The Lowdown on Bricks at America's Most Popular Track
More than a century ago an oval racetrack was built in rural Indianapolis that’s become as important to fans of auto racing as Graceland is to Elvis enthusiasts.
The iconic Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 are among the annual events held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. More than 400,000 people can attend festivities there, making Indianapolis Motor Speedway the highest-capacity venue in the world.
Race promoter Carl Fisher and three investors built the track on 320 acres of farmland on in 1908. Fisher, the owner of Pres-O-Light headlights, sited the track across the street from his factory in outskirts of Indianapolis in a suburb now known as Speedway.
Fisher originally planned on a 3-mile “outer” track that would wrap around a 2-mile oval in the infield. Those plans were scrapped, however, when Fisher and others realized grandstands along the straightaways wouldn’t fit in the allotted space.
The final design centers around a 2.5-mile nearly rectangular oval track with four quarter-mile turns and a total of four straightways.
Ten-pound bricks victorious racers traditionally kiss weren’t there when the track opened in 1909. Five-hundred workers initially spent months laying a mixture of limestone, tar, gravel and more than 200,000 gallons of asphaltum oil before smoothing with steamrollers.
The intention was to create a surface tires could easily grip. Instead, the track’s first vehicle race was a disaster. Five people died in two separate crashes and the vehicles kicked up so much debris from the abrasive track drivers compared it to driving through a meteor shower.
AAA threatened a boycott of the track immediately after and Fisher closed the venue until a safer surface was installed. The bricks that give the speedway its nickname were installed and served as the track for more than five decades.
Asphalt now covers the majority of the track, though a strip of the bricks remains uncovered to this day. The tradition of kissing the bricks began in 1996 when Dale Jarrett won the Brickyard 400. Jarrett’s crew chief, Todd Parrott, got the entire pit crew and Jarrett together kneel down and kiss the track.
Every winning team has continued the legacy since.