Our three favorite words at Astro Performance Warehouse: “vroom,” “vroom” and “vroom.”
That’s the sound of power, of a finely tuned engine running at top speed, of life in the fast lane, of the angry, rumbling noise of the racetrack, of the checkered flag waving as the champion flies across the finish line.
Ah, that’s the life! But we digress. While the race track – with its rip, roaring monster machines madly burning rubber and petro – is a mainstay of the modern American culture, the roots of this adrenaline-infused experience run deep into our history. What is the history of the race track?
Dutch physicist Christian Huygens is credited with experimenting with the first internal combustion engine around 1680. French engineer J.J. Étienne Lenoir built the first gas-powered engine that could operate continuously in 1859. French scientist Alphonse Beau de Roachas patented the first four-stroke engine in 1862, but Nikolaus A. Otto is credited with successfully building the first one in 1878. Two self-powered carriages raced over a pre-arranged 8-mile course in 1867 in Britain.
In 1875, Wisconsin state lawmakers offered an award for the organizer of the first U.S. automobile race. Only two racers competed in the 200-mile course.
The first “official” long-distance competitive race — from Paris to Rouen, France – was in 1894, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. The race’s winner maintained an average speed of 10.2 mph over the 50-mile course. The first organized automobile race was held in the United States from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois in late 1895.
The first track built specifically for racing is the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. The track is still used today.
The French are credited with hosting the first racing venue in 1897 called “Speed Week.” French engineers and inventors led the pack in the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century with innovations in automobile development and design.
Organizers held several international races between major cities in Europe. Italian Prince Scipione Borghese won the 9,317-mile Paris-Peking race in 1907 in a 453.6 cubic inch (7,433 cc) Itala, a now-defunct automobile manufacturer from the early 20th century.
The 1908 New York to Paris race, deemed history’s longest, covered 22,000 miles with six teams competing. American George Schuster drove a Thomas Flyer to win the race in 169 days.
In the 1930s, engineers began focusing on building cars designed exclusively for racing. Construction of the first sports cars began after World War II. NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. held the first stock car race in June 1949 at Daytona Beach, Florida.
We hope you enjoyed this first part of our series on the history of the race track. We’d love to hear your comments or suggestions. Be sure to check out part two!