You’ve probably heard of the Detroit Motor Speedway, which is located in the Metro Detroit area of Michigan. The track was first built in 1919 and has been holding races ever since. During its early years, the track had a reputation as one of the fastest racing venues in the country. Several famous drivers, including Al Capone, were said to have taken part in their fair share of races there.
While the Detroit Motor Speedway is undoubtedly prestigious, it’s not the only racing venue in Michigan. In fact, there’s another track that you may not have heard of that holds an important place in motorsport history. That’s right—Michigan International Speedway is almost a century old! It first opened its gates in 1914 and has been holding races ever since. The track was originally constructed and operated by the same company that built and operated the Chicago Motor Speedway, a track that shares many of Michigan International Speedway‘s architectural features. The Chicago Motor Speedway was also home to one of the most famous automobile accidents in history. On June 1st, 1916, when the park was still known as American Racing Park, the deaths of eleven people from Washington state and one from Indiana were blamed on the poor design of the track.
Although the Chicago Motor Speedway was built on land owned by the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, it was constructed closer to the Wisconsin border in order to take advantage of the prevailing westerly winds that made for faster, more exciting racing. The facility consisted of a banked oval with straights and long, sweeping turns, which are still present at Michigan International Speedway today.
The Early Years
When the Detroit Motor Speedway opened its doors in 1919, it was quite the spectacle. More than 100 cars and motorcycles were lined up on the grid for the opening race, and more than 30,000 people showed up to see the racing begin. It was an exciting time to be a car fanatic. Although many people traveled from far away places like Chicago and New York to witness the races, the opening ceremony was one of the main draws. The 100th anniversary of the Detroit Motor Speedway was celebrated in 2019, and it was one of the largest gatherings in the city’s history. The celebration included a vintage car display, appearances by celebrities and racing veterans, and a special ceremony at which all the winners of the first 100 years were presented with trophies.
After the first 100 years, the Detroit Motor Speedway continued to grow. New sponsorship deals and corporate partnerships encouraged its owners to expand the venue’s seating capacity from 24,000 to 36,000 in 1937. In order to accommodate the additional fans, a section of the grandstand was destroyed in a massive fire in 1939. Fortunately, the track was able to raise enough money to build a brand new grandstand, and the rest of the stadium was renovated, too. The renovation cost more than $1 million at the time—about $13.6 million in current dollars.
World War II And The Post-War Years
During World War II, the Detroit Motor Speedway was one of the main staging grounds for military maneuvers. The stadium was built prior to the war, so it was already structurally sound, but was outfitted with military vehicles and equipment. The Army Corps of Engineers even helped remodel the track so that it could host the war games. More than 200,000 people attended one of the biggest rock concerts of the era, featuring The Who and The Beach Boys, in 1966. Some sources claim that more than 500,000 people attended that particular show.
After the war ended, the Detroit Motor Speedway went back to being a place for motorsport fans to visit and enjoy. In fact, in 1948 the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (the same company that built and operated the Chicago Motor Speedway) built a brand new, 5.6-mile, D-shaped oval track just 3/4 of a mile from the original stadium. This track, originally known as the Milwaukee County Stadium, is still host to numerous races today. The main reason for the post-war construction was to increase spectator enjoyment and revenue. Many of the original design features of the 1914 track were retained, including the long, sweeping turns that give the venue its name—Milwaukee County Stadium. The most visible change was the addition of seats and an increase in capacity from 24,000 to 36,000. Even after 100 years, the enthusiasm for car racing in the United States was at an all-time high, and the Detroit Motor Speedway was one of the main beneficiaries of this boom.
Although the Detroit Motor Speedway has been holding races for more than a century, it’s still going strong. In recent years the track has been remodeled and has continued to attract more and more fans. Its most recent expansion project added an extra, 700 new seats. Most of these have been placed in the main grandstand, and the track now has a seating capacity of more than 47,500. This expansion was funded entirely by the generous contributions of motorsport fans like you!. In 2020, the track will mark its 100th anniversary, and it’s looking to celebrate the occasion by hosting some incredible racing events. Keep your eye on the website, as more information about this milestone will be released soon.
How Old Is The Detroit Motor Speedway?
The Detroit Motor Speedway is almost a century old, having opened its doors in 1914. It has gone through several renovations throughout its lifetime, most notably after World War II, when the grandstand was rebuilt and expanded from 24,000 to 36,000 seats. To this day, it remains one of the premier motorsport venues in North America.
Michigan International Speedway, the original incarnation of which was built in 1914, is also almost a century old. It has been home to some incredible racing moments, including the aforementioned Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad’s 1916 fire and subsequent reconstruction project, as well as the 1957 flood that washed out several stands. The track was also the setting for one of the most famous rock concerts in history, featuring more than 500,000 people in attendance—The Who and The Beach Boys in 1966.
While the history of both Detroit Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway is rich, extraordinary, and deserving of respect, it’s important to remember that they are still very much alive today!