Within hours, it was rumored AAA officials would refuse to sanction any future speed events at the big Indianapolis track. But before any official action could be taken by racing's governing body, Fisher again was dominating the situation with an announcement of his own.
"There is nothing wrong with racing as a great spectator sport," he declared. "In order to keep faith with the public and the participants, we rushed our construction program to completion and left undone many things which we now realize were of tremendous importance as far as safety is concerned.
"Our principal desire," he continued, "was to create a Speedway suitable for races that would excel any in this country or on the Continent. Financial success was of secondary importance and still is. We are ready to spend $100,000 or more, if necessary, to make the Speedway safe for spectators as well as drivers.
"The track will be paved and guardrails will be constructed on all of the turns before another race is scheduled. When the job is completed, we definitely will have the world's finest and safest race course; and I'm sure everyone connected with racing will want to return to Indianapolis at the earliest opportunity."
The only important decision still to be made was the selection of a satisfactory type of pavement. Chief engineer Andrews started a series of extensive tests concerning the relative merits of brick and concrete. Within three weeks, he was ready to make his report to the Speedway management, and Fisher called the group together in his Prest-O-Lite office.
"The original track will serve as an excellent base for any kind of pavement you decide to use," said Andrews. "Because of the big difference in cost, however, I'm reluctant to make a specific recommendation.
"For $110,000 I can give you the finest concrete pavement you'll find anywhere in the world and I believe it will last a good many years.
"A brick track will last even longer. It also will provide better traction and should be a mile—or possibly two miles an hour—faster. But it will cost approximately 50 per cent more than concrete, and I'm not sure it is worth the difference. It sounds almost unbelievable, but it will take more than three million paving bricks, each weighing ten pounds, to complete the surface."
"Brick is definitely better than concrete?" Fisher asked.
"Then we haven't any choice in the matter," said Fisher. If any of his associates had any inclination to object, he gave them no opportunity. But when he outlined tentative plans for a grand opening of the new track in mid-December, the others immediately protested that the weather would be too cold.
"The odds are better-than-even that the temperature won't be down to freezing," he argued. "The drivers aren't going to complain about the cold if we limit the events to a series of five-mile and ten-mile races; and everybody is going to want to see the new track. Don't forget, we've got to start paying for all of those bricks. I'll bet we can pick up fifteen or twenty thousand dollars with a two-day show."
"And with a bad break in the weather," interrupted Newby, "we might lose about the same amount."
"We can't lose much," said Fisher. "And I think it's important to prove we have the fastest and safest race track in the world by letting the boys set some new records. It would keep people talking about the Speedway all winter and bring bigger crowds than ever next spring."
"There won't be any new records if it really gets cold," commented Wheeler, "because the mechanics will have too many carburetion problems to solve."
It was Allison who finally offered a satisfactory compromise plan: "With Christmas just around the corner, there aren't too many people willing to pay to see a series of short races in cold weather. But we can invite the manufacturers to make a series of record runs without offering any prize money. If the general public wants to come, let 'em in without charge. It won't cost us a cent; and as long as we make sure the press is on hand, it will do us a lot of good."
The others agreed to the plan, and preparations were made for the formal reopening of the track on the weekend of December 17-18.
Details were worked out quickly. All thought of completing the inner circuit was abandoned, and a crew of men started construction of concrete curbs along both edges of the track. These were designed so the top of the curb would be flush with the brick surface when the track was completed. Concrete retaining walls, nine inches thick and extending 33 inches above the track surface, were built along the outer edge of the curves. The original track was covered with a two-inch layer of sand. Then the bricklayers went to work under the supervision of inspectors provided by the National Paving Brick Manufacturers Association.
Each brick was placed in position by hand and pressed firmly into the sand cushion with a 3-ton roller as inspectors checked the level with straight edges 12 feet long. Any variation of more than three-eighths of an inch in any 12 feet of track was corrected before the first application of filler—a mixture consisting of equal parts of sand and portland cement with sufficient water to give it the consistency of a thin batter. To make sure the joints were filled absolutely flush with the surface of the brick, a second coat of filler was applied an hour later with rubber squeegees. The work moved with amazing speed.
"Those fellows really know their job," Andrews told Fisher after one particularly productive day. "A couple of newspapermen came out this morning to check on the progress we were making, and I kept an approximate count of the number of bricks laid during the entire nine-hour shift. What would you guess?"
"About a hundred thousand," said Fisher.
"One hundred and forty thousand. One fellow alone was handling 250 an hour; and that means he lifted more than eleven tons himself."
