Many people believe that during the period between the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 and the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, Speedway was host to only one race a year. Although this may be true for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it is not true for the Town of Speedway. From 1946 until 1959, races were held at the 16th Street Speedway which was located on the south side of 16th Street directly across from the second turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The track was a quarter-mile paved oval that was best known for its midget racing. For many years, the biggest event at the track was the annual night before the 500 midget race. Many of the Indy 500 stars of that era raced at 16th Street Speedway. The list of winners at the 16th Street Speedway midget races includes Indy 500 veterans like Duane Carter (winner of the first midget race at the track on May 29, 1946), Johnnie Parsons, Gene Hartley, Mike Nazaruk, Manuel Ayulo, Johnny McDowell, Johnnie Tolan, Art Cross, Shorty Templeman, Eddie Sachs, and Len Sutton. The track closed down in 1959 and was torn down to make room for a shopping center.
There was a second 16th Street Speedway that operated from 1997 through 1999, but it was located a few miles outside of Speedway’s town borders. Similar to the original 16th Street Speedway it was a quarter mile oval, but the new track had a dirt surface. The track was built inside of Bush Stadium, the former home field for the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team. Although a number of different series competed at the track, similar to the original 16th Street Speedway the main draw was the midget series. The list of participants at the track includes a number of drivers who have also raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway including Tony Stewart, Ed Carpenter, Billy Boat, Jack Hewitt, Jason Leffler, Robbie Buhl, Mel Kenyon, Donnie Beechler, Rick Treadway, Johnny Parsons, Jr., Andy Michner, Bruce Walkup and Jay Drake.
Even though the Town of Speedway has been home to only one track since 1959, there are more than 15 short tracks within an hour and a half of central Indiana that feature open-wheel racing. This includes tracks in Bloomington, Clermont, Gas City, Terre Haute, Anderson (home of the Little 500 Sprint Car race the night before the Indy 500), Winchester, Salem, Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, Putnamville, Paragon, and North Vernon. As visitors make their plans for the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 or the Redbull Indianapolis GP, they should consider making a trip to one of the short tracks in central Indiana to experience grass-roots racing at its best.
The first race where I was a credentialed photographer was at the 16th Street Speedway in 1997. During that event, I shot the picture below of Johnny Heydenreich when he had a vicious accident during qualifying. Shooting at the track that day and this photograph in particular would prove to be the first of many steps that eventually resulted in me becoming a member of the IMS Photo Staff in 2002.