The Indiana State Fairgrounds is converting its famed mile-long Track of Champions from dirt to crushed limestone—a change that will allow for year-round harness racing and improve parking during the Indiana State Fair, but spells doom for the annual Hoosier Hundred, an auto race that has taken place there since 1953.
The Indiana State Fair Commission announced the change Tuesday. The track’s conversion to an all-weather surface will take place after this year’s scheduled 64th running of the Hoosier Hundred on May 23.
“The Indiana State Fair Commission is pleased that the track conversion will improve safety, enhance the guest experience and allow for the continuation of harness racing,” commission executive director Cindy Hoye said in written comments. “However, we also recognize the storied history that this track has played in auto racing and we encourage the public to attend the Hoosier Hundred and pay homage to the race.”
The plan will eliminate motor racing on the track but should pave the way for more harness racing events and harness-racing training.
Additionally, the commission plans to eliminate a half-mile track inside the Track of Champions. The elimination of the smaller track and the all-weather availability of the larger track for parking will improve parking availability at the fairgrounds, the commission said.
The larger track dates to 1892 and the smaller track was added in 1902.
Auto races on the Track of Champions began in 1915, but cars were tested on the track even earlier. In 1903, according to the United States Auto Club, Barney Oldfield drove a Henry Ford-designed “999” to the first sub-one-minute lap ever on a one-mile racetrack, finishing at 59.6 seconds.
From 1924 to 1936, the Track of Champions was used for the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes, an auto race put on by the Colored Speedway Association that was considered the Indy 500 for black drivers, who were excluded from major auto racing events for decades. The 1924 race drew a crowd of 12,000 and was the considered the largest sporting event held for African Americans up to that point.
The Hoosier Hundred was considered one of the richest and most prestigious open-wheel Sprint car races for years. It was part of the American Auto Association’s championship series from 1953 to 1955 and part of USAC’s national championship series from 1956 to 1970.
In 1971, dirt-track races were separated from USAC’s national championship and later became part of the Silver Crown Championship Series.
Seven Indy 500 winners also won the Hoosier Hundred, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and Al Unser.
USAC Series Coordinator Levi Jones said USAC officials have been meeting with fairgrounds officials for two years “about any way to keep auto racing at the historic one-mile oval,” he said in written comments. “To no avail, the economics of the horse industry and their desire to use the one-mile track year-round instead of the half-mile currently in the infield won out in the end.”
He said officials are looking for a new venue to host the race in 2020 and beyond.