This week I would like to share with you a book for all Indianapolis 500 fans. That book is Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 by Charles Leerhsen.
Before I go further, I have to disclose that Charles talked to me as a resource in his research, and he mentioned our interviews in his book. With that being said, I want to share why I think this book is of interest to Indy race fans.
When I met Charles a few years ago, I was not aware of the controversy surrounding the running of the first 500. I accepted as fact that Ray Harroun won the race.
One of the items that drew Charles to write Blood and Smoke was the controversy around the publishing the first 500’s final results. He uses this as a springboard to write a compelling tale of the people and events that shaped that race and events that make the 500 the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Charles takes us back to the coming-of-age of automobile racing in the American entertainment industry. Some race fans might remember that Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler hosted the first auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909. The track’s attendance was over 75,000 for the three days and numerous records were set. By the time the three days of racing were over, one driver, two riding mechanics, and two spectators were dead. To make the track safer, the owners decided to repave the track with 3,200,000 ten-pound paving bricks “The Brickyard” was born.
Shortly after the 1910 events, the Speedway founders announced plans for a automobile race with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes for a single day of racing. The date for the first Indianapolis 500 was finally set for May 30, 1911.
Leerhsen does an incredible job of describing the story as the event unfolded. As the race progressed, the race standings of the 40 race cars became more and more confused. The Speedway’s four manual scoreboards were usually not in agreement, and at mid-race the pit timing stand was unattended for about 10 minutes due to a nearby accident. Other problems with the official timing system further muddled the race results. Ray Harroun was awarded the first place winnings of $14,250 in purse and accessory prizes.
Charles Leerhsen’s incredible research, writing, and character studies of the story’s key figures, like Carl Fisher, Barney Oldfield, Ralph Mulford, Ray Harroun, Howard Marmon, and their riding mechanics weave you into the story. His familiarity with the times of the era create a riveting tale of the birth of the Indianapolis 500.
Peruse Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 at Amazon.com
For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.