The track, a flat two and a half mile oval, almost rectangular in nature, hosted the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Ray Harroun won at the brisk average speed of 74.602 mph. A classic race followed in 1912 when Ralph DePalma lost a five lap lead with five laps to go when his car broke down. As his car was being pushed around the circuit, Joe Dawson made up the deficit to win the race. These races gave Indy a worldwide reputation amd international drivers began to enter. Three of the next four winners were Europeans, with DePalma being the exception.
The race was interrupted by World War I, when Indy served as a military hub for repairs. When racing resumed, speeds increased and by 1925, when Peter DePaolo won, the best cars were averaging 100 mph for the race. By the early 1930s, however, the increasing speeds began to make the track increasingly dangerous, and in the period 1931-1935 there were 15 fatalities. This forced another repavement, with tarmac replacing the bricks in parts of the track. The danger of the track didn't stop Louis Meyer, who during this period won three 500s. As the 1930s ended, Wilbur Shaw became the first back-to-back winner at the speedway.
At the beginning of the 1940s, the track required further improvement. In 1941, half of "Gasoline Alley," the pit area, burned down before the race. When US involvement in World War II cancelled the race for four years, the track was abandoned and was in bad shape when drivers returned in 1946. The track was sold to Tony Hulman at that time, and major renovations were made. The stands were remodelled, suites and museums were added, and many other additions helped bring back Indy's reputation as a great track.
Several drivers helped bring back its reputation as well. Three-time winner Mauri Rose starred and after him came Bill Vukovich. In the 1950s, cars at Indy were going 150 mph around the speedway, which helped draw more and more fans. The track’s reputation improved so much the Indy 500 became a Formula One event for 11 years (1950-1960), even though most of the drivers never raced abroad, and Europeans at the time never raced there, except Alberto Ascari.
After the last Indy 500 recognized by F1, the track became completely asphalt, with the exception of a distinct line of bricks at the start/finish line. Ironically, a wave of F1 drivers went to the speedway in the 1960s, with Jim Clark winning in 1965, and Graham Hill winning the following year at his first attempt. There were enough Americans to compete with them, with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Bobby and Al Unser leading the charge in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s the speedway became more than a race track, as it began to feature a pair of golf courses and a hotel.
The 1980s brought a new generation of speedsters, led by Rick Mears, (who recorded the first 200 mph lap in 1982) Danny Sullivan, and Bobby Rahal. In 1989, F1 veteran Emerson Fittipaldi astounded drivers and fans when winning and recording the first 220 mph lap in the process. Indy had never even seen a 210 mph lap before then. Arie Luyendyk won the following year, and did so in the fastest 500 ever, with an average lap of 185.981 mph.
Up until the 1990s, the 500 was the only racing done on the Brickyard. However, when Tony George (Hulman's grandson) purchased the track, he brought more racing to the speedway, with the NASCAR Brickyard 400 and an International Race Of Champions (IROC) race. Even the golf courses got new interest, and a Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA TOUR) event is hosted here. The 500 itself got a new look in 1996 when it became an event of George's Indy Racing League, formed as a rival to the CART league.
In 1998, George arranged for Formula One to return to Indy, (and to the US). for the first time since 1991. Two years of renovation and new construction for an Indy-based road course led to the first US Grand Prix there in 2000, a race which was a great success. The 2001 event's success (185,000 fans were reported in attendance) was even more important with the race being the first major sporting event in the States after 9/11. The event's popularity is expected to potentially bring an American driver back to Formula One for the first time since 1993, though judging by the performance of foreign drivers in American domestic open-wheeler series it is unclear whether any of the current crop of American drivers would be competitive.
In 2003, the Infiniti Pro Series, a "minor league" series to the IRL, made history with the first May race other than the 500, the Freedom 100.