From May 27-29 the speedway draws 60,000 fans for its first series of races. More events happen through the year and there are no fatal crashes, but attendance drops off. The partners decide to put their chips on one big event in 1911, with $US25,000 in prize money and The Indy 500 is born.
1911: (Winner: Ray Harroun): The Inaugural Indy 500
A Total of 46 cars enter the first “500-mile Sweepstakes,” 44 show up, and 40 qualify. Qualifying consists of sustaining 75 mph (120kph) for a quarter-mile (400m) down Indy’s front straight.
Paying $US1 each for grandstand seats, 80,200 spectators turn out for the first 500 and Henry Ford is among the honorary judges. Marmon engineer Ray Harroun comes out of retirement to enter the Indy 500. His car is a single-seat, six-cylinder Marmon Wasp.
The compeitors grumble that Harroun’s car’s absence of a riding mechanic poses a safety hazard. Faced with possible disqualification, Harroun fabricates a rearview mirror, a first in racing. Despite popular belief, Harroun’s “invention” was not an automotive first. A 1908 Popular Mechanics tip, illustrates the use of mirrors to help avoid police speed traps.
Harroun wins the first Indy 500. Mid-race, he had a rest for about 100 miles when Marmon team driver Cyrus Patschke took to the wheel. The Marmon covers the 500 miles in six hours and 42.1 minutes, averaging 74.6 mph (119.36kph) – a big day at the office.
Harroun’s prize and contingency pay-offs total $US14,250. Of the 23 car makes represented in the inaugural 500, incredibly, only three survive today: Buick, Fiat, and Mercedes.
1912 (Winner: Joe Dawson)
After the uproar over the Marmon Wasp, ridealong mechanics become mandatory and prize money is doubled to $US50,000. Ralph DePalma led the 1912 race by more than five laps with his Australian ridealong mechanic, Rupert Jeffkins.
They led all but two laps when their car stopped on the main straight. In scenes that would be reminiscent of a moment etched in my family’s memory many years later, DePalma and Jeffkins pushed the car across the line to the cheers of the 80,000 strong crowd. Sadly though, unlike Sir Jack’s World Championship winning effort, it came to nothing – organizers handed the win to Joe Dawson and classed the crowd favorites as the highest “non finisher” in 11th.
1913: (Winner: Jules Goux)
This is one of the craziest things I found when researching the 100 years of the Indy 500: Frenchman Jules Goux drank champagne at each of his six pit stops. He dominated the race in his Peugeot, averaging 75.9 mph (121.44kph) and was the first European winner and the first to go 500 miles without a relief driver. A very French way for a French driver to win would you say?! Oui?
1914: (Winner: Rene Thomas)
SURPRISE! – Old Jules’ unique form of hydration saw a new rule come in for 1914 that forbade alcohol consumption while racing! This did not stop (sober) Frenchmen from filling three of the first four spots, including our champagne swilling hero, Jules Goux, who was fourth.
Belgian driver Arthur Duray was second after breaking the land speed record three times between July 1903 and March 1904. The race was won by Rene Thomas.
1915: (Winner: Ralph DePalma)
After a heartbreaking loss in 1912 with Australian ridealong Rupert Jeffkins, Ralph DePalma finally got his win in 1915 with riding mechanic Louis Fontaine after leading 132 laps in his Packard 6. English rookie Dario Resta was second.
1916: (Winner: Dario Resta)
World War I kept European entries away and the grid is the smallest ever with 21 cars. The race distance is shortened to 300 miles for the one and only time in front of a small Tuesday afternoon crowd.
Peter Henderson and Eddie Rickenbacker wear steel hard hats rather cloth or leather helmets. Englishman Dario Resta won after finishing second the previous year.
1917: (No event)
On April 6, America enters WWI and racing is suspended for the duration. The Speedway becomes an aviation-repair facility and airport.
1918: (No event)
1919: (Winner: Howdy Wilcox)
The Indy 500 returned in 1919 to great acclaim after war had gripped the world. It is French power that is back up there again. Peugeot finish 1-3 with Howdy Wilcox winning from our old friend Jules Goux. Both cars were owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first post-WWI race is marred by three fatalities.