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Historian: Designed for ‘horseless carriages,’ town grew around Indy 500 speedway

Town of Speedway laid out as “horseless carriage” town

SPEEDWAY, Ind (WISH) — Before it was the racing capital of the world, the town of Speedway was farmland about 5 miles west of Indianapolis.

Entrepreneurs Carl Fisher and James Allison purchased several farms for $72,000 on land that eventually became the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Max Beaver of the Speedway Historical Society says Fisher was inspired after seeing race tracks in Europe. “The United States needed a testing ground, a large closed circuit track that they can use for testing the automobiles.”

At that time, Indiana was home to several car manufacturers and it seemed fitting to have a testing facility in the state. Eventually, the track was supplemented with a race shop Allison that opened on Main Street.

Beaver said, “It was a very elite, very well-equipped shop, and they rebuilt cars for the purpose of racing them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

As motorsports gained popularity, Allison’s career accelerated, too. He went on to establish what is now Allison Transmission, a major employer in the community today.

Beaver says the town was plotted with roads designed for “horseless carriages.”

“The idea that was conceived, after the track was built and opened, it was to make a community where people can drive their cars, could live in the community, could work in the local industry.”

Beaver added, “It was the beginning point for an amazing industry on the west side of Indianapolis that’s become what Speedway is today.”

The Speedway Public Library asks anyone who has pictures of the track and the town over the years to lend them to the library. Volunteers are making digital copies, and some of the pictures may be used in a book to be called “The Story of Speedway,” which will be released in 2026, which will be Speedway’s centennial.

Steve Atelski is one Speedway resident who has embraced the track. He first moved to Speedway in 1974. Atelski says he made sure six years ago that he bought a house close to the track so he can hear the cars. “When the first car goes around the track you see a lot of the people. They’ll sit on their porches. They’ll come out with their coffee. They’ll come out with a beer. They’ll sit out there and just listen to the cars. It’s kind of a magical thing to hear it.”

It’s a bond Speedway residents have with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the same passion that brings race fans in from all over the world.