When the Brickyard was an Airfield: Flying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1910

MS-355: Charles Wald Collection
The photograph is of two Wright Model A/B Flyers flying above the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. The photograph is taken from the grandstands looking over the speedway and several small buildings are located in the center of the image. Two signs near the stands read, “In case of accidents please keep your seats” and “Speedway Prices.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of one of the country’s first aviation meets, June 12 – 18, 1910. Instead of cars racing around the track, aviators risked their necks flying machines they were still learning how to master, thrilling the public with their record setting antics. Following on the heels of the first American air meet, held in Los Angeles in January of 1910, the Indianapolis meet drew enormous crowds and it wasn’t long before aviators were introducing the American public to flight all across the country. Wilbur and Orville Wright were not anxious to get into the exhibition flying business, but soon realized that if they hoped to sell airplanes, they would have to do so. There were numerous other aviators flying a variety of machines by 1910. The Wright Company Exhibition Team made its debut before the general public at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
Frank Coffyn, Ralph Johnstone, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Walter Brookins seated on the ground near a Wright Flyer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wright aviators, such as Walter Brookins, Arch Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone, and A.L. Welch broke numerous records. Brookins garnered the most attention with his record setting high altitude flight of 4,384 feet. Brookins also earned the longest duration flight record by staying aloft for 1 hour and 4 minutes.

R.E. Scott wrote the following for the aviation journal Aeronautics, August 1910 issue:

“So far as the flying itself was concerned, the meet proved pretty conclusively that the Wright aeroplane is a very steady and dependable machine. There were about sixty flights during the six days of the exhibition, and there was no suggestion of an accident. In the tranquility of the performances – the invariably successful starts, and quiet, uneventful landings – lay the chief beauty, from the writer’s standpoint of the meet. But in just that same tranquility lay its chief drawback from the standpoint of the box-office. Peace and quiet are all very well in their way, but after a man has loafed around a railroad station thirty-eight minutes waiting for transportation to the field, has quietly sat on a plank upholstered bleacher divan at a temperature of 120 Fahr. for three hours waiting for something to happen, and with equal peace of mind finally watched – at a distance of half a mile or more – these great white birds rise gently into the air and sail placidly around the track until fancy moved them to descend, that man is apt to lean toward something more stirring than the prospect of quietly walking two or three miles along a country road to where he can find a suburban trolley to take him back to town.”

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
A Curtiss “pusher” biplane in flight over the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with several race cars below on the track.

The aviation journal Aeronautics reported the results of the Indianapolis meet in its August 1910 issue.

The accumulated duration of the flights made:
W.R. Brookins 7 hr. 59 min.
A.L. Welsh 1 hr. 51 min.
Arch Hoxsey 1 hr. 25 min.
F.T. Coffyn 20 min.
D. La Chappelle 1 ½ min.

Longest duration single flight:
W.R. Brookins 1 hr. 4 min.

High altitude flights:
W.R. Brookins June 13 (world’s record) 4,384 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 13 2,093 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 14 2,083 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 16 3,876 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 17 (world’s record) 4,939 ft.
Ralph Johnstone June 14 920 ft.

Flights of which official record was taken: 55

For more photographs of the Wright Exhibition Team visit:

To learn more about the aviation meets of the early twentieth century, visit Special Collections and Archives on the fourth floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library.


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