In the Gilded Age, Indianapolis was at the heart of manufacturing and a large player in the burgeoning bicycle industry. The famous founding fathers of the Indianapolis Speedway all had their hands in said industry prior to the shift in their interests to align with automobiles. Yet out of all of them, it was actually Arthur C. Newby, the quieter of the quartet who actually put forth the foundation to make Indianapolis the racing capital of the world.
Arthur C. Newby halied from around Monrovia, Indiana and spent much of his youth in California prior to moving back to Indiana. Initially he worked as a clerk and made his way up in Dickson Trade Palace and soon thereafter began to form the ZigZag Club, a wheelman’s (bicycle) club. In 1890 Arthur Newby and a few contemporaries started the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co. (Which would later on become Diamond Chain Company.) During this time his involvement with the bicycle industry and formation of the ZigZag Club allowed him to become friends with the other founders of the Indianapolis Speedway.
Map of where the Newby Oval used to be.
The group’s enthusiasm over bicycling veered into racing and Newby saw the Newby Oval as a means to attract the League of Wheelmen to Indianapolis and turn the city into a bicycle mecca. In 1898 the Oval was constructed and could seat 20,000 spectators and declared a marvel in bicycle racing. In August that same year the 19th Annual League of Wheelmen meet was held at the Oval.
There was much fanfare over the affair with racers such as Barney Oldsfield and Marshall “Major” Taylor at the fore. Also noted were the crashes that happened on the Oval during the event...Similar events which would play out again years later at the Speedway’s own opening year. Except it would be the F.A.M holding its annual meeting and multiple motorcycles which would end up in crashes...
The Newby Oval’s prowess in the early days of bicycling is well documented by various sources pertaining to the subject. However what many bicycle historians and even oft-times the local historians often overlook is the fact that tracks such as the Newby Oval was also part of the birth of early motorcycle racing. The wooden board tracks was in part where motorcycles were spawned from, despite the fact that there were various people who were toying with the idea at the same time.
Race results for June- both bicycle and motor cycle races.
To get bicycle races started, pace bicycles- often times motorized, were used to set the pace prior to racing. Spectators and track owners soon picked up the idea that racing these motorized bicycles could also be a spectator sport.
Though the Oval was in steep decline just after 2 years of operation, those two years were vital to the growth of motorcycles. The quick shift towards cars was far outstripping the earlier interest in bicycles. Unnoted by historians, the Oval was in fact still integral for the showcasing of new motorcycles and related companies, though the venue wasn’t attracting as much people as it used to.
One such Indiana built motorcycle that raced on the Oval was the Patee in the summer of 1901.
Advertisement for July 4th Motor Cycle races at Newby Oval.