deploying more than 100 staff, four
Burroughs adding machines, two
Columbia Dictaphones, four scoreboards
(each more than 100ft long), and a
teleautograph system – the latter an
electrical device that allowed its user’s
writing to be electronically transmitted
to 12 other stations around the track.
These contemporary newspaper
accounts arguably do a better job of
bringing that first Indy 500 to life than any
other resource. Aside from some wonderful
descriptions (one refers to IMS as “the
scene of contests between noted drivers of
gasoline-driven space annihilators”), they
also demonstrate that for all of the changes
over the past 100 runnings, many things
remain the same. Like the perilous business
of making predictions for a winner.
Barney Oldfield, a star of the era who
was sidelined from the first Indy 500 by a
AAA suspension, shared his tips with an
Indianapolis newspaper. The smart
money, he decided, was on Harry Grant.
But Harroun, he feared, “has his mind too
much on his aeroplanes to out-guess the
45 other drivers.”
It’s OK, Barney. None of us picked
Alexander Rossi for the 100th, either...
Ray Harroun came out
of retirement to win
the first 500-miler at
Indy (ABOVE), but it
was far from his first
victory at the
credited with eight
career wins at IMS,
including the 200-mile
Trophy race in 1910.
The only driver with
more wins at Indy is
Johnny Aitken, who
claimed 15 between
1909 and 1915.
ay Harroun won the inaugural running
of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 in a time
of 6h42m08s, averaging 74.602mph. His
Marmon “Wasp” finished a comfortable
1m43s clear of second-placed Ralph
Mulford’s Lozier. But had the fight been
tighter, the timekeepers had some smart
new technology up their starched sleeves
to ensure even the closest of finishes
could be accurately determined.
The wondrous piece of gear was the
Warner Horograph, and an updated version
that could time to the hundredth of a
second had been rolled out for the first time
in 1910, when The Automobile swooned
over the huge leap that had been made
in race timing for the upcoming season.
“It makes dead heats almost impossible,”
it enthused, “as even when racers cross the
line so close together that the eye cannot
distinguish any difference, the machine will
still find that one or two hundredths of a
second that separated them.”
The logistics involved in timing
the 1911 race were so vast that they
garnered special attention in a lengthy
preview of the event in the Indianapolis
News, which reported that in addition
to the Horograph, the Speedway was
The Warner Horograph timed laps to a hundredth
of a second. As it turned out, that level of
accuracy wasn’t needed for the first Indy 500.
Local papers tempted fans to the first Indy 500
with descriptions of “gasoline-driven space
annihilators.” It worked – some 80,000 rolled in.
40 cars (from an
original entry list of
46) lined up to take
the start of the first
Indianapolis 500 in
1911. Keeping track of
them all required the
technology of the era
and some 100 staff.
WHAT THE FIRST INDIANAPOLIS 500 WHERE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY WHEN MAY 30, 1911