Purchase of the necessary ground was only the first step toward Fisher's objective. Even though construction work could not be started until spring, a great deal of preliminary planning was necessary and many decisions had to be made quickly.
"We should be able to hold our opening race program on the Fourth of July," said Fisher, "and the first thing to do is establish a set of rules which will meet with the approval of all the factories."
Newby accepted the responsibility of discussing the matter with other automobile manufacturers and conferring with officials of the Automobile Club of America and the American Automobile Association. The AAA finally was designated the sanctioning body, and a meeting was arranged in April to draft the necessary regulations.
"We don't want to overlook any opportunities for extra revenue, either," Allison suggested. "We're going to have a lot of money invested before we ever open the gates. I think auto racing will pay for itself, but maybe we can schedule motorcycle races and other special attractions in order to increase our revenue."
"There's no reason we couldn't hold a big balloon race even before the race track is finished," exclaimed Fisher.
Gradually the first year's program began to take shape at these informal sessions, usually held around one of the big tables at "Pop" Hayne's restaurant on North Pennsylvania Street. General agreement also was reached on the design of the track and the type of surface to be used.
All the founders were in favor of something more durable than a dirt track. The cost of brick or concrete was found to be almost prohibitive, however, and Fisher's associates accepted his suggestion that a mixture of crushed stone and asphaltum oil be laid on a firm clay base. Tentative plans called for a main course in the form of a three-mile rectangle, linked with a twisting two-mile infield course for special events.
With July 4 falling on a Sunday in 1909, the inaugural automobile events were scheduled July 2, 3 and 5 at distances ranging from 5 miles to 300 miles.
Before the end of January, Fisher had formed the Aero Club of Indiana to stimulate interest in lighter-than-air travel as a preliminary step for an attempt to bring the National balloon races to Indianapolis. He served as the group's first president with Charles Stone as vice-president, Dr. Goethe Link as secretary, and R. J. Irvin as treasurer. All four were members of the board of directors along with Robert H. Hassler and B. W. Twyman. Fisher also recruited the help of Robert H. Sturm, secretary of the Indiana Motorcycle Club, in an effort to interest the Federation of American Motorcyclists in the Speedway as the scene of its National Championships.
By March 1 the program for the summer was all set. It called for the balloon race on June 5, automobile races during the July 4 weekend, the motorcycle championships on Aug. 13-14, and more auto races on the Labor Day weekend. A New York engineer, P. T. Andrews, was brought to the Hoosier capital as the Speedway's superintendent of construction and a contract was signed with King Brothers for grading the grounds, with work to start by March 15. Andrews examined Fisher's diagram of the track, inspected the grounds and then went into an immediate huddle with the Speedway founders.
"You don't have more than one chance in ten of having the track ready by July 4 if you work from dawn to dusk every day," he told them. "You'll be mighty lucky to finish it in time for the motorcycle races in August."
"We have to be ready," said Fisher. "We've already signed contracts for the balloon race and the cycle events. Hire as many men as you need. Go to Chicago and get more machinery. But we've got to be ready on time"—he pounded the table with his clenched right fist—"if I have to build the track myself!"
"Wait a minute, Carl," cautioned Allison, "Andrews probably knows a lot more about the problems involved than all of us together. Let's hear what he has to say."
"It isn't a question of manpower and machinery," explained the construction superintendent. "I can get all of both I need right here in Indianapolis. The big problem is the little creek flowing across the southwest corner of the grounds. You're badly mistaken if you think ordinary culverts will be adequate whenever you get a lot of rain. If you don't want to run into serious trouble later, you'll have to have two regular bridges. With a track fifty feet wide, as you propose, you're not going to build those bridges in a few days—or even a few weeks. There's a limit to how many men and how much machinery you can use in an area that size without having the men getting into each other's way.
"I can guarantee to get the grandstand and the other buildings completed in plenty of time—and most of the race track, too," he added. "But you'll be sticking your necks out a mile if you count on the track to be finished entirely before early August."
"Apparently we don't have much choice in the matter," Fisher admitted, grudgingly.
