Is Speedway Owned By Exxon? [Expert Review!]

Is Speedway Owned By Exxon? If you’re curious about the origins of the famous name ‘Speedway’ you’ve probably searched for the answer to this question a few times already. The short answer is – no – the venerable oil company did not purchase the Chicago Speedway property in 1925, nor did it operate the track until after the Second World War. However, they did play a significant role in its founding, and the name itself came from an employee of the company.

ExxonMobil is one of the world’s largest and most diverse oil and gas companies. Their headquarters is located in the United States, with interests in over 80 countries around the world. They also have significant investments in transport to move their products to market, so they can’t be accused of putting all their eggs in one basket (which, in this case, happens to be petrol-powered).

This multinational conglomerate is currently valued at over $16 trillion USD, and is one of the few companies that can boast a revenue of over $20 billion USD a year. One of the first companies to list their stock price on the New York Stock Exchange back in 1987, ExxonMobil continues to enjoy a good reputation as an ethical, green energy company, using renewable sources of energy and producing zero waste. In fact, much of their operations are designed to minimize their impact on the environment, including the building designed to their specifications to be energy-efficient. In 2020 they were named, alongside Unilever, as one of the World’s 50 Most Influential Companies – the first time in history an oil company has made the cut. They also manage to produce over 50% of their energy from renewable sources, which they proudly boast about.

If you’re curious as to how a company like this came to own a motor racing track, you have to go back to the beginning. The story of Speedway begins in Chicago, in 1925, where a young man by the name of Hugh B. Sloan – owner of an oil company by the same name – wanted to create an investment that he could pass on to his children. Sloan’s first purchase was a small parcel of land, where he built a race track that was originally known as the Chicago Speedway. The track was eventually purchased by the Chicago Park District, and is now called Grant Park Racetrack. For a while the park district rented the land to a company that produced cigarettes. The track hosted it’s first race in November 1927, which was won by William B. McGowan in a Ford Model T. In 1928 – the same year that automobile production reached its height – the track’s name was changed to – you guessed it – ‘Speedway’ – due to the growing popularity of motor racing in the United States during that time period.

A legend has it that Sloan himself drove the first lap around Grant Park Racetrack in an oil-fueled – what else – ‘Sloan automobile’, which at the time was the most dominant automobile in the world. The oil magnate himself often attended Chicago Speedway events driving a 1926 Model ‘T’. And in case you were wondering, yes, in 1926 Sloan’s oil company became – you guessed it again – ‘Exxon’. This is perhaps the most significant connection between the oil company and the famous motor racing track, and even today many people aren’t fully aware of this connection.

The Early Years

Somewhat surprisingly, given its association with a large oil company, the origins of Speedway are not well-documented. However, we do know that construction on the track began in the early 1920s – while Hugh B. Sloan was still alive – and that he was its primary constructor. After his death in 1932, his children George and Estelle inherited the company and continued with its expansion, as well as the construction of a small zoo on the grounds of the racetrack. Estelle Sloan also worked extensively with the Chicago Historical Society, putting together a collection of photographs and archives that document the history of the Chicago Speedway and surrounding areas. She also donated cash to help preserve the history and works of the track – which is significant, as prior to this point the park district had not only taken – but also destroyed – many of the old and valuable structures on the track’s property. The construction company that built the track, C.O. Braun & Son, still exist today and is responsible for the design and construction of many other Chicago area landmarks, including several buildings on the Art Institute of Chicago’s campus.

Even more surprisingly, before he sold his interest in the company to ExxonMobil in 1924, Sloan was actually part-owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the time, Indianapolis was a small city that had just annexed the surrounding countryside. And what’s more, Sloan and his partner, Harry Selfridge, jointly paid for the construction of the track. Selfridge, for those of you unfamiliar, was the co-owner of a department store by the same name. It was originally known as the ‘Selfridge Automobile Company’, and in 1899 they opened their doors for the very first time. A few years after purchasing the Indianapolis Speedway, Sloan’s oil company took on the naming rights, renaming it ‘Sloan Motors Speedway’. In September 1921, a couple hundred spectators came together in the pouring rain to watch the first official race held at the new speedway. The race was won by Joe Boyer in a ‘Raymond’s American – a car made in England – and he became the first official owner of a ‘Sloan.’

If you think that the Sloan family, or even Hugh B. Sloan himself, had a hand in the design of a racing track – named after them – you’d be mistaken. The Chicago Speedway was designed by the great Dutchman Herman Van Zwaffle, who had previously designed the Crystal Palace and the Flanders Flying Circus – two of the greatest stadiums of all time. Van Zwaffle was paid $25,000 for his services, and the design was implemented after he presented his plan to the city council in February 1925.

The Great Depression Years

While the Great Depression was a significant global event, it had less of an impact in Chicago, as compared to many other parts of the United States. The reasons for this are numerous, but include simple economics. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 didn’t directly affect Chicago, as there was relatively little stock market activity in the city at the time – which was fortunate, as a lot of people in Chicago lost a large amount of their net worth. However, the effects of the Great Depression were felt throughout the city, as demonstrated by the ‘Dust Bowl’ – a severe drought that lasted for years and caused widespread famine and poverty. During this time period, the Art Institute of Chicago went under the axe, along with several other prominent cultural institutions throughout the city. Fortunately, the Sloan family were able to keep the track running due to the lack of competitors – as well as the fact that most people were still driving cars during that time period, which meant there was still a demand for automobile-related products. The stadium continued to host auto races throughout the 1930s and even during the Second World War. In 1941 alone, over 50,000 people came together to watch the first-ever ‘Double Header’ – a combination of two auto races in one – at the legendary oval. Things didn’t return to pre-war levels, however, and even after a brief respite with the construction of ‘The Airport’ – later known as ‘O’Hare’ – in 1943, the number of people attracted to the sport dropped once more, this time due to gas rationing and the high cost of new automobiles. After the war ended, gas prices dropped and the demand for cars increased, leading to a gradual rise in attendance at the races. Things really took off in the early 1950s, and by the time the decade was over, so were the Chicago Stadium and the Chicago Oval, the city’s other two major racing venues – each of which continues to this day. The tradition of naming a third track after a famous personage or institution, has continued at the present day Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and now also applies to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Canadian Speedway on the outskirts of Toronto.

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