1909: Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s First (Deadly) Car Race
The first race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t involve cars. About two months before the classic oval raceway was completed, the Speedway launched a balloon race where nine gas-filled balloons raced while 40,000 spectators watched. However, the main event happened on this day in 1909 when 15 drivers and their teams showed up. During the practice, the cars (and drivers) got covered in dirt, oil and tar from the track caused by chuckholes. During the first 250-mile race (with about 15,000-20,000 people in attendance), the leader of the pack, Louis Chevrolet, became temporarily blinded when a rock jumped up and smashed through his goggles. Wilfred Bourque flipped end over end just before hitting a fence post during the last part of the race. He died at the scene. Though there were two more days of racing planned, they were almost scrapped due to safety concerns. However, after assurances that the track would be safe to drive on, no major accident occurred on the second day of racing. However, during the grand finale 300-mile race held on the third day, Charlie Merz’s front right tire blew out. The car crashed through a fence and into many spectators, two of which died. Then, another driver, Bruce Keen, hit a pothole and crashed into a bridge support. Obviously, this halted any more races for the track unless significant improvements were made. Less than a month later, the track was paved the rest is history.
1934: The First All American Soap Box Derby Race
The first All-American Soap Box Derby race was held on this day in Dayton, Ohio in 1934 and has continued to run each year since except during World War II. The goals are the same today as they were in 1934: to teach “youngsters” some of the basic skills of workmanship, the spirit of competition and the perseverance to continue a project once it has begun. There are three racing divisions at derby: Stock (ages 7-13 compete in cars built from kits), Super Stock (ages 9-18) cars are still built from kits but are more advanced) and the Masters (ages 10-18 cars built from scratch or with a pre-built fiberglass body).
- 1921: Gene Roddenberry (screenwriter)
- 1940: Jill St. John (actress)
- 1942: Fred Thompson (actor)
- 1944: Jack Canfield (author)
- 1946: Bill Clinton (42nd president of the U.S.)
- 1955: Peter Gallagher (actor)
- 1956: Adam Arkin (actor)
- 1957: Gary Chapman (singer)
- 1965: Kyra Sedgwick (actor)
- 1966: Lee Ann Womack (singer)
- 1969: Matthew Perry (actor)
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.