The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) has long been a birthplace of innovation. But automobiles weren’t the only vehicles to break records at IMS, as daring pilots soared to new heights in airplanes high above the Speedway in June 1910.
The 2010 Indianapolis Air Show at Mt. Comfort Airport (MQJ) June 11-13 is a descendant of the ground-breaking events at IMS 100 years ago, when aviation pioneers such as the Wright Brothers and Walter Brookins spent a week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, the final day of the 2010 Indy Air Show marks the 100th anniversary of the start of a dazzling display of the airplane’s promising future at the Speedway.
A gas-filled balloon race in June 1909 marked the first competitive race of any kind at IMS, but for the seven years after the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in December 1903, airplanes had caught the fancy of ordinary citizens around the country. The founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw the potential of their new venue as more than a racetrack, and the infield had room to spare for aviation use, so from June 13-18, 1910, track officials made history by conducting the first licensed aviation meet in American history.
Orville and Wilbur Wright brought several of Wright Flyers to the Speedway, which were housed in an “aerodrome” in the infield. On June 17, pilot Walter Brookins reached 4,938 feet over the Speedway in a Wright airplane to set a world flight altitude record.
Other participants in the meet included George Bumbaugh, who a year earlier had piloted a balloon with close friend and IMS co-founder Carl Fisher in the IMS race, and Mel Marquette, who built his plane at his Indianapolis shop. The next year, Marquette was one of the drivers in the first Indianapolis 500, starting 20th and finishing 25th in a McFarlan. While he did not participate in the June 1910 event, Ray Harroun – the man who would win the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 and an engineer by trade – also built his own airplane and flew it from the Speedway grounds.