Indianapolis 500 Spawns Safety Innovation

by Don Elliott on June 7, 2011

Did you know that the car you drive every day has ties to the Indianapolis 500? Many of your car’s safety features originate from the “Brickyard,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This year the track celebrated the 100th year anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. The original racetrack built in 1909 had a gravel, limestone, and tar surface. As a safety innovation, Carl Fisher and James Allison decided to pave the entire 2½-mile oval with 3,200,000 street paving bricks. Asphalt was added to the main straightaway in 1961, except for the 3-foot strip at the finish line known as the “Yard of Bricks.” The entire track was resurfaced with asphalt in 1976, in line with innovations made for safer highway construction.

At the inaugural Indianapolis 500, Ray Harroun showed up with a single-seat car. All other race cars had two seats, one for the driver and one for the mechanic. The mechanic served as the “spotter,” watching out for other drivers on the track. To resolve the complaints that the car was a safety hazard, Harroun made a “rear-view mirror” out of a glass mirror with a steel frame. It was the first rear-view mirror for any car. Harroun went on to win the inaugural race with an average speed of 74.602 miles per hour.

The Duesenberg Motor Company used four-wheel hydraulic brakes at the 1921 Indianapolis 500. It was the first of many braking innovations pioneered by the racing industry.

Ray Crawford first used seat belts in the 1956 Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, he was able to prove the value of seat belts in a minor crash during that race.

On-board data recorders were mandatory for racers in the 1993 Indy 500. Delphi provided the technology that has become standard equipment in today’s passenger cars.

In 2006, the Indy 500 switched from methanol fuel to corn-based ethanol for the race cars. Going “green” was more than a marketing trick. Engineers needed to confirm ethanol as a high performance fuel before the decision was made. As a side note, the fuel used for that race was not 100% ethanol. Engineers had to add two percent gasoline to avoid the liquor tax on ethanol, also known as pure grain alcohol. For this year’s race, the Indy Racing League switched to E-85, the more commercially available ethanol blend.

These are only a few of the many safety and technology innovations piloted for high-speed racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You benefit as a low-speed driver in your family car. Better tires, engine performance, collision protection, seat design and improved braking all came from the racing industry and the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500.

Google+ Comments

Previous post:

Next post: