at 236.986 mph. Luyendyk is truly the king of the Indy 500 track.
The Indy 500 track is historical in more than just the eyes of racing fans. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1975, and was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1987. It is the only facility related to automotive racing in the United States to have that designation.
A popular nickname of the Indy 500 track is the Brickyard. That comes from its very early history. The first race at the facility was run on crushed stone and tar. It was an accident-filled disaster. Carl Fisher was one of the founders of the track, and he was the driving force behind an effort to make the track safer. The solution they came up with seems like an incredible amount of work - they covered the track with 3.2 million paving bricks. Most of them are long gone by now, but three feet of them remain at the finish line.