The Early Years – 1909-1916
Pre-'500' Tickets from *1909 through May of 1910 depict an early version of the now famous "Wing & Wheel" logo and have *one color for the background with black the standard color used for the writing with other colors used when needed. The backs do vary, but *all have legal liability statements regarding the rights of spectators. In later years, tickets for different stands would be different colors. It is uncertain if this was done during the 1909-1916 era. Some pre-'500' tickets are dated - obviously, those that are not make it difficult to tell exactly which race or races they may have been for. One possible way to at least get and idea when it may have been issued is by the number of legal statements on the back. Four is generally believed to be 1909 while six is 1910. Both Grandstand and General Admission or "Field or Main Gate"* tickets were sold during this period but they are very similar in appearance unlike '500' tickets. There is no printer listed for tickets from 1909 through 1916.
As mentioned on the Information page, one needed an admission to grounds ticket to accompany a grandstand seat ticket. The two “Field Gate Entrance” tickets and “Main Gate Entrance” seen below are just such tickets and are what would be considered general admission tickets today.
A ticket stub from this period measure a little over 3 1/2" by 2 3/5". Note that the stub at right has perforations on both sides. One assumes an unused ticket had gateman's stubs on either side which were torn off by the ticket taker.
The first "race" at the Speedway was a balloon race held June 5th of 1909 and admission was charged for the event. Only about 3500 spectators actually paid to attend which would make it an extremely rare ticket to find. (Approx. 40,000 people watched for free outside the track).
The first motorized races held at the Speedway were the motorcycle races of August 13th & 14th 1909. Tickets are extremely rare as it was not very well attended and the second days races were called off due to accidents caused by poor track conditions. The "Complimentary" ticket stub below was part of the late Fred Hook collection.**
The August 19th-21st auto races were far better attended than the motorcycle races of the week before, but the tickets are still very rare to find. The crushed stone and tar surface was so torn up during the Aug. 21st 300 mile final race that it was called at the 235 mile mark due to accidents which claimed several lives.
The ticket stub above is for the first day of the auto races, August 19, 1909***. Based on this, it is assumed there would've been single day tickets for the August 20th and 21st races as well. While the ticket above is dated, the two undated tickets below could be one day or multiple day tickets. Note the top ticket below has “Aug 21 - 09” written on the front while on the back of the bottom ticket all three days are written. Because the dates written on these tickets is not official, they could be for one or all days.
After the tragic August auto races, the track was paved with 3.2 million bricks. There were Record Trials, sometimes referred to as the "brick test", on December 17th-18th of 1909 consisting of speed record runs and a 20 mile race. Admission was free so tickets for the Record Trials/"brick test" are complimentary which is printed at the top "Compliments Of" (the Speedway). "Record Trials", "Dec. 17th & 18th 1909" and “Friday Only” have been stamped on the ticket. Record Trials tickets are extremely rare as it was very cold with only about 500 people attending the event.
Note the back of the ticket at right has five legal statements where those known from 1909 have four and those known from 1910 have six so what year or event it is for is unclear.
In 1910 there were several events scheduled: Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend and Labor Day weekend auto races, a June Aviation Meet and September balloon races.
Below are ticket stubs for the May 1910 races: May 27th, May 28th, May 30th and May 27-28-30th. The ticket stub at bottom right is an advanced sale three day ticket while the others are a one day.
June 1910 Aviation Meet.
The July 4th weekend auto race ticket stub below is dated and does change in design from previous tickets. The early version "Wing and Wheel" logo is gone replaced by "Indianapolis Motor Speedway Auto Races" at the top. The back still carries a legal liability statement although the wording is a little different. Note that this is good for admission and for Stands B and C only.
Grandstand tickets for the September 1910 auto & balloon races are more than likely marked as such and had accompanying admission tickets*.
Attendance waned in the latter part of 1910 as the novelty of the Speedway began to wear off therefore these pre-'500' tickets are very rare to come by.
We do not have pictures for all the 1909-1910 events. If you have any of these, please let us know (NI500CC@NI500CC.COM) so we can post it here on the site.
Carl Fisher and the other three owners of the Speedway agreed that they needed one special race for the Speedway and the '500' Mile Race was born on Memorial Day 1911. The 1911 and 1912 grandstand tickets have no year date on them however, 1911 is Tuesday, May 30 and 1912 is Thursday, May 30. General admission tickets from 1911 and 1912 have their respective years on them. The backs are blank on all tickets from 1911 through 1916. Except for the 1911 grandstand stub below right, there is no price designated on grandstand or general admission stubs from 1911 through 1916. The price is on the large portion of the 1915 ticket and possibly* on tickets before and after this.
1911 is the only year known* where two different grandstand tickets were used. They both have a section number, row letter, seat number and Tuesday, May 30 (indicating they are from 1911) but the similarities end there. The ticket at left has horizontal perforations at the bottom while the ticket at right has perforations on the left. The ticket at left says “In event of postponement retain this check” and a stand designation is noted while the ticket at right doesn’t. However, the ticket at right does say “Not Good For Admission At Gate”, “Indianapolis Motor Speedway Auto Races” and “Price $1.00” while the other doesn’t. With no stand designation the ticket at right could be for a bleacher or similar stand. Note that this ticket also says “Auto Races” not “Race” which implies more than one race. A similar statement is on the general admission ticket below.
