Before The Indianapolis 500, America’s Biggest Car Race Was The ‘Cheyenne 200′
In August of 1909, just days before the first event in Indianapolis, promoters built a four-mile track around the grandstand at Cheyenne Frontier Days and staged the biggest automobile race of the era.
After two shorter preliminary events and an exhibition featuring the “world’s fastest car”, the Stanley Steamer, seven teams embarked on the 200 mile main event. In the early days of auto racing, drivers were accompanied by a mechanic who rode beside them in the car.
Several laps into the race, after two teams had already dropped out, tragedy struck. Heading into a turn, one of the drivers lost control.
According to an article in the Wyoming Tribune, the car “struck a bank, jumped into the air and made a complete somersault, throwing the mechanic out of the car but holding the driver under it.”
Sadly, the driver died later that day. The race continued with only three teams remaining. Eventually, an Oldsmobile was the only car able to finish all 50 laps and was declared the winner.
Cheyenne Frontier Days hosted two more automoble races in subsquent years, before cancelling the event.
Meanwhile, on August 19, 1909, less than a week after the first Cheyenne 200, Indianapolis hosted a similar event that also made national news when a driver was killed. By 1911, the Indianapolis 250 became the Indianapolis 500 and remains the "greatest spectacle in racing" to this day.