As some of us prepare to watch the running of the Indianapolis 500 today we should remember the first Indy 500 run on the “brick yard” in 1911. Ray Harroun drove the Marmon Wasp to victory as the only car to compete without a mechanic. After much controversy he was allowed to run sans-mechanic by mounting a rear view mirror, the first ever on the cowl of his number 32 yellow Wasp.
With a purse of $25,000 for the winner and contestants from all over the world, this inaugural race drew a crowd of 80,000. The race was sactioned by the AAA.
In those days a mechanic road with the driver and constantly made adjustment to the clutch, engine, and grease cups, etc. as well as warned the driver of cars around him on the track. Today spotters around the track are in radio contact with the drivers alerting them to the same situations as the mirrors in use provide only a limited amount of visual information.
Back in those days the Indianapolis track was paved with bricks in order to provide a hard surface for the race cars, hence its nickname of the Brickyard. Over 3 million bricks were used and today there remains a three foot strip of those bricks exposed at the start finish line so that the nickname can still be used.
The track was established as a development test track for the emerging automobile industry. At the time Indiana was the home of over 100 manufacturers of cars. Far more than Michigan.
The Wasp was powered by a straight six cylinder engine of 7.8 liters and developing 110 horse power. Ray’s average speed was just shy of 75 miles per hour. He chose that speed so that his tires would out last the other competitors.
In 1962 Ray came out to the track to do a lap in the Wasp in celebration of the fiftieth running of the race. He was 83. You can see his car in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum at the track.
Here is a film of the first Indy 500.