Since I try to be transparent and in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that Charles used me as a resource in his research and he mentioned our interviews twice in his book. My intent in reviewing Blood and Smoke is to present my observations about his treatment about the first Indianapolis 500.
Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 is the story of events leading up to and the running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. All of this takes place at the coming-of-age of automobile racing in the American entertainment industry. This account includes many personalities and other entities at the cutting edge of an event now known as "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
The history starts in winter of 1908 when Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pooled $250,000 to improve a 320 acre parcel northwest of Indianapolis, thus launching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Construction of the macadam track began in mid-March with the first auto races scheduled for a three-day meet beginning August 19, 1909. The track's attendance was over 75,000 for the three days and numerous records were set. But tragedy quickly ended Fisher's elation. By the time the three days of racing were over, seven people were dead. He knew something had to be done about the hazardous racing surface. The crushed stone track proved to be unsuitable for racing. Within a few weeks, the owners decided to repave the track with 3,200,000 ten-pound paving bricks, thus "The Brickyard" was born.
The year 1910 saw a number of events at the end of May, July 4th and Labor Day weekend, but attendance numbers declined at each event. On September 7, 1910, the Speedway founders announced plans for a automobile race with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes, for a single day of racing. The date for the first Indianapolis 500 was finally set for May 30, 1911.
The city of Indianapolis was bubbling over with anticipatory excitement for the first 500. Its two premier hotels had been sold out for race week since New Year's Day, and thoroughfares were clogged with gridlock with fans attempting to get to the track.
On the morning of the race, the crowd saw 40 race cars start the race complete with aerial bombs. But, as the race progressed the race standings became more and more confused. The Speedway's four manual scoreboards were usually not in agreement, and at mid-race the pit timing stand was unattended for about 10 minutes due to a nearby accident. Other problems with the official timing system further muddled the race results. Ray Harroun was awarded the first place winnings of $14,250 in purse and accessory prizes.
Charles Leerhsen's incredible research, writing, and character studies of the story's key figures, like Carl Fisher, Barney Oldfield, Ralph Mulford, Ray Harroun, Howard Marmon, and their riding mechanics, weave you into the story. His familiarity with the times of the era create a riveting tale of the birth of the Indianapolis 500.