The Hoosierist: Speed Bump

Racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway used to be regularly accompanied by record breaking top speeds, but not in recent years. Why have the records become so difficult to break?
An illustration of Indycars racing around a speedometer as a racetrack.
Illustration by Ryan Johnson/Indianapolis Monthly

Q: RACERS USED TO REGULARLY HIT NEW TOP SPEEDS AT THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, BUT A RECORD HASN’T BEEN BROKEN IN YEARS. ANY IDEA WHY?

A: In some ways, engine technology has outgrown the venerable IMS. The track was built in 1909 with gentle corners banked at only 9.2 degrees, more than adequate for the cars of the day. (For comparison, Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, built in 1969, is banked at 33 degrees.) The first Indianapolis 500 winner averaged a shade above 74 mph, about how fast The Hoosierist negotiates the Costco parking lot. Today’s racers turn in laps at roughly twice the takeoff speed of an F-16 fighter jet. Not too long after Arie Luyendyk turned in a blistering all-time high of 237.498 mph during a 1996 qualifying lap, engine specs were dialed back for safety’s sake. Despite that, speeds at recent races have crept into the high 220s, so look for more rule adjustments.