INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Since the fall of 1960, Lucas Oil Raceway has been the stage for some of the most historic moments in drag racing. The facility has provided a jumpstart in some of the most legendary careers in motorsports. A 0.686-mile oval track, 2.5-mile road course, and a 4,400-foot have become a tradition for racing fans across the country. Beginning in the fall of 2020, Lucas Oil Raceway will celebrate 60 years of racing history.
The First Pass
The first pass made on the dragstrip came on September 8, 1960. Red Dyer was driving the “Tennessee Boll Weevil”, but Dyer and car-owner Ray Godman almost never had the opportunity.
It is believed that the Top Eliminator winners in the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit would be invited to test the new dragstrip in Indianapolis later that fall. As the story goes, the race ended in dramatic fashion with the “Tennessee Boll Weevil” crossing the finish line with their front wheels in the air. This meant that the beam was not triggered, and the win went to the other lane. A scheduling conflict later allowed Dyer and his race car to receive the honor of making the first pass in Indianapolis.
A few weeks later, the first event was held on the dragstrip with a regional race on October 1-2 that saw multiple world speed records surpassed. When it comes to the oval track, its first event has a much more interesting story.
Some consider the first road course event to have taken place on April 17, 1961. That Sports Car Club of America event only lasted five laps. If you believe the stories, safety crews spent more than four hours clearing snow from the track after a late-season snowstorm. Track officials, determined to have the race, cleared the track and began the race well later than the scheduled green flag. More snow and winds said to surpass 40 miles-per-hour caused four accidents in five laps before the rest of the event was canceled.
A grand opening for the facility was held over Memorial Day weekend in 1961. Known as the “Pre-500 Speed-O-Rama”, the event was held on May 27-29, 1961, and featured a number of racing legends. The “Tennessee Boll Weevil” returned to the dragstrip on May 27, 1961, along with Mickey Thompson who was manning a four-cylinder supercharged Pontiac Tempest-powered dragster. Dr. Nathan Ostrich and the first-ever jet-propelled land speed car, “Flying Caduceus” were also in attendance.
Sunday, May 27, 1961 was highlighted by a USAC race on the then-dirt oval with a $5,700 purse. Some participants included Elmer George, Bob Wente, A.J. Foyt, Roger McCluskey, and A.J. Shepherd. The defending 1960 USAC Champion, Foyt picked up the win before also winning his first of four Indianapolis 500’s just three days later.
The final event of the facility’s grand opening featured USAC stock cars on the dirt track on Monday, May 29, 1960. Don White was the top finisher and the last to win on dirt at the facility. Shortly after the “Pre-500 Speed-O-Rama”, pavement was laid on the oval track.
Hoosier Grand Prix
It was after the grand opening that the road course saw its first professional event. The Hoosier Grand Prix, a leg of the USAC Road Racing Championship, hit the track on June 25, 1961 with names such as Rodger Ward, Lloyd Ruby, Len Sutton, Ken Miles, and Bill Krause in the field. At the end of the race, it was Augie Pabst that was named the winner after recording the quickest lap time.
The Big Go
Wally Parks, founder and former president of the NHRA, had made the decision to move the NHRA U.S. Nationals to Indianapolis in 1961 a year prior to the event. A historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in Detroit Dragway’s pits then-Indianapolis Raceway Park eventually became the home of the NHRA’s biggest annual event.
Share Your Stories
The year 1960 was a historic one for Lucas Oil Raceway and set the framework in creating one of the world’s premier racing facilities. Beginning this fall through the 60th NHRA U.S. Nationals held at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2021 (67th overall), the facility will celebrate some of the most important moments in track history.
Lucas Oil Raceway also wants to hear your stories. Share your stories from the past 60-years of racing, fandom, and history by clicking HERE.
Lucas Oil Raceway is an auto racing facility in Brownsburg, Indiana 10 miles west of Downtown Indianapolis. It includes a 0.686-mile oval track, a 2.5-mile road course, and a 4,400-foot drag strip which is among the premier drag racing venues in the world.