At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, visitors can admire historic vehicles and ride on the world's most famous raceway.
By Richard Bauman
As a youngster, every Memorial Day I listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio and dreamed about taking a lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I would rocket down the back straight, dive through turn three into the short chute that leads to turn four, whiz through that turn, blast onto the front straight, and then flash past the pits and grandstands full of cheering spectators.
I recently had the chance to make my dream come true by taking a lap on the track, and so can you. But it was not on the last Sunday of May, and I didn’t rocket down the back straight or burst past a grandstand full of people. The lap my wife and I took at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) in Indianapolis, Indiana, was in a van, and our speed was in the 25-35 mph range, not a breathtaking 200 mph. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating to be on that track, go through the turns, and experience some of the history of that 2.5-mile oval.
The IMS Hall Of Fame Museum
We specifically wanted to take a lap on the track, but we also wanted to see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. I’d heard it was a fine automotive museum, but that’s an understatement. It’s an excellent museum.
Approximately 75 vehicles are displayed at all times in the museum. Although it has a section dedicated to Indy race cars, at least half of the exhibits are devoted to antique vehicles and other racers.
For example, a 1957 SSI Corvette is on display. It was created by Zora Arkus-Duntov for General Motors and set a lap record at Sebring, Florida, in 1957. This was the forerunner of future Corvette sports and racing models.
Two race cars that appeared in Indy 500 races, the Kimberly Cooper-Climax and the Lotus-Ford, aren’t displayed in the Indy car section of the museum. Nonetheless, they influenced changes in the race and race cars.
Australian Jack Brabham drove the Cooper-Climax in the 1961 Memorial Day classic. It was the first successful modern-era rear-engine car at Indy. Though Brabham finished ninth out of the 12 finishers, his participation and his car were the harbinger of changes at the Indy 500.
That year’s winner, A.J. Foyt, drove an Offenhauser roadster and averaged 139.130 mph for 500 miles. Brabham, in the much smaller, lighter, and underpowered car, averaged 134.116 mph. While significantly slower than Foyt, he was a mere 0.744 mph slower than the 8th-place Offenhauser-powered car driven by Lloyd Ruby.
In 1963, Jim Clark from England and Dan Gurney of the United States drove rear-engine, Ford-powered Lotus race cars to second- and seventh-place finishes. Clark averaged 142.752 mph for 500 miles, while the race winner, Parnelli Jones, in an Offenhauser roadster, averaged 143.137 mph, a mere 0.385 mph average faster than Clark.
With the nominal success of the 1961 Cooper-Climax and the 1963 second-place finish of the Lotus-Ford, most racing enthusiasts foresaw rear-engine racers as the future of Indy. A.J. Foyt won the 1964 race in an Offenhauser roadster; it was the last victory for a front-engine racer at Indy.
Winners And Losers
More than 30 cars that won the Indianapolis 500 are displayed in the museum. The four cars A.J. Foyt drove to victory at the Indy 500 are among them, including the 1977 racer that represents his record-setting fourth Indy 500 win.
The Marmon Wasp, the car that won the first Indy 500 in 1911, is also on display. Driven by 29-year-old Ray Harroun, the massive, 2,300-pound, bright yellow vehicle was powered by a six-cylinder, 600-cubic-inch engine. Harroun averaged 74.602 mph for the 500-mile race. It took nearly seven exhausting hours to complete, and Harroun walked away with $14,250 in prize money.
Unusual and successful — yet non-winning — Indy cars are on display as well. For example, there’s a Novi, which some have dubbed “A Most Magnificent Flop.” This front-wheel-drive car set numerous lap records in qualifying for the Memorial Day classic, and in other races, too. But it never won at Indy. Duke Nalon drove a Novi to its best finish, third place, in 1948.
Diesel engines and auto racing sound like an oxymoron, but in 1931, a modified Cummins marine diesel engine was adapted to an Indy race car, and Dave Evans drove it to a 13th-place finish out of a field of 40 starters. It also was the first car to complete the race without making a pit stop.
In 1952, a specially designed car piloted by Fred Agabashian was fitted with a 380-horsepower turbocharged Cummins diesel. The car was fast. It captured the pole position at 139.104 mph. But the turbocharger that boosted the car’s speed was also its downfall. It was placed too low. Its air inlet sucked up track debris, clogging the turbocharger beyond repair after just 70 laps. A Cummins-powered car never again raced at Indy, but the huge metallic-green vehicle can be seen in the IMS museum.
That Lap On The Track
Admission to the museum is only $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 15. But for another $5 per adult and $3 for kids 6 to 15, you also can take a lap on the track.
If you’ve watched an Indy 500 race on TV, the width of the track is deceptive. When you’re on the track, you discover it isn’t nearly as wide as it appears on TV.
Most people have heard that none of the speedway’s four turns are alike. The differences are in the banking and the tightness of the turns. After going through each of the track’s turns, you will understand why it can be a challenge for both rookies and veterans.
The tour vehicle enters the track between turns one and two. So, the first turn you see and experience is turn two. It’s a sweeping banked turn. As you exit the turn, you have full view of the nearly mile-long back straight. As you approach turn three, the asphalt rises abruptly on the outside of the turn. It is decidedly different banking from turn two.
After turn three is a short chute, and even at 30 mph the entry to turn four comes quickly. At nearly 200 mph, it’s practically instantaneous. Turn four is one of the track’s trickiest, as evidenced by skid marks left by cars whose drivers lost control either entering or leaving the turn. Not to mention the tire marks on the track’s outside retaining wall.
Out of turn four you’re looking down the front straight. Your tour guide will point out various important and historic features of the track: the scoring tower ahead on the left and pit row, the starter’s stand high above the track on the right, and the “Yard of Bricks” at the start/finish line — a row of brick left from the era when the IMS racing surface was all brick.
Your tour of the track is nearly complete when you pass through turn one and into the short chute leading to turn two. Here again, the difference in turn one from the other turns is evident. It’s longer and more generous in radius than the other turns. Shortly after exiting turn one, the tour van exits the track and returns you to the front of the museum. In all, the ride lasts about 20 minutes.
Grounds Tours of the speedway are offered only on certain dates between March and November, and they will be available when FMCA members gather in Indianapolis for FMCA's Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase this month. The tours last 90 minutes and are offered four times a day on the designated dates. If you are interested, contact the museum (dates and times are posted online) for more information.
During the Grounds Tour, guests visit the Gasoline Alley garage area, the scoring area in the Pagoda, the Victory Podium, and the Media Center. They also get a lap on the track that includes a stop at the original "Yard of Bricks" at the start/finish line. Grounds Tour tickets cost $25 and also include museum admission.
Whichever way you choose to see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be fun. Whether you have the “need for speed,” love old race cars, or just can’t get enough automobile history, be ready for a treat. The museum is marvelous, and although your lap on the track won’t be at 200 mph, it’s something you won’t forget.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
4790 W. 16th St.
Speedway, IN 46222