The entire task was finished in 63 calendar days from the time Andrews had been given the go sign in early September.
While the work was in progress, the thirty-five-year-old Fisher surprised even his closest associates by becoming a bridegroom. He and Jane Watts, an attractive Indianapolis girl eleven years his junior, were married on October 23 without the slightest trace of the customary Fisher fanfare. The wedding was shrouded in such secrecy that they were en route to the West Coast by train on a combined honeymoon and business trip before most of their friends learned of the ceremony.
They also started on a cruise to Florida aboard Fisher's new yacht, going by way of the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. But discouraging news from Indianapolis—the manufacturers' lack of interest in the proposed December record runs—brought Fisher hurrying home.
Immediate action was necessary to avoid a complete flop; and he persuaded Lewis Strang to bring his new 200-horsepower Fiat to Indianapolis with the hope of turning in a record-smashing performance certain to win world-wide recognition. He also convinced Walter Christie he would have no trouble breaking Oldfield's record, which Christie had missed in his front-drive Christie car by only 1.6 seconds in August. With these cars and drivers assured, Fisher challenged the Indianapolis manufacturers to look to their laurels and also prevailed upon Governor Marshall to participate in the activities.
It wasn't the governor, however, who was given the first ride on the new brick track. That distinction went to James J. Jeffries, former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, who was planning to come out of retirement in an effort to regain the title from Jack Johnson. Photos of this inspection trip appeared in newspapers from coast to coast; and it was during this ride with Jeffries that Fisher's fertile mind gave birth to another idea.
One of the paving bricks was removed from the track at the starting line and taken to the Wheeler-Schebler factory. With only a few of Fisher's close friends in on the secret, it was used to create a mold of the same size. A compound of bronze and brass—the identical mixture used in the manufacture of Wheeler-Schebler carburetors—then was poured into the mold to form what appeared to be a gold brick for use in the dedication ceremonies.
Promptly at 2 P.M. on Friday, December 17, while shivering press cameramen snapped pictures of the proceedings, the governor placed "this brick of gold" into position and declared "the world's greatest Speedway" open to cars of all classifications for record attempts. At the completion of the day's program it was removed from the track for display in the Speedway's downtown office. It finally disappeared while the office was closed during World War II.
Despite excellent advance publicity and the lure of a 20-mile race for cars manufactured in Indianapolis, no more than 500 spectators braved the 9 degree weather. Most of them huddled around bonfires along the inside edge of the main straightaway until the proceedings were under way.
Four motorcyclists, riding Indian and Thor bikes, all decided to call it a day after making one freezing trip around the oval at disappointing speed.
Christie encountered carburetion trouble on two attempts to set a new record for a measured mile and said he would wait until the following afternoon with the hope of warmer weather before making another run.
Strang braved the frigid air for three laps, then stopped his car at the creek. Mechanics who rushed over found him kicking a hole in the ice in order to get cold water to apply to his numbed cheeks.
"Somebody is going to have to provide a good heavy hood for my face before I go out on the track again," he said.
"That's a good idea," said Aitken, who was scheduled to drive a National in the 20-mile event. "Maybe I can find one for myself." Wandering through the sparse crowd, he didn't have to look long to see what he wanted.
"Sonny," he said, walking up to a ruddy-faced twelve-year-old boy, "how would you like to trade that cap of yours for my helmet?"
"Gee whiz, sure," replied the youngster, jerking the long stocking cap from his head. Then he hesitated. "But I don't think my mother would like it."
"How about trading me your stocking cap for my helmet and a dollar bill?" countered Aitken. "Then you can buy a new one on the way home and keep mine too."
A minute later Aitken had his goggles poking through holes cut in the cap. Other entrants wrapped scarfs or mufflers around the lower part of their faces, and seven were ready to answer the starter's flag at 3 o'clock.
Strang won easily in 16 minutes and 18.41 seconds for an average speed of 73.58 miles an hour, finishing more than a mile ahead of his nearest rival in a Marmon. The rest of the field was far back.
Saturday proved to be even colder, and only three cars were on hand when the record runs were resumed. They were the Christie, Strang's Fiat and Motsinger's outclassed Empire, which was pushed back to the garage after one disappointing effort. Christie and Strang, however, had solved the weather problem.
