The Four Founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Ever since the Hoosier Motor Club formed in 1902 “for mutual protection against irate owners of horse-drawn vehicles,” Indianapolis has been driven by the automobile. By 1909, Indiana ranked fourth in auto production in the nation, but another event in 1909 set Indianapolis on course to be “the Racing Capital of the World.”
Carl Fisher was already trying to sell everyone a car. He and his business partner, James Allison, were making gas cylinder-powered headlights at their Prest-O-Lite factories, and he was promoting better national roads where you could drive for great distances when he got the idea to build a two-and-a-half-mile oval track just west of Indianapolis. It would be a place to test cars with the idea of making them go faster and a place to race the cars that could go fast.
To get the track built, he needed some additional financial backing. James Allison, his longtime friend, co-founder of Allison Engineering and later two divisions of General Motors, was a natural. Frank Wheeler, who provided the capital and management for the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, was also brought on board. Arthur Newby, a co-owner of a bicycle chain manufacturer (now the Diamond Chain Co.) who had built the Newby Oval, a bicycle racetrack capable of holding 15,000 spectators before expanding into manufacturing cars, also became an investor.
And so, the track was built in Speedway, and the Wheeler-Schebler Company sponsored a 300-mile race that was to be the highlight of a racing series that took place in August 1909. At least it was supposed to be the highlight, but deteriorating conditions made the track too dangerous, stopping the race at only 235 miles.
Undeterred, Fisher rebuilt the track in 63 days using three million bricks. After a series of events in 1910, he decided to inaugurate a 500-mile race on Memorial Day in 1911. A total of $25,000 in prize money attracted the finest drivers and brought 80,000 spectators to watch. The rest, as they say, is history.
Carl Fisher (1874-1939) Fisher Mausoleum, Section 13, Lot 42; GPS (39.8193394,-86.1756159)
James Allison (1872-1928) Section 23, Lot 2; GPS (39.8193255,-861714645)
Frank Wheeler (1863-1921) Section 46, Lot 24; GPS (39.8199844,-86.1710045)
Arthur Newby (1865-1933) Section 23, Lot 39; GPS (39.8180039,-86.1725022