Fourth in a Series
DOWNTOWN 2.0: the revitalization of Hoosier communities. Here we present Speedway, a Main Street town on the west side of Indianapolis with a re-invented, vibrant downtown. It’s crazy busy in May, but the welcome mat is out all year long.
story by ELIZABETH GRANGER
LOCATION: INDY METRO INDIANA TOWN: SPEEDWAY
WEBSITE: SPEEDWAYINDIANA.COM ABOUT: BUILDING ON A RICH HISTORY AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT WITH A RENEWED VISION THAT IS CHANGING THE FACE OF THE TOWN, AND THE FUTURE OF ITS RESIDENTS.
SPEEDWAY – There’s more to Speedway, Indiana, than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And there’s an increasing number of reasons to visit throughout the year, not merely in May. Speedway’s revitalized Main Street, just six blocks in length from 10th to 16th streets, is a mix of eateries, shops, family activities and more—all within walking distance of the IMS. Coming soon: apartments, condos and a hotel with retail spaces. Today’s Speedway, a five-square-mile pocket surrounded by the city of Indianapolis, has 12,000 residents.
But first, a history lesson. The town began with the vision of The Founding Four—Carl Fisher, James Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby. They were all about the automobile during its infancy. In 1909 they built a 21⁄2-mile oval race track to test innovations in the growing auto industry. The 500-mile International Sweepstakes, which became the Indianapolis 500, began in 1911.
They grew the town, then named Speedway City. It was a planned residential community centered on an industrial complex. The idea was to create a “city without horses, where residents would drive automobiles, as well as participate in creating mechanical parts for new modes of transportation.”
It meant factories, not retail shops, near the race track. On Main Street.
The factories changed over the years, even switching gears during World War I to repair fighter planes. In later years, Speedway factories manufactured engines
for fighter planes.
Speedway still has industrial ties to the auto and aircraft industries, but not so much on Main Street. That area declined like so many cities’ downtowns. “The saying was that you could kick a soccer ball down Main Street from 16th Street to 10th Street and not hit anything,” economic development director Tim Gropp says.
In 2005 the town created a redevelopment commission; it created a strategic plan. Physical revitalization began in 2011. Buildings were demolished, sites were cleaned up, the infrastructure was modernized. There’s now a roundabout at the intersection of Main Street, 16th Street, and Crawfordsville Road. In 2012 businesses began building or renovating. Dallara was the first big project.
“What a great first project,” Gropp says. “They had been the catalyst— and continue to be the catalyst—for the Main Street development.”
The Dallara IndyCar Factory is a museum/factory/event space focused on the building of IndyCars. It welcomes visitors Wednesday- Saturday, unless hosting a special event, with a display of both full- size cars and smaller wind-tunnel models. An interactive museum shares the science of building cars, and it invites visitors to drive racing simulators. A tour goes through the Dallara and IndyCar Experience garage. Reservations can be made to ride in an IndyCar two-seater in either a street-legal model on town streets or on the IMS oval.
“This isn’t a destination; this is an experience,” says Dallara’s James Sell. “You can touch and feel racing here. You can get in a simulator and drive a car. You can take a tour and learn how they’re made. You can change a tire in a pit stop challenge. You can take a ride in a real car outside.”
The real cars at Speedway Indoor Karting are go karts. Three racing tracks with several sizes and kinds of karts are available to the public. Kids must be at least 8 years of age.
“They (owner Sarah Fisher and her husband, Andy O’Gara) started in go karts,” says Marissa Johnson, SIK director of engagement. “For them, this is what’s fun about racing. They want to give people the experience of the thrill on a smaller scale.”
SIK also has the 1911 Grill, a family restaurant named to honor the year of the first IMS race. Upstairs there are mini bowling (think duck pin bowling) and electronic sports. “Karting is great, but it’s not for everyone,” Johnson says. The area overlooks the karting tracks.
Across the street is Charlie Brown’s Pancake & Steak House, which preceded the Main Street revitalization. It opened in another Speedway location in 1975 and moved to Main Street in 1996. Many consider it a town tradition. The ‘50s-style diner, which serves breakfast and lunch, is filled with racing memorabilia—and folks from the world of racing. “No matter how much Main Street changes, this place always stays the same,” says a long-time patron. “Even the pictures. Look at this place. It’s got character.”
“Wait till you see my new outside that’s coming,” says owner Liz Glover. She’s partnering with Speedway’s schools to revamp her building with a mural of race cars and the race track.
Right behind Charlie Brown’s is B. Erin Designs with furniture and home decor. “Recycled, repurposed, re-loved,” owner/designer Brooke Minnix says.
The first full-service restaurant/ bar to move to Main Street after the revitalization started is Dawson’s on Main, which opens at 11 a.m. “We love it here,” says bartender Andy Foxworthy. “It’s only getting busier.”
Another eatery is Barbecue and Bourbon on Main, where pulled pork is the best seller—and an old- fashioned the favorite drink. “And dirty lemonade,” owner Marcia Huff says. “That’s another accident,” made with bourbon, sweet tea and lemonade, combined one night when that’s all they had.
Huff and her husband co-own Tacos and Tequila on Main, in the next block. Co-owner Gerardo Rios serves dishes from his native Mexico—along with Gringo tacos, the only ones with lettuce and tomatoes. “We’re not fast food, but we’re fast,” Rios says.
On the other end of Main Street is Big Woods Brewery, a rustic lodge-feeling restaurant/bar with big timbers and high ceilings. Gropp says Daredevil Brewery is the hot spot in May. And that the A.J. Foyt Wine Vault is the perfect place for a nightcap. “Just being around the memorabilia of A.J. Foyt—it’s a really cool atmosphere.”
Race memorabilia—clothing, pins, pit badges, cards, photos, tickets—are available in the Main Attraction Antique Mall, along with plenty of other kinds of merchandise. Items are from a number of dealers; prices range from a couple bucks to several hundred.
Race-related items are also available next door at Three Sisters and a Trunk. Owner Marie Hall says she has “a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole bunch more around the corner.” She mostly has clothes and race memorabilia, “but one month out of the year we’re all black and white.”
And then there’s the Famous Soda and Candy Company that welcomes patrons “back to the past” with lots of taffy flavors as well as candies that include jaw busters, toxic waste, squirrel nut zippers. Soda pop includes bacon soda, mustard-flavored soda and even KISS soda. Brought to you by the same folks who have Famous Tomato nearby on 10th Street.
All in all, just six blocks—but with a great variety of places to investigate.
For more information, go to: www.speedwayindiana.com