BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
In 1909, with his partner and friend, James Allison, and several other businessmen, Carl Fisher invested in a race track as a testing facility for Indiana’s growing automobile industry.
The investors’ idea was that, as cars from different manufacturers competed against each other on the new track, spectators would see each automobile’s advantages and (hopefully) head down to the sale rooms for a closer look and possible purchase.
Constructed in 1909, this track is the second purpose-built, banked oval racing circuit, and the third-oldest permanent automobile race track, in the world. Really!
Even if you’re not a fan of motor sports, you should recognize the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s the home of the world’s most famous motor racing competition.
By the way, with a “this day in history” note – on August 19, 1909, the first race was held at the Indianapolis Speedway, one hundred and fourteen years ago. Wow.
Was it a success? Well, not in every way, at first.
Six people were killed that memorable day: two drivers, two mechanics and two bystanders. The crushed rock-and-tar track surface was the WRONG surface to have installed.
But, disasters, wrecks and deaths only gave impetus to improved safety features in auto racing. Carl Fisher replaced the uneven gravelly surface at Indianapolis with brick, which was commonly used in paving city streets.
Tragedy led to innovation and success, and it gave the nickname “The Brickyard” to the track.
Carl Fisher looked at automobiles, worked with state-of-the-art automotive parts, built speedways – and he also looked at the surfaces that automobiles traveled on.
It was impossible to pave the new transcontinental highways with brick. That’s why Fisher’s east-west Lincoln Highway, completed in 1913, and then his north-south Dixie Highway, opened in 1914, were dirt.
However, Fisher and his partners planned these highways to be graveled and then eventually surfaced with concrete.
It was a great idea, though it ended up a little differently.
Fisher didn’t know that one day nearly all the paved roads and streets in the United States would be asphalt, not brick or concrete. But that’s another story. And WHAT a story.
The highway investors planned for communities along the new routes to provide the equipment and labor for their portions of the road, and in return they’d receive free materials and a marked spot along our nation’s first transcontinental highways.
Talk about “travel tourism,” these new highway investors were ONTO the idea.
In 1914, Fisher led a celebratory automobile caravan from Indiana to Florida on his new Dixie Highway.
Once he arrived in the sunny, ocean-view state, Carl Fisher looked around at the “bottom” end of his Dixie Highway. He saw an undeveloped, swampy, mangrove-filled, bug-infested stretch of land in south Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.
This was Carl Fisher, with thick eyeglasses and more optimism than any turtle that ever crossed one of his highways.
He envisioned those mosquito-swarming swamps as the perfect vacation destination for his enthusiastic automobile-driving friends – and made the site into Miami Beach.
Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.