In addition to protecting themselves from the cold with heavy clothing, special face masks and fur-lined gloves, they stored the fuel and oil for their cars in heated rooms until a few minutes before they were ready to use it. Both cars were timed at well over 100 miles an hour for a measured quarter-mile strip on the main straightaway, and Strang finally was clocked at 111.86 miles an hour for the same distance while circling the track twice for a new American Speedway five-mile record of 91.813 miles an hour.
Fisher was jubilant. "That will bring the crowds here next spring," he told his associates. "It won't be long until we can expect to start getting our money back and the whole automobile industry will benefit, too, as the result of increased sales. There is nothing this country needs more than better transportation; and the automobile will provide it."
"You're not forgetting how much we owe the banks, are you?" asked Allison.
"Certainly not," said Fisher, as his gaze swept over the huge plant which now represented an investment of approximately $700,000, "but I believe we can get our original capital back and have the place paid for in five years."
At almost the same time, J. T. Talbert, of New York's National City Bank, was delivering an indictment of the automobile in a speech before the Texas Bankers Association in session at El Paso, Texas.
He cited the automobile as a "striking illustration of our national vice" because "it typifies our mania for spending beyond our means. We are squandering on pleasure vehicles, annually, sums of money running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Thousands upon thousands of our people, frenzied by desire for pleasure and crazed by passion to spend, have mortgaged their homes, pledged their life insurance policies, withdrawn their hard-earned savings from banks to buy cars; and have thereby converted their modest assets into expanding and devouring liabilities.
"The spectacle is astounding. The consequences of such enormous waste may be postponed for a time, but ultimately they must be faced and settled."
The automobile was here to stay despite Talbert's dire warning. Factories were redoubling their efforts to produce more and better cars to meet the demand; added uses for this method of transportation were found by almost every type of business. The manufacturers welcomed an opportunity to prove the dependability of their products, and entries poured into the Speedway office for three days of competition on the Memorial Day weekend the following spring.
The Marmon and National factories, particularly, planned an all-out winning effort because of the disappointing showing made by their cars in a 200-mile race on a new track near Atlanta, Georgia. That event had been won by Louis Chevrolet in a Buick and the outcome had convinced Ray Harroun, Marmon's No. 1 driver, that additional "horses" were necessary under the hood if he hoped to be successful in free-for-all competition.
Many important stock car races also were included on the 1910 national racing schedule. The Marmon four probably could hold its own in its class, but the most important Speedway event of the entire year definitely was the Wheeler-Schebler 200-miler at Indianapolis for cars with engines up to a maximum piston displacement of 600 cubic inches.
"I know the National engineers—and Buick, too—are working on larger engines," he told Marmon officials. "In order to have any chance of winning, we need an engine at least half again as large as our present 300-inch model.
"We can increase our displacement 50 per cent by adding two more cylinders," he continued. "And the six-cylinder car, with a lot more power, shouldn't be any heavier than our four if we build a single-seat body for it. I can get along without a riding mechanic."
Howard Marmon endorsed the idea quickly. "If you'll give us some rough sketches of the type body you have in mind," he said, "we'll build the car while you're driving the four in stock car races out in California this winter."
Harroun headed for the West Coast, where he climaxed his visit with impressive victories in 50-mile and 100-mile events on the new board Speedway at the Los Angeles Motordrome.
Mr. Marmon was the first to shake his hand when he returned to Indianapolis in late April. "And now," he said, "the first thing you probably will want to do is to take a look at your new 'Yellow-Jacket.' We finished it almost a week ago, and it's ready for its shakedown runs."
"How did you happen to give it that name?" asked Ray.
"All our race cars are yellow trimmed with black—as you know," said Mr. Marmon. "That color combination, and the streamlined body you designed with the long pointed tail, made the name Yellow-Jacket a natural for the car. If it runs as well as we think it will, maybe you'll want to take it to the Atlanta races with you next week."
Harroun was delighted with what he saw. Only minor adjustments were necessary during the preliminary tests, and he headed for Atlanta on May 1, while many of the other Indianapolis entrants still were working overtime in order to get their cars ready for the May 30 weekend in the Hoosier capital.
The debut of the "Wasp"8 was a smashing success. Its unusual body lines made it a standout in any field, and Harroun drove it to victory in the 10-mile and 12-mile free-for-all events for which it was eligible. DePalma's Fiat, Aitken's National and Lytle's American were among the rivals it vanquished. Harroun also drove a four-cylinder Marmon to victory in the featured 200-mile event for stock cars and returned to Indianapolis to complete preparations for the Wheeler-Schebler race.
