By now, many race fans have heard the news that the 2019 Hoosier Hundred could be the last one run for some time, or even permanently, on the historic one-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
However, that does not stop the mile of dirt from coming alive one more time for the annual running of the Hoosier Hundred as part of the “Week of Indy” which includes the Hulman Classic at Terre Haute and the Dave Steele Carb Night Classic at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. Race fans should soak up as much of the 116-year history of auto racing at the Indiana State Fairgrounds as they can during the May 23 Hoosier Hundred.
Auto racing first came to the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the spring of 1903. During a June meet legendary Barney Oldfield made automotive history by laying claim to the first one mile per minute lap on a closed course. One of his fellow drivers was none other than Carl Graham Fisher, future father and owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Fisher was present for a November 1905 meet on the mile held in cold conditions and featuring a 100-mile and 24 hour event. The 24-hour event had Presto-Lite lanterns placed around the dirt course and it has been said that while huddled around a campfire Fisher contemplated the race course later built at 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Indiana.
For the next four decades auto racing competition was sporadic at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. “Big Car” events were even held during World War I all the way through the end of the 1920’s. The famous “Gold & Glory Sweepstakes” ran ten times between 1924 and 1936. Just before World War II the track hosted AAA Sprint Cars with Duke Nalon winning a 25-mile event.
1946 saw the first and almost the last 100-mile championship race at the fairgrounds. Rex Mays won the event in the Winfield V-8, but driver Al Putnam was killed in qualifications which led to the fair board essentially banning the sport from the track. That would change in 1953, as two Indiana men truly put the “Hoosier” into Hoosier Hundred.
Influential Indiana businessman and racing enthusiast Roger Wolcott teamed with Jo Quinn, Safety Director at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and bought racing back to the Indy mile with the first Hoosier Hundred. Quickly it became the second highest paying event on the championship trail and the richest dirt event in the nation. The first race might have been the most competitive with a blanket over the first four finishers and only one car dropping out of the grind.
Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Sachs, Jud Larson, Rodger Ward were winners during the 1950’s as local media blanketed the event with radio and television coverage. The Indianapolis Star put out a special Hoosier Hundred edition for nearly 30 years as well. Eventually national media took notice as ABC covered several races as part of the popular “Wide World of Sports”.
A.J. Foyt should have secured the title to the grounds after winning 6 times in 10 1960’s races. Not only did Foyt’s victories increase his name recognition it helped pad his bank account. A.J won over $161,000 in the Hoosier Hundred averaging nearly $8,000 every time he made the starting field. Al Unser had a good record on the Indy mile as well winning four consecutive races from 1970-1973, a feat equaled last year by Kody Swanson.
Andretti, Gurney, Hewitt, Carter, Jones and Bigelow are all names that are in an auto racing hall of fame in America, and all won at least once on the Indiana mile. In recent seasons, Coons, Yeley, Leffler and Swanson are just a few of the names who added themselves to the Hoosier Hundred win list.
If the list of chief mechanics such as Watson, Brawner, Bignotti and Hampshire or car owners such as Dean, Hopkins, Granatelli, Patrick, Kurtz and Stewart wouldn’t be enough to raise eyebrows then the list of celebrities who made it out to the fairgrounds might do the trick. From Tony Hulman giving the command to start engines, to Sid Collins and Paul Page on the microphones, to TV and radio personalities, the Hoosier Hundred was a big attraction.
The first one mile per minute lap, Carl Fisher in the dim light planning his track, the richest dirt track race in the nation, and a hall of fame list of participants and spectators the Indiana State Fairgrounds race track has a secure place in automotive and auto racing history no matter the final outcome of the latest decision by the fair board.
History can be made again May 23. Current USAC point leader Kody Swanson goes for an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory for Indiana owner Gene Nolen who has three Hoosier Hundred trophies.
A great deal is available for those who don't want to miss a single lap of "The Week of Indy.” A Superticket is being sold for a savings of 25% off of the regular three-day prices for the Wednesday, May 22 “Tony Hulman Classic” for USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars at the Terre Haute Action Track, the Thursday, May 23 “Hoosier Hundred” for USAC Silver Crown at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and on Friday, May 24 for the Dave Steele “Carb Night Classic” at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
For just $60, a savings of $20, a fan will receive general admission at Terre Haute and Lucas Oil Raceway as well as a reserved seat for the Hoosier Hundred. To purchase a Superticket, visit https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2019-week-of-indy-ticket-sales.
For more information on any of the events, visit www.trackenterprises.com, www.usacracing.com, or call the Track Enterprises office at 217-764-3200.
By: Jay Hardin – Track Enterprises Staff