Carl G. Fisher wiped the perspiration from his face, polished the lenses of his tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles and climbed behind the steering wheel of his Stoddard-Dayton touring car. Lem Trotter grasped the crank.
The return journey of their tiring, all-day business trip from Indianapolis to Dayton, Ohio, had been interrupted for the third time because of tire trouble. Two other stops had been necessary to replenish the water supply in the radiator.
Lem gave the crank a quick half turn, then another. The engine roared into life, and he arranged his huge frame as comfortably as possible alongside the driver. Fisher adjusted his cap to shield his eyes from the rays of the setting sun.
It was a warm, humid evening in the autumn of 1908; and it felt good to be in motion again, creating their own cooling breeze, as they rolled westward along the dusty National Road1 toward the Hoosier capital.
"We wouldn't have trouble like this every time we went on a trip," Fisher exclaimed, "if the men who build our automobiles would devote a little effort to improving their products instead of just filling orders.
"What this country needs," he continued, "is a big race track to give the manufacturers a chance to test their cars and equipment in competition with each other several times a year. Then they'd have to improve their products if they wanted to stay in business. People would pay good money to see a series of races like that, too."
"You've been talking about a race track ever since you got back from Europe three years ago," said Lem. "If you think it would make money, why don't you build it yourself?"
"Maybe I will," said Fisher, "if you can find a good piece of level land, within four or five miles of Monument Circle, at a reasonable price."
"How much land?"
"About three hundred or four hundred acres.
"An area a mile long and a half mile wide would be just about right."
Spurred by Trotter's casual challenge, Fisher's thoughts already were racing ahead in high gear. His primary interests in life, since early childhood, had involved some form of rapid locomotion—on water and in the air, as well as on land.
He drove on for many miles without speaking a word as he savored the thrills and excitement of such a venture. It was sure to be fun: he never was happier than when he was engaged in some spectacular promotional project. It would center attention on Indianapolis as the automobile capital of the world—an industry in which he already was deeply enmeshed. And it might be a very profitable undertaking.
Trotter was content, too, to complete the homeward journey with a minimum of conversation. As adviser and broker on almost all of Fisher's many real estate investments, he welcomed the opportunity to search his memory for suitable sites. He knew Fisher's spur-of-the-moment decisions well enough to give him a chance to concentrate on some of the problems which immediately came to mind.
Before they parted for the night, Lem told Fisher he thought he knew of a perfect location.
"Where?" asked Carl.
"I'll tell you after I find out whether or not it's for sale."
"All right. See how much it will take to buy it. I'll talk to Jim Allison and some of the boys. We can look it over later this week if the price is right."
The next afternoon Trotter strolled into Fisher's private office in the Prest-O-Lite Building at 211 East South Street, overlooking the Big Four freight yards. "Carl," he said, "I've got something to show you, if you want to take a little ride with me."
Following Lem's directions, Fisher drove west on South Street to Illinois, north to Indiana Avenue and then angled toward the northwest on Crawfordsville Pike. They skirted the south edge of Riverside Park, crossed the narrow bridge over White River, and headed due west until they reached Georgetown road. The entire trip took only 15 minutes.
"Here is the perfect site for what you have in mind," said Lem. "It's the old Pressley farm, owned by Kevi Munter and the Chenoweth family. Altogether there are four 80-acre tracts. The Ben Hur Traction line and the Big Four railroad both run right alongside the road at this point and you can search the area around Indianapolis forever without finding a better location."
"What's the price?" asked Fisher.
"Munter owns the 80 acres here on the corner," said Lem, "and he wants $300 an acre. But I can get the other 240 acres for a good deal less than that. I'd guess $80,000 at the most for the whole works."
"Get the options," said Fisher. "I'll see Jim tonight about the cash."
With Allison's approval, Fisher invited three of their mutual friends to join in the venture: Arthur C. Newby of the National Motor Vehicle Company, Frank H. Wheeler of the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, and Stoughton Fletcher, prominent Indianapolis banker.
"This will be something tremendous," Fisher told them. "We can have a series of auto races every month during the spring and summer. People will come from all over the country to see them—and from Europe, too.
"Jim and I are ready to put up $50,000 apiece," he added, "and if you three are willing to do the same we'll have a quarter of a million dollars to work with. We can borrow whatever additional cash we need and open on the Fourth of July next summer. This thing will get bigger and bigger every year, and it will pay for itself inside of five years, if I know anything about the automobile business. The time isn't very far off until every man of only ordinary means will own an automobile."
Fisher had selected his prospects well. Basic agreement was reached quickly on all important points. Trotter also carried out his assignment and reported on December 12, 1908, that he had obtained ironclad options to purchase Munter's 80 acres for $24,000 and the remaining 240 acres at a price of $200 an acre ($48,000), for a total outlay of $72,000.
Before articles of incorporation could be filed, however, Fletcher withdrew from the project reluctantly. "I would like to go along with you," he told Fisher, "and the way I invest my own money shouldn't be anyone else's business. But my associates at the bank seem to think my connection with such an outright promotional venture would reflect unfavorably on the bank's conservative reputation."
This unexpected turn of events upset Fisher considerably until he broke the news to Allison.
"Why let that bother you?" asked Jim. "We'll be better off in the long run. The two of us can split Fletcher's interest without any financial hardship, and that will give us a controlling interest of 60 per cent. Some day we may be glad it worked out that way."
While the necessary preliminary details were being completed, Indianapolis newspapers reported that Fisher and his associates were considering plans to transform the old Pressley farm into the "Indiana Motor Parkway Grounds," which would include a five-mile race track. But the articles of incorporation filed on February 8, 1909, carried the name Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company, capitalized at $250,000. Fisher was listed as president; Newby as first vice-president; Wheeler as second vice-president; and Allison as secretary-treasurer.
With Fisher as the driving force behind the project, the group was ready to create what was destined to become the world's greatest race course—a project which would require all of Fisher's tremendous aggressiveness, stamina and vision in addition to Allison's sound business judgment and Newby's conservative guidance.