"We're not in such bad shape," commented Allison. "We can hold the balloon race even if the track isn't finished. If we get good weather, there's no reason we can't be ready for the cycles. The only thing to worry about is the Fourth of July auto races and we haven't made any definite commitments concerning them."
"The factories probably will welcome a little more time to get ready," said Newby. "At the rules meeting next month we can tell them we've decided on Labor Day instead of July 4 for the opening program and I don't believe they'll be the least bit unhappy."
"We can't wait that long," said Fisher. "If we expect to get back much of our investment this year, we should hold two events for autos. Let's schedule the first one on the weekend following the cycle races and forget about Labor Day entirely in favor of a second program of auto races during the early part of October."
Fisher suggested it would be wise, too, to build two grandstands instead of one. "If the southwest corner of the grounds is the spot where we are going to run into trouble, why not build a grandstand for the balloon race east of the creek at the south end of the track and start the balloons from the southeast corner of the grounds? It would be a good place from which to watch the auto races later; and we would have more time to complete the big grandstand on the main straightaway."
The proposal met with unanimous approval. Then Andrews suggested a major change in the design of the track itself.
"The shape of the Speedway's grounds," he pointed out, "is much better suited to a two-and-a-half-mile track than a three-mile track. If you insist on a three-mile course, it will be necessary to build portions of the track very close to either the east-west boundaries or the north-south boundaries of the property.
"It would be better to make the outer course a little smaller and leave room on the outside of it to build additional grandstands in the future years.
"Regardless of your final decision on the matter," he added, taking four identical pieces of curved cardboard out of his pocket, "I believe each of the four turns should be exactly a quarter of a mile in length. That will give us a standard figure as a basis for determining the other dimensions of the track. "These four pieces of cardboard, when placed together, represent a circle exactly one mile in circumference. By drawing them apart in a symmetrical manner you can visualize the length of the straight stretches necessary to link them together for any size track you want. My suggestion is to make the two long straightaways five-eighths of a mile each and the two short stretches at the ends one-eighth of a mile each to form a two-and-a-half-mile course. There still would be room in the infield for a winding two-and-a-half-mile course, tying in with the main course and making the total distance exactly five miles."
"The idea certainly sounds logical to me," said Allison. "If none of you object, I think Andrews should proceed along those lines."
Wheeler, Newby and Fisher agreed. Fisher brought up the matter of finances after Andrews left the room.
"Apparently the Speedway isn't going to cost us quite as much as I estimated originally," said Fisher. "According to all of the figures I've been able to assemble, $220,000 will get the job done, and the bank has agreed to loan us $36,000 on the land we have purchased. That means we'll have to put up only a total of $184,000 in cash, unless we run into unexpected expense.
"In the beginning, when Fletcher withdrew his offer to underwrite 20 per cent of the total after all five of us had pledged $50,000 each, Jim and I offered to split his share. We are still willing to do that, but with the new estimate, we can divide the amount four ways at a cost of only $46,000 each."
"That suits me," said Wheeler.
"I'd like to go along on the same basis," said Newby, "but I'm a little hard pressed for cash. I've only got about $25,000 I can get my hands on right now. Rather than borrow the difference, I'd prefer to have Carl and Jim each take one-fourth of my share."
So the actual stock distribution was made at $100 a share: 575 shares each for Fisher and Allison (controlling interest of 62.5 per cent), 460 for Wheeler and 230 for Newby, with the remaining 660 shares3 unissued.
Grading and construction work got under way the following Monday with approximately 100 workmen on hand. By the end of the week, Andrews had a crew of 450 men, 300 mules, 150 road scrapers, four 6-ton rollers and three 10-ton rollers at his disposal.
As he had predicted, construction of the actual racing strip was a slow and tedious process. After the completion of preliminary grading, a two-inch layer of creek gravel was spread uniformly over the entire two-and-a-half-mile outer strip and rolled with a 10-ton roller. On top of the gravel, workmen placed two inches of crushed limestone with two gallons of taroid to the square yard. The third step called for a thin coating of half-inch crushed stone chips with a top dressing of stone dust worked into the crevices by using 6-ton rollers, followed by another application of taroid.
