How the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was born and survived

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How the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was born and survived

The Indianapolis 500: Inside the Greatest Spectacle in Racing by James Craig Reinhardt, Red Lightning Books/Indiana University Press, US $15.00, Pp 204, April 2019, ISBN 978-1684350742
    The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 by James Craig Reinhardt, Red Lightning Books/Indiana University Press, US $45.00,     Pp 344, April 2019, ISBN 978-1684350704

In the early 1900s, Indiana emerged as one of the leaders in the brand-new automobile industry, with more than fifty manufacturers. In The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500, James Craig Reinhardt says many early-day classics such as Marmon, Cole, National, Stutz, and Duesenberg were based in Indianapolis at one time or another. In those days, Indiana roads were little more than dirt to gravel paths and were still several years away from being paved with either blacktop or concrete. As a result, manufacturers had nowhere to test their products.

As technology improved, the vehicles became capable of greater speeds than any public road could provide. James Craig Reinhardt says that what Indiana and automobile industry needed was a huge, sprawling speedway. Occasional racing events could be conducted to give the manufacturers an opportunity to prove their worth against one another in competition, thereby providing the general public with an opportunity to observe and form opinions on what they might consider purchasing for personal use. Finally, in December 1908, four eight-acre tracts of farmland northwest of Indianapolis was bought. The tract was ready by August 1909. It was not ideal but the first race took place. The three-day racing program in 1910 was more ambitious. In 1911, they held a 500-mile race — hence the name The Indianapolis 500. It was won by Indianapolis resident Ray Harroun in the locally constructed Marmon Wasp. The day was a big success with more than eighty thousand fans watching the race. This was the birth of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

In The Indianapolis 500, James Craig Reinhardt continues the story. James Craig Reinhardt says, since “The first Indianapolis 500” in 1911, the race has always been scheduled in conjunction with Memorial Day. For many fans of the race, the race heralds the beginning of summer. From 1911 through 1970, it was conducted on May 30 regardless of the day of the week, with one exception. When May 30 fell on a Sunday, the race was scheduled for May 31, the following Monday. In 1971, the Uniform Holiday Act took effect, moving Memorial Day from a fixed date of May30 to a designated Monday, establishing a three-day weekend. Since that time, the race has been scheduled for Memorial Day weekend. In 1971 and1972, the race was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. In 1973, the race was scheduled for Monday of Memorial Day weekend, but it was delayed until Wednesday due to rain.

James Craig Reinhardt says that the race has been scheduled for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend since 1974. Because of two rainouts, the 1986 race, originally scheduled for May 25, was conducted on Saturday, May 31. In 1997, the race was again plagued by two rain delays. Originally scheduled for Sunday, May 25, the race was started the following day, but rain showers resulted in suspending the race on the fifteenth lap. The race resumed the following day under sunny skies. James Craig Reinhardt tells us that, in November 1945, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. of Terre Haute, Indiana, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $750,000. The speedway could not have a better motor race fan and a steward. The speedway remains in the Hulman-George family to this day, and the leadership continues to ensure the vision of Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. is realized.

The Indianapolis 500 and The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 are insightful work about the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. James Craig Reinhardt gives an authentic history of what is also popularly known as the Super Bowl of Motorsports. James Craig Reinhardt tells us the amazing and authentic story of how and why the race started and how it has survived for more than a century. It is equally the story of the cars and automobile industry. Written brilliantly, both these volumes are packed with new knowledge. It is a unique gift from James Craig Reinhardt to the fans of car races and sports. You must read both these volumes if you love the Indianapolis 500.

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