The Indianapolis 500, which will be held on May 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, looks quite a bit different today than it did when the first race was held on May 30, 1911. That year, the formerly gravel-and-tar race track was newly paved, Memorial Day was still known as Decoration Day and a total of 60,000 fans—about a fifth of today’s attendance, not including the 6 million or so who will watch on TV—showed up to take in the action. But perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is the evolution of the race cars themselves.
When Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500, he did it in a Marmon Model 32-based Wasp racer, so named for its black and yellow color scheme. Harroun’s vehicle was a far cry from the sleek speed demons on the track today: It was little more than a cylindrical chassis with four narrow wheels, a seat and a newfangled streamlined tail. It lacked a windshield, though it was the first car to employ the use of a rear-view mirror, and it moved, under Harroun’s winning control, at an average speed of 74 mph.
Over the years the open-wheel car raced in the Indy 500 evolved as engineers tinkered with its form to maximize speed without sacrificing safety. Advancements in their aerodynamics allow the so-called IndyCars of today to reach speeds of up to 220 mph. In honor of one of motorsport’s most revered institutions, TIME commissioned freelance photo editor Sanna Dullaway to colorize several images from the early days of the event known as the “greatest spectacle in racing.”
Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden. See more of her work here.
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