It was late in April before most of the work was completed on the main straightaways and the north turns. The usual April showers had raised the level of the creek to flood stage on three different occasions and complicated the task of building the bridges needed at the start and finish of the southwest turn. But work on the "balloon bleachers" and the 840,000 cubic foot aerodrome (280 x 50 x 60) was proceeding on schedule.
It was time to beat the drums and interest the general public in the events on the summer schedule. Fisher's choice for that job was Ernest A. Moross, one of the nation's best-known "press agents" and promoters. As Barney Oldfield's manager on coast-to-coast barnstorming tours, he had developed a wide acquaintance among sports writers and automobile editors in most of the 46 states. Fisher offered him the title Director of Contests, and he accepted immediately.
"The first thing to do," said Ernie, "is to get the Indianapolis newspapermen out to the track for an inspection tour, so they can see for themselves what you are doing. If they start writing about the Speedway, the eastern papers will begin to carry the stories. We can invite prominent visitors from other cities, too, particularly race drivers and automotive men.
"Another thing I want is an attractive model of the Speedway, about ten feet long, built at the southeast corner of the grounds so that everyone traveling along the highway can see what the place will look like when it's finished."
Within 24 hours the publicity program was in full swing. Fisher provided three big touring cars—two Overlands and a Stoddard-Dayton—for the first press tour on May 1. Andrews had been alerted to the visit, and heavy timbers had been placed in the shallow waters of the creek at both spots where it crossed the track, so that the press cavalcade could circle the course. Representatives of all three Indianapolis dailies—the News, Star, and Sun4 —quickly absorbed the Fisher-Moross enthusiasm, and within a few days the Speedway definitely was the talk of the town.
The big event on the summer program, as far as Moross was concerned, was the auto races. He had little faith in Fisher's optimistic forecast of 20,000 paid admissions for the balloon races.
"A lot of people will watch the balloons go up from outside the grounds without ever buying a ticket," he warned. "But we can build a board fence around the grounds high enough so they'll have to pay their way through the gates if they want to enjoy the auto races."
He induced Louis Chevrolet, Bob Burman, and Lewis Strang, all members of the Buick racing team, to visit the track and wired Strang's predictions of new world records at Indianapolis to most of the metropolitan newspapers. As the only American driver to compete on England's new Brooklands race track, Strang's opinion was sure to be good for prominent headlines. Oldfield, in Indianapolis to apply for a position on the National team, was another track visitor.
With the arrival of the first entrants in the balloon race, Fisher was kept busy traveling back and forth between the Speedway and the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where the big bags were being given inflation tests. He had so many things on his mind, in fact, that he almost failed to qualify for the event himself. International rules limited the field to pilots who had made at least 10 ascents, including one at night. Fisher had made only six in Europe and two at home. He finally found time to make flight No. 9 on May 22 and then fulfilled the night flight requirement on June 1 to become the 21st registered balloon pilot in all of the United States.
Special gas lines were run directly to the inflation area across the track from the balloon bleachers on the Speedway grounds, and the two-day task of inflating the huge bags—ranging in capacity from 40,000 to 110,000 cubic feet—was started late the following day.
Three of the 12 original entrants withdrew, and three of the remaining nine failed to meet International standards. A special handicap event was scheduled for them: Charles Coey's Chicago, Dr. H. W. Thompson's Ohio, and The Indianapolis, owned by Dr. Goethe Link and R. J. Irvin.
Contenders for the National Championship included Fisher's Indiana, with Captain Bumbaugh as copilot; Charles Walsh's Hoosier, A. H. Morgan's Cleveland, A. H. Forbes's New York, A. B. Lambert's St. Louis III; and another St. Louis entry, the University City, owned by John Berry.
Perfect weather conditions prevailed on June 5, and spectators began to arrive early. As Moross feared, however, most of them elected to remain outside the grounds rather than pay admission. By 3 P.M., 45 minutes before the first ascent in the handicap division, the congestion caused by automobiles and carriages parked on the highway was so great it was almost impossible for paying customers to reach the Speedway gates.
