For years, fans have flocked to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to witness history as thousands of car enthusiasts gathered to watch The Greatest Race – the Indianapolis 500. Now, nearly a century later, the legacy lives on as millions follow the action through social media and dedicated websites.
But who actually owns the legendary track? In 1928, Tony Hulman purchased the rights to build an Indianapolis speedway from the estate of John Jacobs. Over the years, Hulman & his descendants donated millions of dollars to build a memorial to that day – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Today, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts some of the biggest names in motorsport including the Indianapolis 500 and also welcomes fans from around the world through its website and social media accounts.
Why Did Hulman Build It?
Before the construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the “City of Indianapolis” was already home to numerous automobile manufacturers, including legendary makers like Miller and Henry Ford. In fact, the first automobile race was held there in 1899. But Hulman’s creation wasn’t just about providing a place for car enthusiasts to congregate. By building the speedway, Hulman aimed to improve living conditions for African Americans in the city. He saw that black families lived in squalor and that race cars could be a convenient form of transportation, particularly during the winter months when icy weather made it difficult to travel by foot or bus.
At the time, Indianapolis was a segregated city with separate neighborhoods for whites and blacks. Many black neighborhoods were plagued by poverty, overcrowding, and high crime. In some places, such as the Indianapolis Speedway area, homes were literally next to each other, but still weren’t connected by streetlights or municipal utilities. This meant that if someone broke into a home, they wouldn’t necessarily be caught.
To Hulman, the appeal of the speedway was obvious. It was a place where he could make a difference and give back to the community that had given him so much. Indeed, his Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a shining example of how much he believed in his projects, saying once, “I’ve always had a vision, and this is the kind of thing that helps you get it.”
A Place Full of Legends
Many drivers, teams, and even some owners of legendary cars have called the Indianapolis Motor Speedway home. Here are just a few:
- Johnny Unitas – Legendary football player and coach
- Dale Earnhardt – NASCAR legend and founder of the Dale Earnhardt Foundation
- Denny Hulman – Automotive entrepreneur and co-owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Steve McQueen – Hollywood icon and renowned car collector
- Joey Logano – NASCAR star and team owner
- Richard Petty – NASCAR legend and three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500
- Lee Roy Yarbrough – Inventor of the modern convertible and Indy 500 winner
Many others still remember the place they called “The Greatest Speedway in the World.” Here are a few of those who didn’t actually own the facility but had a hand in creating it:
- Charlie Luckman – Team owner for many years
- Joe Varlotta – Longtime owner of the track and winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500
- Bruce McCaw – Longtime team owner and builder of the 1969 Plymouth Barracuda, known for its unique front end styling
- Bobby Unser – Indy 500 winner and team owner
- Archie Fusco – Longtime owner of the track and builder of the first V8-powered car in 1929
- A.J. Foyt – Two-time Indy 500 winner and team owner
- Fermin Gonzales – Longtime owner of the track and builder of the Pikes Peak hillclimb car that completed the first ever Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 1936
- Bob Sweikert – IndyCar team manager and mechanic who built many famous race cars – including the first Penske vehicle (which was also the first one to run on the track)
The Most Famous Road in America
For years, people have poured into the streets of Indianapolis, cheering, celebrating, and occasionally causing minor traffic jams as they took in the atmosphere outside the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Some have labeled the road leading up to and around the track as “The Most Famous Road in America.” It’s not hard to see why.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway measures a whopping 2.5 miles long and features numerous turns and ramps. While the layout is somewhat similar to other sports venues, the unique feature is the lack of straightaways. In other words, the designers did not want the drivers to have a clear view of the speedway from the grandstands.
In fact, if you look closely at photos from the era, it’s easy to see that the track is actually an extension of the city’s gridiron grid. Several streets, mainly Indiana Avenue and Kentucky Street, run alongside the track and are connected through a series of S-turns. The “500” in the name of the event is a reference to the track’s distance from the heart of the city – half a mile to a mile, depending on the location of the photographer.
Since opening, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has attracted many famous visitors, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously rode there in a car accompanied by his wife, Eleanor. Since then, the track has hosted numerous other world leaders, celebrities, and even a sitting U.S. President (William Howard Taft).
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Today
Today, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a mecca for motorsport lovers. Every year, thousands of people flock to the track to watch the greatest race in North America – the Indianapolis 500. This year’s event will be held May 24 – 27.
Though the Indianapolis Motor Speedway no longer has the monopoly on automobile racing in the city, the legacy lives on. The track has continued to evolve alongside the automotive industry, particularly since the days of grandstands and wooden planks. Nowadays, the track features all-weather straightaways, a paddock where hundreds of car builders and sponsors congregate, and an AeroShell Building, which was opened in 2009 and serves as the headquarters for IndyCar and NASCAR.
As for the future of the speedway, Hulman’s great-grandson, George H.W. Bush, bought the track for $15 million in 2004. The following year, the track’s Board of Directors hired Tom Latimer to be its CEO. Latimer has been instrumental in transforming the speedway into a globally recognized brand. Today, he is arguably the man behind the success of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.