On Friday, May 27, the three-day program got off to a very discouraging start as far as the Marmon contingent was concerned. Harroun and his protégé Joe Dawson, both driving the smaller four-cylinder Marmons, were side-lined by valve trouble after moving into the first two positions during the early stages of the 100-mile stock car event for the Prest-O-Lite trophy. Tom Kincaid, at the wheel of a National, led the field home; another car of the same make took second place.
The Wheeler-Schebler race on the following afternoon, however, was a different story. Harroun in the Wasp took the lead from Arthur Chevrolet's Buick on the sixth lap and increased his advantage till he was able to make a pit stop without losing first place. At the finish he was five and seven minutes ahead of Lynch's Jackson and Aitken's National, with an average speed of 72.12 mph.
Harroun also drove a four-cylinder Marmon to victory in the 50-mile Remy Brassard event for stock cars, which featured Monday's closing program, and was well on his way to the 1910 AAA driving championship.
Of much greater importance was the fact that 42 events, ranging in distance from five to 200 miles, had been completed without a single major accident during three days of high-speed competition on the new track. The only serious injury was the broken leg sustained by Herb Lytle, who was pinned under his overturned American after it had gone out of control on the northeast turn.
Fisher was shaken by the misfortune involving his old friend, but extremely pleased with the track's over-all safety record. "The so-and-sos who don't like automobile racing certainly don't have anything to complain about this time," he declared, watching Allison check the gate receipts. "It has cost a lot of money to build a safe track, but I believe everybody will agree, now, that we've done it. How many paid admissions did we have?"
"I'm still checking" said Allison, "but I'd guess about sixty thousand."
"The crowds will be even bigger on the July 4 weekend."
"I hope so, but first you'd better start worrying about the size of the crowds we'll draw for the airplane races two weeks from now."
"What did you think of the obstacle race today?" asked Fisher, who had persuaded six Overland test drivers to stage the novel event to stimulate interest in the closing-day program. Temporary wooden ramps with steep inclines 15 feet high had been erected at four different points around the track. The Overlands not only had to negotiate these hazards successfully, but also were required to leave the course near the end of the main straightaway and splash their way through the shallow waters of the creek at the southwest turn before returning to the bricks to complete the five-mile test.
"The crowd certainly enjoyed it," said Allison. "But what does that have to do with the plans for the air races?"
"I'm convinced people will pay good money to see anything new and different," said Fisher. "The Overland crew has agreed to install an airplane propeller on one of the cars and race against a plane flying directly overhead. Everyone here today will be back. You wait and see."
"How do you know the contraption will run?" asked Allison. "You'll probably wind up with everybody laughing at you."
"It's bound to run. In order to get into the air, a plane has to travel almost as fast on the ground as it does in flight. The Overland will be something like an airplane without wings, and we're going to call it a wind machine. It might even win the race because it will have a bigger engine than any the planes use."
Wilbur and Orville Wright were the big attractions for the Speedway's "Aviation Week," which opened on June 13. Monday's attendance was extremely disappointing, but Walter Brookins made page-one headlines from coast to coast by flying a Wright biplane to a new world's altitude record of 4,384 feet. The paying customers on Tuesday numbered more than a thousand, and the accuracy of Fisher's promotional judgment was confirmed impressively on Wednesday. Nineteen thousand spectators were on hand to see Carl Baumhofer's wind machine finish only four seconds behind the plane in the five-mile event at a speed of more than 60 miles an hour. The official time was 4:58.
The twenty-one-year-old Dawson, developing rapidly into one of the nation's finest race drivers for the Marmon team, won the Ira M. Cobe 200-mile trophy race which featured the July 4 program. Most observers regarded the attendance as entirely satisfactory, but the crowds did not come up to Fisher's expectations.
The Speedway president also was concerned about the action taken several days later by the AAA Contest Board, when it disqualified the entire Marquette-Buick team for violating stock-car racing rules governing some of the Indianapolis events. Victories scored by Burman and the Chevrolet brothers were declared forfeited to other contestants.
"No one will want to attend automobile races if it becomes necessary to wait a week or more to find out who the winners are," he declared. "Maybe we ought to concentrate on free-for-all events."
Plans for the Labor Day program were not too far advanced to permit such changes, and the card was revised to include free-for-all races at 50, 100 and 200 miles in addition to the Remy trophy competition at 100 miles. Howdy Wilcox scored a popular victory in that event, with Aitken, DePalma, and Eddie Hearne—a wealthy young Chicagoan—sharing honors in the other attractions. Attendance was estimated at 15,000 on Saturday and again on Monday, assuring the Speedway of income in excess of expenses, but Fisher made no attempt to hide his disappointment concerning the gate receipts.