Among those caught in this traffic jam was Governor Thomas R. Marshall, who had been invited to participate in the preliminary ceremonies. He finally arrived more than an hour late, red-faced and perspiring, after parking his car in a friendly farmer's barn lot and trudging the last mile on foot. All but three of the balloons, including the Indiana, already were in the air when he joined Charles Glidden of Boston and other race officials at the judges' stand.
First off the ground was the Ohio, followed at five-minute intervals by the other contenders for the handicap title. Then came the championship entries, led by the New York.
Fisher was next. With his usual flair for the spectacular, he unfurled six American flags from the shrouds of his craft as it became airborne and started a wild scramble among souvenir hunters in the crowd below by dropping hundreds of red roses.
Thirty-five hundred paying customers and an estimated 40,000 outside the grounds watched a surface wind of 20 miles an hour carry the big bags out of sight on a course slightly east of south. Two hours later the occupants of the Ohio were forced to abandon the race near Columbus, Indiana, because of a gas leak, but the others floated on through the night in quest of victory and new records.
The outcome of the handicap event was known late Sunday afternoon when the Hoosier was declared winner as it landed near Westmoreland, Tennessee. All hopes for a distance record by one or more of the championship entries vanished at about the same time, however, for wind velocity dropped to only three miles an hour.
To keep friends informed of their progress, the contestants dropped notes frequently as they floated over the towns and hamlets on their course. Newspapers reported that in some of these notes the balloonists mentioned being fired upon by riflemen in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. Worried race officials spent a sleepless second night.
The Indiana returned to earth gracefully an hour before dawn on Monday near Ashland City, Tennessee, and was disqualified at that spot automatically although it proceeded many miles farther later in the day. Berry's University City was the winner, covering 382 miles before landing near Fort Payne, Alabama, to beat the New York by 26.5 miles. Lambert's St. Louis III was next in the final standing, traveling only 318 miles but earning the distinction of setting a new endurance record of 45 hours and 50 minutes aloft—almost two hours better than the previous mark.
Fisher's Indiana was fourth, and he wasted no time hurrying back to Indianapolis by train in order to resume the task of getting the Speedway track ready for the motorcyclists.
By July 1 it was evident Herculean efforts would be necessary in order to complete the project on time. Carpenters were virtually finished with their part of the job. The huge grandstand on the main straightaway, with seats for 12,000 spectators, and 41 other structures of various shapes and sizes dotted the landscape. In addition to the aerodrome and balloon bleachers, there were machine shops, storage buildings, individual team garages for the entrants, concession stands and a row of 13 "private" miniature grandstands, each built to accommodate 28 special guests selected from the elite of the automotive industry. Painters already were busy applying green trim to the all-white buildings. But work on the track itself was far behind schedule.
Fisher watched the men and mules toil in the hot sun for several days, and with each hour he grew more impatient at the disappointing rate of progress. Then he called Andrews aside for a conference.
"At the rate your crew is moving," said Fisher, "you don't have as much chance as a snowball in hell of having this track ready for the motorcycle races next month. There's only one way to get the job done—that's to work around the clock, with a night shift reporting as soon as the day shift quits each evening."
"I can get the men, Mr. Fisher," said Andrews, "but you can't expect them to accomplish much working by lantern light on a job like this."
"Who said anything about lanterns?" exclaimed Fisher. "We've already got gas piped right into the infield. We can extend the lines along the inside edge of the southwest turn, where you're having all the trouble, and attach open-flame burners. If it doesn't give you enough light, I'll send over a couple of hundred Prest-O-Lite tanks which we can use in clusters along the outer edge of the track."
"It might work," Andrews said.
"You get the men," ordered Fisher. "I'll take care of the lights—and we'll get the outer track finished in time even if we can't complete the infield course."
With Fisher spending from 18 to 20 hours a day on the grounds, rapid progress was made. But when the advance guard of cyclists from the West Coast reached Indianapolis a full week prior to the first scheduled FAM races on Friday, August 14, they were mighty unhappy with what they saw. These early birds actually were en route to Cleveland to participate in a special two-day endurance run starting on Tuesday morning and ending at the Denison Hotel in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening. They had planned the trip to allow for a couple of days of practice on the new course. Because this was out of the question, they spent most of their time grumbling and complaining about the facilities. They regarded the crushed stone surface as being particularly hazardous.
