There was a time when you couldn’t become auto racing’s national champion without winning the Hoosier Hundred, or at least placing well enough in it to get yourself noticed. Until 1970, the Hoosier Hundred, held on the mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, was part of the U.S. Auto Club’s national championship trail. To win a season title as America’s best, you had to finish up front at paved ovals including the Indianapolis 500, a variety of road courses for Indy cars, and the handful of treacherous dirt miles, which included Springfield and DuQuoin in addition to the Indy fairgrounds. Most purists agree that the national championship has been diminished in subsequent decades; grown much more specialized as Indy cars on road or street courses have become the bedrock of the schedule. And now, the Hoosier Hundred is going away for good, at least at the fairgrounds.
The hallowed dirt of the Hoosier mile will be covered up with an aggregate of crushed limestone, the better to support the fairgrounds’ new mission of year-round harness racing and parking for the annual Indiana State Fair. It sounds uncomfortably like what happened a couple of years ago at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, whose historic dirt mile – which had once seen the likes of Barney Oldfield and Jimmy Murphy doing battle, and hosted dirt Modified racing’s biggest event for decades – was ripped up to make the facility more equestrian-friendly. It’s year-round money, which has led the politicos to abandon auto racing at these magnificent tracks. The Hoosier mile has been the home to automotive competition since 1903, longer than the Brickyard has been in existence.
These photos from USAC clearly show what the Hoosier Hundred is all about. It’s multi-groove racing on beautifully manicured dirt featuring traditional front-engine Silver Crown cars. Run since 1953, the Hoosier Hundred has boasted a litany of winners who collectively form the topmost pantheon of postwar American racing greatness. Bob Sweikert won the first one before going on to capture the Indianapolis 500 in the tragic year of 1955, when Bill Vukovich was killed while leading. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rodger Ward, Jimmy Bryan and Parnelli Jones have all tasted Hoosier Hundred glory. At the final running on May 23, California driver Kody Swanson will try to make history by winning for the fifth consecutive time, eclipsing the four straight that Al Unser Sr. captured. USAC is offering a Week of Indy Superticket that will encompass the Hoosier Hundred plus national Sprint car racing at the Action Track in Terre Haute an Silver Crown cars on the pavement at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont. USAC is looking for a new home to host the Hoosier Hundred; our money’s on Terre Haute. To take part in this historic week, go to http://www.usacracing.com or call 1-217-764-3200.