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Race into history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

November 30, 2017 GMT

INDIANAPOLIS – Just a few miles from downtown Indianapolis is a museum dedicated to preserving the history of automobiles and auto racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is filled with historic race cars and memorabilia from the very early days of racing right up to today.

In 1956 Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. and Karl Kizer, the museum’s first director, got together to form a museum to display race cars primarily associated with the Indianapolis 500 race. The pair began the museum in the southwest corner of the property and filled it with vintage race cars, but it wasn’t long before they ran out of room, so in 1975 Hulman built a much larger and more modern facility inside the Speedway oval track. The museum opened the next year during the Bicentennial celebration of 1976. The new building has 30,000 square feet of display area along with two gift shops. In 1987 the Speedway grounds received the honor of being designated as a National Historic Landmark.

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The Auto Racing Hall of Fame was established by the American Automobile Association in Detroit in 1952 to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of auto racing and the development of the auto industry. The Hall of Fame honored inductees in 1952, 1953 and 1954. The group suspended operations until Hulman revived the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1962 and moved it from Detroit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway offices.

At the beginning of each year since then, a committee of racing historians, media representatives, veteran drivers, and those who spent their lives in racing, along with officials of the U.S. Auto Club, select the year’s inductees. In May the committee selects the new honorees that include not only drivers but chief mechanics, automotive engineers and designers, team owners, journalists, historians and racetrack officials.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum collection includes not only cars that have raced on the Indy track but also NASCAR, Formula One, Sprint, Midget, motorcycles and drag racing cars. Also on display are some of the cars manufactured in Indiana that once had ties to racing. The museum has cars such as Duesenberg, Marmon and Stutz Marques. There are motorcycles, dragsters, cars and other vehicles that have set world speed records.

On display are many of the winners of the Indianapolis 500, including the very first in 1911. The winning car was a six-cylinder, single-seat Marmon “Wasp.” The car was driven by Ray Harroun and relief man Cyrus Patschke. Harroun was criticized by other drivers during practice runs for not having a place in his car for a mechanic, saying he was a potential safety hazard. Harroun answered the complaints by installing what is believed to be the first rearview mirror ever used on an automobile.

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One unusual car on display in the museum is the Oldsmobile Aerotech that set a world speed record in 1987. The car was driven by legendary racecar driver A. J. Foyt. The futuristic car had an average speed of 257.133 on a closed course.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened June 5, 1909, with balloon races. A couple of months later on Aug. 14 motorcycle races were held on the track. The original surface of the track was crushed rock and tar, but during the fall of 1909 3.2 million paving bricks each weighing 9.5 pounds were laid. Over the years asphalt was applied to rougher sections of the track in the turns. By 1937 the entire track was paved with asphalt except for the middle portion of the front straightaway.

Then in October 1961 the front straightaway was finished in asphalt with the exception of a yard-wide strip at the start/finish line. That strip of original brick remains today and has become part of a tradition at the track known as “kissing the bricks.” When NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett won the Brickyard 400 in 1996 he and crew chief Todd Parrott decided to walk back to the start/finish line. When they got there they both knelt down and kissed the Yard of Bricks as a tribute to the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The rest of the team joined them for a group kiss of the bricks and a tradition was born. Since then winners of the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 have all “kissed the bricks.”

One of the most recognizable and prominent structures at the motor speedway is the Panasonic Pagoda, which was built during a huge construction project from 1998 to 2000. The structure stands 153 feet tall and is equivalent to a 13-story building and is centered on the start/finish line. The Pagoda houses state-of-the-art facilities for race control, safety, timing and scoring, along with radio broadcast booths. A plaza behind the pagoda offers spectators a place to take a break from viewing the action on the track. The 10-level pagoda encompasses a total of 65,000 square feet.