"It will look entirely different by the time you return from Cleveland," promised Fisher. "All it needs is a final coat of asphaltum oil and two or three more days of work with the heavy rollers. By Wednesday night we'll have it in top condition. It will be as hard and smooth as the smaller board tracks on which you've been doing most of your racing; and you'll have all day Thursday to practice."
That pacified the group temporarily, but Fisher soon found himself unable to keep his pledge. The last five railroad tank cars of oil—part of the original order calling for 200,000 gallons—failed to arrive from Chicago as scheduled on Saturday. When Monday dawned with no sign of the all-important shipment, Fisher was furious. Tracers were sent out immediately with no success. A third long-distance telephone call to Chicago at noon revealed the cars still were lost and his never-abundant supply of patience was exhausted.
"I don't give a damn what it costs," he shouted, demanding that a duplicate shipment be started on its way to Indianapolis immediately. "I've got to have five cars of oil. Hook 'em onto a special locomotive and get 'em here."
By Tuesday morning, the mule-drawn oil carts and heavy steam rollers again were busy on a round-the-clock basis. But due to the time lost on Monday, Fisher's back was firmly against the wall on Thursday when the cyclists—returning from Cleveland with Joe DeSalvo of Chicago and John McGarver of Indianapolis leading the way—demanded the practice time he had promised them. The troublesome southwest turn still required 12 or 15 hours of treatment.
Some members of the group termed the situation hopeless and urged Earl Ovington of Chicago, FAM president, to cancel the championships immediately. Others suggested moving the two-day program to the one-mile dirt track at the Indiana Fairgrounds.
Fisher's powers of persuasion were taxed to the limit. "You came to Indianapolis with the hope of setting new records this year," he pointed out. "You can't do it at the Fairgrounds or on any other dirt course—and you know it.
"Most of you have been looking forward for months to racing on this big new track. Now you want to call off the whole program because we're not able to give you a few hours of practice time today.
"A lot of your friends already are in town. They've bought their tickets in advance to see you run. Others are on their way now from Chicago and Detroit and Cleveland and a dozen other places.
"The track will be ready when the sun comes up tomorrow morning. You'll have time to practice then—the first event isn't scheduled until one o'clock. During the next two days you've got a chance to wipe out every record in the book and, in my opinion, you're a bunch of damn fools if you go home without even trying."
"Some of the boys think the track isn't safe," said Ovington.
"They tell me sharp edges of crushed stone are protruding at several spots—particularly on the turns—and they believe their tires aren't tough enough to take such punishment."
"Certainly there are some rough spots," agreed Fisher. "That's why the track isn't open for practice today. But if you'll give us a chance to finish the job, we'll have it in good condition tomorrow."
With no satisfactory alternative, the group grudgingly granted Fisher another 24 hours of grace. Most of the cyclists returned to the FAM headquarters in downtown Indianapolis. Before all of them had left the grounds, however, Moross managed to get Fisher aside for a private conference.
"I didn't want to butt into the discussion without talking to you first," he said. "But if someone doesn't run today—and turn in some fairly fast time—we aren't going to have enough paying customers tomorrow to fill the front row of the grandstand. There's been too damn much talk about the track not being ready."
"And if we do let 'em run today," said Fisher, "we won't have any entries show up tomorrow. They've already decided they don't like this type of surface. Some of them have told me, privately, they are doubtful of being able to maintain maximum speed on the turns because they aren't steep enough. If that's true—and if they run today—a lot of them are likely to head for home tonight."
"I don't mean we ought to let everybody run," said Moross. "But if it's all right with you, I'd like to pick one or two old pros I can depend on and let them run a few laps against the clock late this afternoon."
"Okay," said Fisher, "but wait until just before dark, so we won't have to let fifteen or twenty other fellows out on the track, too."
