You’ve probably heard of speedway, a combination of speed and ice racing. Although the sport has been around for more than a century, it’s only recently that it’s experienced a renaissance, and for good reason: it’s exciting to watch a race and potentially catch some yourself. In addition, you can participate in the sport virtually anywhere thanks to the rise of virtual racing. And last but not least, the technology and materials used in the construction of today’s speedway cars are some of the most fascinating in motorsport. It’s no wonder that so many people are interested in the sport.
The Growth Of Speedway
Although the exact dates aren’t known, it’s widely accepted that ice racing was first incorporated into a World Series event during the 1915-16 season. That same year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its doors and began offering speedway racing. Thus, the sport we know today as speedway was born.
Even as late as the 1970s, speedway was considered a minor sport, comparable to American football and ice hockey, in terms of both attendance and TV viewership. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that motorsport enthusiasts began to take notice of the sport and consider it a relevant competitor to the traditional racing sports. This was largely thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated individuals who had the idea of bringing back the nostalgia of classic car events by staging races using period-correct vehicles and equipment. As a result, the sport experienced a resurgence, and today, it’s closer to achieving relevance than it has ever been before.
The History Of The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most recognizable sports venues in the world and the brainchild of car industry pioneer and entrepreneur Arthur Bohnet. The track was first envisioned in 1906, after Bohnet watched cyclists race along the Woodstock Corniche in Paris. Construction didn’t begin until three years later, on September 6, 1909. For the next 50 years, the track would be the crown jewel in the city of Indianapolis.
The track originally consisted of a main straightaway that was 3.9 miles in length and was lined with grandstands. In fact, the main grandstand is still in use today and is the longest continually-run track grandstand in the world. Another significant addition to the track was the installation of lights in 1910, which made it possible to hold nighttime events. In 1928, the track’s capacity reached 125,000, which was more than enough to accommodate the then-record breaking attendance of 126,250 people.
The venue began hosting World Series events in 1924, which are still held annually. The first World Series was held in 1924, with three races taking place and was won by Dario Resta. Since then, the World Series has become the de facto championship of the speedway circuit. In addition to the World Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway currently hosts a variety of other competitions and festivals including the Indiana State Fair, the Brickyard 400 and the annual car show and swap meet that is the Indianapolis 500. Notable guests have included former presidents Calvin Coolidge and Harry S. Truman as well as several European royalty.
Although the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is most well-known for its speedway races, the venue also has a museum and several other attractions. In addition, the facility is the headquarters of the International Speedway Corporation, which owns other famous venues such as Daytona International Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As you can see, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is more than just a sports venue; it’s an entire world city that brings together motorsport, art and education. And it’s all been made possible by a dedicated group of enthusiasts who had the foresight to see the potential of a once-in-a-lifetime event and the ingenuity to make it a reality.
The Growth Of Speedway In Other Countries
Since the early days, speedway has been popularized in Europe, largely because of the continent’s freezing winters. The first official ice race was held in Prague in 1931 and was won by German driver Bernd Rosemeyer. That same year, the International Ice Racing Congress was founded in London and the London Motor Speedway was built for the purpose of hosting international speedway events. For the next 30 years, international competitions would take place at the London Speedway, with the British Empire defeating Hitler’s Germany in four straight World Wars. Following World War II, the racing industry in Europe slowly came back, spearheaded by the German Auto Sport Club (DAW) and the Netherlands’ famed former track designer Jack Brabham.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of television led to unprecedented growth throughout Europe and South America. In addition to TV broadcasts, which provided live feeds from around the world, newspapers, magazines and radios spread the word about the exciting new sport. As a result, participation in speedway events doubled in the 20-year span from 1950 to 1970 and it wasn’t uncommon for tracks to have more than a thousand cars registered for weekly competitions.
One of the most significant events in ice racing history took place in 1966 in Innsbruck, Austria. That year, the World Ice Racing Championship was contested for the first time, with France’s Jean-Pierre Huot winning the championship in a time of 7 minutes and 21.1 seconds. The following year, the Austrian city would host the finals of the European Ice Racing Championship, with Germany’s Hannes Mager winning for the fourth straight year. Since then, Innsbruck has hosted the World Ice Racing Championship finals every year, with Mager bringing home the championship for Germany eight times and Austria twice.
One of the more obscure sports-related developments that helped to propel speedway into the mainstream was the Gulf War in 1990. As part of the conflict, the Iraqi government prohibited most civilian vehicles from driving on public roads. This posed a problem for most professional racing teams, as most of their driver/s and team personnel were based in the UK and the USA. Therefore, some of the UK’s leading motorsport figures, such as Damon Hill and Nigel Manse, founded Ice Racing Ltd, the company eventually becoming known as Ice Cream Racing.
The team competed in a variety of sports events, including sprint car races and ice racing, using modified Toyota Corolla racing cars and vans manufactured in Japan. The team even staged an ice race in the middle of winter, in Dubai, where temperatures regularly fall to single digits and drop even lower at night. The team also became the first motorsport outfit to enter a car into a winter sports race after it was modified to withstand the blistering temperatures of a Dubai summer night.
The Popularity Of Racing In General
Although speedway has enjoyed a significant increase in popularity in recent years, that doesn’t mean that other sports haven’t enjoyed comparable growth or even surpassed it. In the past ten years, professional golf has become a fully paid sport, with the top tournaments attracting huge crowds and lucrative TV rights deals. Since 2006, the PGA Tour has been the most-watched sports league in the USA, attracting a weekly audience of 16.1 million.
Racing has also seen a boom in popularity among millennials. According to the NPD group, a market research company, the overall consumer segment for motorsport goods and activities (such as races, museums and theme parks) will be worth more than £3 billion in 2022.
The UK is home to some of the most renowned motorsport venues in the world, including the legendary Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit and the 6.6-mile track located in Anglesey, which is arguably the most-watched sporting arena in Europe. The National Sports Collectors’ Association (NSCA) has named the Aston Martin DB5 from the 1965 James Bond film Goldeneye as the most popular car in history.
In Australia, the Bathurst 12 Hour race, which takes place in New South Wales, is the largest and most popular motor race in the world. Since 2014, the race has been promoted by Red Bull and features some of its iconic cars, including the Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Toro Rosso STR12 and the Red Bull Racing RB12, along with several Aston Martin DB5s. The 12 Hour race is held annually and features cars from around the world. The 2020 edition of the race sold out more than two months in advance.