Indy Car history: 1909 - 1955
The history of the IndyCar Series goes more than 100 years back in time. Over time Indy Car saw a lot of changes. Not only the cars, tracks and drivers have changed, but also the organization of the series, allowing for different eras can be distinguished. During the first era, that lasted from 1909 to 1955, IndyCar was led by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The first race ever IndyCar races took place on 12 June 1909 in Portland, Oregon. One 14,6 mile track the 6 car field drove only three laps, after which the American Howard Covey with his Cadillac saw the chequered flag in first position. It took Covey more than 47 minutes to finish the race, with an average speed of almost 56 miles per hour.
During the remaining 23 races of the first season the series also visited street courses and dirt tracks. The season finale finished the season with a 480 mile race from Los Angeles to Phoenix, which was with more than 19 hours of racing probably the longest Indy Car race ever. Simplex driver George Robertson was to be the first Indy Car champion.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had opened its doors in 1909 as a 2.5 mile oval, with bricks as pavement. The initial races at Indianapolis were just 50, 100 or 200 mile races. In 1911 a tradition was born on May 30: the first Indianapolis 500. The first Indy 500 was won by Ray Harroun and Cyrus Patschke. The first concrete ovals were introduced four years later, but Indianapolis remained its brick surface for a long time.
In 1915, racing on wooden ‘board tracks’ was introduced, which later would be very popular. From 1918 to 1928 134 of the 147 races were driven on these kind of tracks. When the U.S. economy in 1929 ended up in a depression, board tracks had to be removed gradually from the schedule, because of their high maintenance costs.
The bad economy also hurt the American motorsports badly, the number of races was decreased to less than five per year. The only constant factor on the schedule was the Indy 500. Despite these difficult times, the series was able to survive, but the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941 demanded a four year pause.
With all soldiers back from the front in Europe in 1946, the AAA was able to restart the series again. The schedule consisted mainly of dirt tracks, with the exception of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was paved just before the Second World War.
The Indy 500 in 1946 would go down in history as the first race after the war. George Robson won the race with an average speed of 115 mph, but the legendary Ted Horn won the championship that year. The American repeated this trick in 1947 and 1948, making him the first driver who was able to win three championships in a row. It would take 58 years to beat this record, when Sebastien Bourdais won four championships in a row between 2004 and 2005. Horn wasn’t able to enjoy his fame. During the dirt track racing in DuQuoin in 1948, his suspension collapsed and crashed fatally.
Following the terrible crash of Pierre Levegh at Le Mans, France in 1955, where regrettably 82 fans died, the safety of motorsports in America was discussed. The AAA concluded that the sport had become too dangerous and would not be responsible for the consequences.
The series would have to find a new sanctioning body to run the series. Jimmy Bryan, Johnnie Parsons, Bill Vukovich started in the United States Auto Club (USAC), which would lead the series from 1956.