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Brickyard to Interstate: How the Legacy of the Indianapolis 500 Shaped Hoosier Roads

by: Andria L. Hine, Indiana Constructors, Inc.
The original Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a two-inch layer of creek gravel, topped by two inches of crushed limestone topped with tar, followed by crushed stone chips and more tar and stone dust. It dissolved during the first race, where five people died. Owner Carl Fisher quickly paved it with 3.2 million bricks. It was paved over with asphalt in 1961, except for a yard of bricks at the start/finish line. (This photo has been resized and cropped to web standards. Photo courtesy of the Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.)
The original Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a two-inch layer of creek gravel, topped by two inches of crushed limestone topped with tar, followed by crushed stone chips and more tar and stone dust. It dissolved during the first race, where five people died. Owner Carl Fisher quickly paved it with 3.2 million bricks. It was paved over with asphalt in 1961, except for a yard of bricks at the start/finish line. (This photo has been resized and cropped to web standards. Photo courtesy of the Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.)
Drivers strive for speed during the Fast Friday practice session on May 20, 2022. That day, Takuma Sato topped 232 miles per hour on a track. Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 at an average speed of 74.6 miles per hour, taking home $14,250 in prize money. (Photo courtesy of ICI/Andria Hine)
Drivers strive for speed during the Fast Friday practice session on May 20, 2022. That day, Takuma Sato topped 232 miles per hour on a track. Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 at an average speed of 74.6 miles per hour, taking home $14,250 in prize money. (Photo courtesy of ICI/Andria Hine)
The red line indicates the Lincoln Highway, while the Dixie Highway, shown in blue, can be seen running from Florida to Michigan. (This photo has been resized and cropped to web standards. Photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.)
The red line indicates the Lincoln Highway, while the Dixie Highway, shown in blue, can be seen running from Florida to Michigan. (This photo has been resized and cropped to web standards. Photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.)
Early Indiana State Highway Commission employee and truck. (Photo courtesy of ICI)
Early Indiana State Highway Commission employee and truck. (Photo courtesy of ICI)
Workers on a section of the I-69 Finish Line project near Indianapolis in June 2023. The project is the sixth and final section connecting I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024. (Photo courtesy of ICI/Charlie McCullough)
Workers on a section of the I-69 Finish Line project near Indianapolis in June 2023. The project is the sixth and final section connecting I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024. (Photo courtesy of ICI/Charlie McCullough)
The month of May brings racing enthusiasts to Indiana for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But today’s race and the facility it uses is very different than the original gravel and tar track built by Carl G. Fisher in 1909.

Fisher was also responsible for developing the Lincoln Highway, the first cross-country road for automobiles and the inspiration for the interstate highway system. Hard on the heels of the Lincoln Highway success, Fisher began the Dixie Highway connecting Michigan to Florida. For more information about Fisher and his storied career, listen to the November 19, 2021, ICI Digs Deep Podcast, “Throwback to the Lincoln Highway.”

But even Fisher followed the path of his predecessors — lawmakers who commissioned the first state-funded road in Indiana in 1826, the Michigan Road connecting Lake Michigan to the Ohio River. Before his Lincoln Highway, there was the National Road, the first federally funded road in America. Started in 1811 in Maryland, it would take until 1828 for construction to begin in Indianapolis and head east to Richmond and west to Terre Haute.

Financial panic and competing priorities caused delays in completing these and other road projects, with first bicyclists and then farmers joining the fight for better Hoosier roads. Eventually, the federal Rural Free Delivery program (the precursor to our modern postal system), along with the widespread use of personal vehicles, made paved roads a necessity.

The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 appropriated $75 million in federal funds for states to use on approved road projects, and it required states to create a state highway agency to develop them. It took until 1919 to create a functional Indiana State Highway Commission, which held its first letting on July 15, 1919.

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In 1919, Indiana had only 4,100 centerline miles managed by the state. In the intervening years, both the Indiana State Highway Commission (now Indiana Department of Transportation or INDOT) and Indiana Highway Contractors, Inc. (now Indiana Constructors, Inc. or ICI) have worked together, through good times and bad, to develop 28,868 state centerline miles.

Today, Indiana stands as the Crossroads of America, with an intricate system of highways, roads, and bridges. Indiana’s civil contractors, their subcontractors, and suppliers are hard at work on major INDOT projects including Clear Path 465, I-69 ORX, Revive I-70, 80/94 FlexRoad, the Mid-States Corridor, and more. Each of these projects aims to improve safety and traffic flow.

From Carl Fisher’s racing dreams and highway system vision in the early 1900s to projects like the I-69 Finish Line project, Hoosier road builders continue to improve the way Indiana families connect to each other and the world.

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