The History of Auto Racing
Auto racing has a rich history that extends back to shortly after the automobile itself was invented. The early designers and engineers of the first cars naturally wanted to push the envelope of what was possible, and one of the best ways to do this was to race their cars against those of competing builders. Of course, every race has its winners and losers, but these were prideful men who were willing to risk all to win – and the rewards were very tempting. “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” was the phrase that pays for carmakers, and engineers were constantly at work trying to give their cars an advantage over all others.
The Indianapolis 500 race is one of the oldest car races, and it was first run on May 30, 1911 at the then new Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A field of 40 cars qualified by running at an average 75 mph over a quarter-mile distance. Although it was very early in the age of the automobile, these were no fragile horseless carriages – the rules of the race allowed engines displacing up to 600 cubic inches! The race ran for 200 laps or 500 miles, and 26 of the 40 cars finished the race. Ray Harroun, driving a 6-cylinder Marmon Wasp, was the first winner. After collecting the $10,000 prize, Harroun retired and would never race again. Over the succeeding decades, hundreds more exciting and legendary auto races would be run all over the world. Some, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race of 1955 in which over 80 died on and off the track, have been marred by tragedy. Others are remembered for the fierce seesaw battles that were decided by mere thousandths of a second when the checkered flag came down.