The only prominent rider willing to make the practice run "for free" was Ed Lingenfelder of Alhambra, California, who had earned recognition as the champion of the West. Moross did the timing himself and immediately rushed to the telephone to give the publicity campaign a last-minute shot in the arm with an announcement Lingenfelder had covered 25 miles in 25 minutes.
A steady drizzle early Friday, however, ended all hopes for a sizable crowd. The contestants spent all of the morning hours griping about the weather as well as the condition of the track. At noon, officials postponed Friday's entire program to Saturday and announced that Saturday's program would be run on Monday.
Two hours later, although the sky was still overcast, the track began to dry. Fisher agreed to make it available for practice during the remainder of the afternoon. But Al Gibney of Indianapolis, one of the first to get his cycle fired up, hit a wet spot on the No. 3 turn and took a bad spill. While he was being rushed to the hospital with serious head injuries, another shower soaked the track again to end activities for the day.
Saturday was bright and fair, but no more than 3,500 spectators were on hand for the first half of the two-day program. With such a favorable change in the weather—and in spite of the poor attendance—most of the entrants displayed an apparent eagerness to get on the track for a few practice laps. But they were moved by curiosity rather than the spirit of competition. Even the pros were quick to express their displeasure. It might be a wonderful race course for automobiles, they told Fisher, but it was suicide for them to try to run fast on the turns.
The slow time recorded during the series of five-mile amateur events which opened the program caused many spectators to leave the grounds before the scheduled start of the first 10-mile race for professionals. Others in the steadily dwindling crowd headed homeward during a 20-minute delay caused by a huddle of officials and contestants at the starting line.
"We've decided we are not going to risk our necks on this kind of race course," an FAM spokesman was telling Fisher. "No one wants you to risk your necks," he replied. "You don't have to run a damn bit faster than you feel it is safe for you to run. But you can't disappoint these people who have paid their money to see the National Championships decided here in Indianapolis.
"What's the matter with you, Ed?" he demanded, singling out Lingenfelder for a personal challenge. "You ran twenty-five miles right here on this track yesterday. Is there any reason you can't do ten miles now?"
"I'm ready any time, Mr. Fisher," was the reply, "if you can get someone to run with me."
For several seconds there was absolute silence as the other entrants looked at each other without making a move of any kind. Finally Jake De Rosier of Springfield, Massachusetts, dressed in red tights with an American flag stitched to the back of his jersey, shouldered his way to the front of the group.
"I've never given anyone an opportunity to accuse me of being yellow," he said. "I'll run. And if no one else wants to join us, you can bill the event as a special race between the champions of the East and the West."
In a matter of minutes, the track was cleared and they were on their way with Lingenfelder—in a spotless, all-white uniform—first into the turn. As they neared the end of the long backstretch, De Rosier pulled abreast of his rival and shouted, "Take it easy; there's still nine miles to go."
"What's the matter? Are you getting cold feet?" Lingenfelder replied.
Jake answered with a burst of speed to take the lead on the No. 3 turn. Lingenfelder moved up on even terms as they swung through the No. 4 turn and forged to the front again at the head of the main stretch.
Then, with Jake trailing by a half length, his front tire blew out. The rubber tore free of the rim and wedged in the fork of the machine. De Rosier sailed over the handle bars, turned a half somersault in the air and landed on his back near the inner edge of the course.
While friends and officials treated his injuries, Lingenfelder completed the 10-mile event alone in 10 minutes and 51.8 seconds.
Efforts were made to continue the program without delay. Officials called immediately for all 46 entrants in the 10-mile FAM amateur title race to report at the line to draw for starting positions. Four responded. The others had disappeared.
J. F. Torney of Chicago and three Indianapolis riders—John Merz, E. G. (Cannonball) Baker, and H. R. Bretney—were the only contenders. Torney blew a rear tire and was thrown from his mount on the No. 3 turn. Baker won in 11:31.2 with Bretney second and Merz third.
The feature attraction of the day, a 25-mile event open to all professionals, was abandoned for lack of entries, and President Ovington announced the cancellation of Monday's entire program.
Newspapers referred to the motorcycle championships as a complete fiasco. But interest in the Speedway boomed with the start of practice for the first auto races the following week.