Note the June 3rd postponement date on the Admit One To Grounds Only (general admission) stub below which is not seen on the grandstand ticket. The June 3rd postponement date is the only known occurrence of a June date appearing on an Indianapolis 500 ticket. Also note that it says “Races begin at 10 a.m.” not “Race” which implies more than one race.
This is the first time the phrase "International Sweepstakes 500-Mile Race" (or one similar to it) appears on a ticket. As we don’t have an example of the large portion of a 1911 grandstand ticket it is unknown whether this phrase appears on it. The 1915 grandstand ticket below is the first year known* where it appears.
The general admission ticket is made of a thin paper stock which may account for this possible unique example surviving.
The 1912 ticket has a horizontal perforation like the first 1911 grandstand ticket above. A picture of the first turn is seen vertically at left and horizontally on the general admission ticket. A picture would not appear again on a ticket until 1947. Note that at least as far back as 1912, color was used to denote different stands, in this case a blue/gray for stand "C" and red for stand "B"**.
The 1912 general admission ticket stub below has a vertical perforation and measures 3 1/4" x 1 3/5". The general admission ticket stub from 1912 is the first year* a signature appears on a ticket. The signature of "J.A. Allison Treas." appears at lower right as seen on the general admission stub below. The 1912 general admission ticket is also the first ‘500’ ticket with a serial number and it will remain on general admission tickets through 1916.
The 1913 and 1914 grandstand ticket stubs have a vertical perforation where the admissions and/or gateman’s stub would've been and a horizontal perforation separates the rain check and the ticket stub. The first turn picture is dropped but the date with the year appears for the first time in the rain check portion at the top. Both measure a little over 3" x 2 1/3". 1913 marks the first year for a signature to appear on grandstand tickets. The signature "J.A. Allison Treas." would appear through 1915 at the lower right of the rain check for grandstand and lower right corner on general admission.
The 1913 general admission ticket stub is the same size* as the top portion of the grandstand ticket and also has a horizontal perforation. The 1914 general admission ticket stub looks better than the grandstand ticket stub from that year as it depicts a wire racing wheel at the center. There is a vertical perforation at left and it measures 3 1/4" x 3 1/4".
The 1914 ticket stub below is probably* the big portion of a grandstand or general admission ticket which would've been taken by an attendant at the race. However, with no price designation, as seen on the large portion of the 1915 grandstand ticket below, this may not be the case. The signature of "C.G. Fisher Prest." is seen at lower right.
The 1915 grandstand ticket stub is the same height as the 1913 and '14, but is just a little wider. The date with year appears at the bottom of the ticket and also in the rain check portion. The general admission ticket stub is the same size as the 1914. Both retain the same perforations.
Again, the grandstand ticket stub is pretty much bland and the general admission is only a little better. Note on both the unused grandstand and general admission tickets that the design of the large portion at left is the same.
1915 marks the first year known* (see 1911 above) where the large portion of the both grandstand and general admission tickets say "International Sweepstakes Race". In one form or another, it would appear on the large portion of grandstand tickets through 1928 and on stubs from 1929 through 1980. It would appear on the large portion of general admission stubs through 1946 and on the small portion taken by the ticket taker from 1946 through 1980#. It would reappear in 2009 for the Speedways Centennial era and again on the 2011 ticket for the Speedway’s 100th anniversary.
Both the grandstand and general admission ticket stubs for 1916 shrink measuring 2 2/5" x 2 3/4" and 2 1/4" x 2 3/4" respectively. There are at least two different colors for general admission ticket stubs as seen below. The same perforations as 1913-15 are present. The signature of "T.E.Meyers Gen. Mgr." takes the place of "J.A.Allison" on both tickets. As this was a 300 mile race instead of 500 the appropriate changes have been made to both stubs.
Due to the threat of the United States entering World War I and the possibility of the Speedway having to shut down, the Speedway decided to hold the "Harvest Auto Racing Classic" on Sept. 9th of 1916 which consisted of three races of varying lengths. No more than 10,000 spectators attended the event, therefore this is an extremely rare ticket to acquire.
Despite much better attendance for the '500' races than for previous events, (the 1916 race was a 300 mile race due to several reasons) all tickets from 1911 through 1916 are very tough and rare to find.
* This information is to the best of our knowledge. If anyone has more information, please contact: NI500CC@NI500CC.COM
All measurements are taken from the stub or used ticket.
** From Auto Racing Memories and Memorabilia Vol. 3 #5 page 22.
*** From Dick Wallen’s book "Board Track - Guts, Gold & Glory" page 22.
# See 1946-1955 tickets for why there are two 1946 general admission stubs.
To learn more about the early days of the Speedway, it is suggested you read "500 Miles to Go" by Al Bloemker. Much of the information about dates, attendance etc. for these early events were obtained from this book