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Here’s an Onboard Lap of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1955

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1955

Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1955
Photo: Hy Peskin (Getty Images)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the prestigious sporting venues in the United States, alongside the Rose Bowl, Churchill Downs and Augusta National Golf Club. The 2.5-mile oval built in 1909 has been the site of numerous scenes of triumph and tragedy over its lengthy existence. Recently, the Speedway posted a video glimpse back into its past on the track’s official YouTube page.

Indy 500 On-Board Lap from 1955

The lap footage uploaded by Indianapolis Motor Speedway is simply described as being from onboard an IndyCar in 1955. The video begins in Turn 1 on an iteration of the iconic oval that is very different to today’s version. The immediate surroundings are a far cry from the 257,000-seater modern coliseum west of downtown Indianapolis. There are far fewer grandstands and far more trees. It’s also difficult to ignore the Speedway’s weathered asphalt, especially the abrupt transition near the finish on the front straight.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned its nickname as the Brickyard after having its original surface repaved with over three-million bricks during its inaugural season. Over time, though, the bricks were gradually paved over. According to the track, most of the brick surface had asphalt literally laid over it in the late 1930s except for the front straight. Even with the admittedly poor quality of the video, it is easy to tell how rough the brick surface is compared to the asphalt. The brick front straight was paved over in October 1961.

Besides the pavement, the lack of now-basic safety features is also apparent. The Speedway’s perimeter walls were incredibly low, and there was no catch fencing. This is worth pointing out because of the fatal crash that took place at Indianapolis in 1955. Two-time Indianapolis 500 Champion Bill Vukovich died in a crash while leading the 1955 Indianapolis 500. His car was collected in a multi-car crash when it was launched over the outside wall. Vukovich was killed after being partially decapitated when his car struck the bridge over the track after Turn 2 while cartwheeling.

Officials from the American Automobile Association, the then-national motorsport governing body, feared that the car could have flipped into a grandstand if the incident happened on the front straight. The potential death toll of such a disaster would have been counted in the dozens. Their worst fears became true two weeks later when a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR launched into the spectator area opposite the pits at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Eighty-four people died that day at Le Mans and several countries across Europe banned racing temporarily, with Switzerland doing so permanently. Racing in the United States also had to deal with the fallout of the Le Mans disaster. One U.S. Senator even proposed banning racing here in this country. AAA decided to end its organization of racing events, but racing as a whole lived to see the following year.

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