Decades after the open range era had ended in America, one wonders if the descendants of the once virulent cattle and sheep wars decided to continue their spat in a new venue.
You see, not long after automobile racing became a popular sport, the most logical places to compete were the ready-made ovals that could be found at every county and state fairground in the land.
Suddenly, a simple ring of dirt became contested turf between automobile and horse enthusiasts. It is a battle that has never really ended in some locales, and as racing fans in the Hoosier state would soon learn to their dismay, hoof beats were destined to triumph over horsepower once more.
Few race tracks in our land can boast a deeper and more significant heritage than the one-mile oval at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
It is a place where Barney Oldfield first officially covered a mile in a minute, it is where brave African American racers competed in the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, and since 1953 it has been the home of the Hoosier Hundred.
With each passing year, there are fewer people who understand this simple truth. There was a time when the Hoosier Hundred was the single most important dirt race in the nation. The event posted a purse that far exceeded other paved races on the National Championship trail, and the grandstands burst at the seams.
Now, and although the race may continue in another form or fashion, there really is no way to sugarcoat it – it’s over.
The death of this race, and at this place, is loaded with subtle significance and symbolism. To understand that, one must look back and consider the origins of the race, and the people who made it happen.
Indianapolis is a very different city today than it was in the period immediately following the end of World War II. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still very important to the city, but it now shares attention with professional sports franchises and major NCAA events.
In addition, the transformation of the center city over the past two decades has been nothing short of remarkable. Thus, civic leaders embrace the importance of IMS, but work hard to remind the outside world that the city has more to offer.
However, there was a time when Indianapolis was known as Naptown, or Indianoplace, with the 2.5-mile oval being the one claim to fame. Herein was the problem. Near the conclusion of the Second World War, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a dilapidated eyesore and looked to most observers as beyond repair. When three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw convinced Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman to come to the rescue of the Circle City’s greatest asset, he had secured the right man at the right time.
While Tony was well known as the head man at Clabber Girl Baking Powder, in reality the Hulman empire extended well beyond a single company. As with any mover and shaker in a reasonably-sized city, Hulman was politically connected, enjoyed close ties with other likeminded business and philanthropic leaders, and had a cast of loyal subordinates who kept a close eye on the family’s operations.
One such man was Jo Quinn. Quinn not only was a member of the Clabber Girl family, but was also the head of the Terre Haute Gas Company, which was also owned by the family. When Mr. Hulman purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jo became heavily involved. Until World War II halted racing action, security for events at 16th and Georgetown were provided by the Indiana National Guard.
After Hulman took the helm, Quinn created a Board of Safety, and after gaining input from key stakeholders ultimately created an independent operation.