"If we expect to draw big crowds," he said, "we're going to have to give the people something different—something they can't see any place except at Indianapolis.
"During the next two weeks, I'm going to be busy getting ready for the National balloon race, but first I'm going to send up a trial balloon to see what the factories and drivers might think about a 1,000-mile race or a 24-hour race next summer instead of the kind of programs we held this year."
"We're giving the public too much racing," said Allison. "If we cut down on the number of races and increase the price of tickets we'll be better off in the long run."
"See what the boys think about one big race a year," said Fisher. "There'll be plenty of time to decide definitely what to do when I get back after winning9 the balloon race."
With approximately 6,000 spectators on hand, nine of the big gas-filled bags got away without incident on the afternoon of September 17. Captain Bumbaugh was Fisher's copilot in the Indiana II. It was a terrifying trip from the very start because they were engulfed in an electrical storm. Along with most of the contestants, they were finally forced down some 24 hours later during a heavy rain near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The America II, piloted by Alan P. Hawley and Augustus Post of New York City, managed to get above the clouds and floated on to claim distance honors when they landed near Warrenton, Virginia.
Allison had been busy during Fisher's absence and had the answers for most of the questions asked when the Speedway founders got together to discuss plans for 1911.
"The big factories are willing to go along with just about anything we want to do," he told his associates. "But they seem to favor a 24-hour race. They all know if they can prove the dependability of their cars by winning such a test, they won't be able to build them fast enough to fill the orders they'll get."
"What about the drivers?" asked Fisher.
"The ones who are driving for the factories don't care what kind of a race we have. Whenever they get tired, they'll always have someone ready to drive relief. But DePalma and Hearne and Bragg and a few others are opposed to any race too long for them to go the full distance without relief."
"Personally," said Newby, "I'd like to see a 24-hour event. But I can't imagine many spectators sitting through any race of such duration. Even a thousand miles would be too long from the spectators' standpoint. Our best bet would be to have one race which would last about the same length of time as one of our usual programs—six or seven hours. Five hundred miles would be just about right."
"Now you're thinking along the same lines I am," said Fisher. "We have to get the crowds in and out of the grounds during daylight hours, and that means 500 miles is about the longest distance we can consider."
"How much prize money do you think we should offer for such a race?" asked Wheeler. "Ten thousand dollars?"
"Hell," snorted Fisher. "The winner ought to get that much. We're talking about the greatest automobile race ever put on anywhere on the face of the earth. Everything connected with it is going to have to be bigger and better than ever before—or we'll miss the boat.
"If we offer only ten," he continued, "Atlanta or Los Angeles or one of the new tracks they are talking about building will announce a race for twelve or fifteen and we'll find ourselves playing second fiddle to somebody else before we even get started. What's the most we ever paid for a single day of racing—twenty-five hundred?"
"That's right," said Jim.
"People will call us a bunch of pikers if we don't offer at least ten times as much as ever before. And we should be able to get another ten thousand from accessory companies." Then, turning to Wheeler: "How much would it be worth to your company to have your carburetor on the winning car?"
"Twenty-five hundred, maybe," said Wheeler.
"At the very least. And companies making tires and magnetos and spark plugs will be just as anxious to have their products on the winning car, too."
"You're probably right," said Wheeler. "There's a certain amount of advertising value involved. But how are we going to make any money for ourselves if we pay twenty-five thousand in cash prizes? Including our other expenses, the race will cost us at least three times that much."
"Sure it will," said Fisher, "but this is going to be the greatest crowd attraction of all time. Every prominent race driver in the world is going to be here with a good car. In fact, if we don't limit each manufacturer to three or four cars, we'll have more entries than we know what to do with. A lot of them will be built especially for this one race.
"We don't want any monstrosities, but the piston displacement of even the biggest car now isn't much more than 500 cubic inches. We can set the limit at 600 inches as we did for the Wheeler-Schebler race this year, and have the damndest race anyone has ever seen. People will come from all over the world. Even if we raise our ticket prices, we'll have to build more seats to take care of the crowd."
Agreement on every major point was reached, and formal announcement of plans for the first Indianapolis "500" on May 30, 1911, was greeted with almost universal enthusiasm by the automotive industry.
Among the very few individuals who responded with little more than a shrug of the shoulders was Ray Harroun. He had announced his retirement from racing a few days earlier, after winning the 1910 AAA driving championship.