State Fair Architecture Tour - Fairgrounds Track
The Fairgrounds has always had a horse track on this site. Sulky racing has long been part of the Fair tradition, going back well into the 19th century. There was enough room on the present site to build a regulation mile long oval track in 1892, the track, with several re-engineering efforts, has remained essentially where it is today. A ½ mile track was added inside the bigger oval in 1902. In 1931, the present concrete and steel grandstand was built, and evening sulky races began. With some remodeling in more recent times, this is the same grandstand today.
Among many important events, this track is where famous Indiana-bred Dan Patch won many races and set several speed records in the early 1900s. Dan Patch was undefeated and ran the first under 2 minute mile for an Indiana-bred horse.
Horses of a different color were the automobiles. The Fair Board was eager to support the new automobile craze, when they allowed the first auto race on the dirt track in 1915. By 1917, racing greats at the Indianapolis 500 competed at the Fair track. Motorcycle racing came in 1953, and Midget racing--the "Hoosier Hundred" --came in the 1950s. Concrete walls and guardrails were added over the years to increase safety.
One of the most important auto events held on the Fair Ground’s oval track was the "Gold and Glory Sweepstakes," a race organized by the African-American community in the summer of 1924. During a meeting in a building on Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis, a group of black business leaders proposed a African-American race circuit. Following races in Chicago, Cleveland and other Midwest sites, the crown jewel race would be a 100 mile jaunt on the Fairgrounds oval, with a grand prize of $2,500 - a nearly unheard of sum for any race purse. The Gold and Glory Sweepstakes was held here from 1924 to 1936, each year drawing about 10,000 spectators. Indianapolis native Charlie Wiggins earned the nickname "Speed King" for winning a total of three consecutive circuit titles in the 30s. Of course, many other attractions have been held using the track, from stunt driving to country music to the much loved state-wide High School band contests and rock concerts.