When professional racers arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to compete, whether for a couple weeks in May or a long weekend in July or August, their accommodations are usually the same – a motorcoach in the parking lot just outside Gasoline Alley.
That’s convenient, but nowhere near as colorful as the bygone era of the Speedway Motel.
The Motel has been gone for five years, having officially closed in December 2008 and torn down in 2009. But for decades the 96-room, two-story structure, located just outside Turn 2 of the oval, was the place to be during race season along with a Holiday Inn just across 16th Street.
“The Holiday Inn opened in 1960, the motel in ’63, and for the next several years if you stood in the lobby of either one, it was astonishing who came in and out – drivers, owners, actors, astronauts,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson, based at the Hall of Fame Museum at IMS. “Everybody knew everybody else.”
There wasn’t just a novelty to the Motel when it opened, but a real convenience, considering that Indianapolis in the early-to-mid-1960s had not yet seen significant growth on the west side and around I-465. There were a few scattered motels on U.S. 40 (Washington Street) and bigger hotels downtown, but that was it.
Indianapolis 500 legends A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske were among the regulars at the Speedway Motel, and ABC’s “500” broadcasting crew, including Jim McKay and Jackie Stewart, also booked a block of rooms for years. Many preferred lower-level rooms on the back side of the hotel, and according to Davidson, they would leave their doors open and welcome any and all visitors. When it was time to go to work, the garage area was a quick golf cart ride away.
What else happened at the Motel? The Beatles stayed there. Scenes from Paul Newman’s 1969 movie “Winning” were filmed there. When Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 he celebrated with a pizza in his room. And many racers like Ricky Rudd, the 1997 Brickyard 400 champion, stayed in the Motel as kids, peered out through windows to the racetrack and dreamed of driving on the famed oval.
“I had never seen anything like Indianapolis. It was just a cool place,” said Rudd, who stayed at the Motel at age 12 and attended a banquet there for winning a karting national championship.
By 2008, the Motel had reached the end of its lifecycle and renovations would not have been cost-effective, so the decision was made to tear it down. (The Holiday Inn across the street was torn down a few years prior.) Today, its land is used as a parking lot for Brickyard Crossing golf course and conference center, and IMS events.