Indianapolis Motor Speedway's first air race

Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hasn’t always involved cars

The first air race at IMS

You might be surprised to learn that the first ever race to take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn't involve machines with four wheels, or even two wheels! No, it was in fact a gas-filled balloon race.

On June 5, 1909 the first US National Balloon Race launched from the unfinished Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). It was the first competitive race to take place at the IMS. In the handicap division, Dr. Goethe Link and Russ Irvin's "Indianapolis" [seen in the picture] won.

So you see, the home of American motorsport has a history of air racing and aviation. In 1910 "Aviation Week" took place on 13-18 June in Indianapolis and featured "one of the most unique chapters of Indianapolis Motor Speedway history". A six-day aviation show that featured appearances by the Wright brothers, something like 35 events, and numerous record-breaking flights. Not bad considering their first flight had only happened seven years previously!

Aviation is intertwined with the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was also an 'air race' in 1910 where Orville Wright himself was the first to fly around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during aviation week. The Wright Brothers' aeroplane had a 40-foot wingspan, while another plane had a 36-foot wingspan and an engine that was a 45-horsepower rotary. It was billed as "the world's newest sport".

A slightly different raceplane to the one that'll be at the IMS this weekend was flying in 1910

There were further contests planned, weather permitting, that included a big variety of categories, but a few pertinent to RBAR include: "the machine making a complete circuit of the speedway track nearest to the ground"; "the machine making the fastest lap of the speedway track, regardless of height" and "pursuit races". Sound familiar?

The first motorised race didn't take place until 14 August 1909, more than a month after the balloon race.

If you want to see the latest air race to take place at the IMS, tickets are still available for 01-02 October, get them HERE!