We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 99 days to go, IMS Historian Donald Davidson explains the origin of 500 miles.
After the less-than-successful seasons of 1909 and 1910, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway management team decided for 1911 to try one major event paying a huge purse. After exploring all kinds of possibilities, including a 24-hour race, it was agreed upon that a single contest should be held which would require the amount of time previously allotted to a full day of racing events, specifically starting at 10 a.m. and attempting to be over by sometime in the late afternoon or early evening. With a goal of something running in the seven-to-eight-hour range, somebody determined that approximately 500 miles could be run in that time.
IMS founding fathers Arthur Newby, Frank Wheeler, Carl Fisher and Jim Allison are credited with putting the 500 in the Indy 500 — and, by extension, could be credited for the 500 in Daytona 500 and countless other “500”s.
Precisely who made that determination was never recorded, but the four founding partners – Carl Fisher, Jim Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby – all were in accordance. Because all major road races of the time were for varying distances according to the lengths of the individual laps over county roads and so forth – i.e., a total of 341 miles, or 277 miles, etc. – and all oval-track races were for considerably less distances, it is believed that the Indianapolis 500 was the first race anywhere in the world that was scheduled for precisely 500 miles.