17.5¢ Race Car
Transportation Series Coil
Issue Date: September 25, 1987
City: Indianapolis, IN
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Engraved
Perforations: 10 vertically
Color: Dark violet
In 1911, the Marmon Wasp became the winner of the first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Designed by Howard Marmon, this unique vehicle had its motor up front under the hood (most motors were hung on the rear axle), used a double-frame suspension system, and was the first to use a rear-view mirror. The stamp was also issued in a bi-color, precanceled variety.
The Transportation Series
A ground-breaking stamp was quietly issued on May 18, 1981. For the first time in U.S. history, a coil stamp featured its own unique design rather than simply copying that of the current definitive stamp. Fifty more coil stamps would be issued over the course of the next 15 years, each picturing a different mode of transportation.
The various denominations provided face values to exactly match the rates for several categories of Third Class mail (bulk rate and quanity-discounted mail). As the rates changed, new stamps with new values were added. Never before had a stamp series included so many fractional cent values.
Most of the stamps in the Transportation Series were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, although a few were printed by private contractors. All but a few of the later stamps were produced by engraved intaglio. Differences in precancels, tagging, paper and gum provide a large number of varieties.
On May 30, 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held its first 200-lap, 500-mile race, dubbed the Indianapolis (or Indy) 500.
One of Indiana’s biggest attractions is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, initially built for automotive research and to test new car models. After breaking ground in March 1909, it was completed in August of the same year. The first weekend of racing took place that same month, but immediately encountered tragedy – several crashes resulted in five deaths. To fix the problem, the entire track was resurfaced with 3.2 million bricks, with the last one made of gold. This earned the racetrack the nickname the “Brickyard.”
Over the next year, thousands of people came out to the speedway to watch a variety of races. The largest was the Decoration Day (today’s Memorial Day) weekend race in 1910. After that, attendance dropped and the speedway’s owners decided to focus on a single race. They first considered a 24-hour race or perhaps a 1,000-mile race, but ultimately selected 500 miles as the race could be completed before dark. For the first race, they offered a $25,000 prize.
The inaugural race came on May 30, 1911. A total of 40 drivers entered the race, including Ray Harroun, a retired racecar driver and engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company. He came out of retirement for the race with his Wasp, a unique vehicle that had its motor up front under the hood (most motors were hung on the rear axle) and used a double-frame suspension system.
Harroun drove his Wasp around the track at an average speed of just over 74 miles per hour. Several people accused him of recklessness, as he was the only driver in the race without a spotter riding alongside to alert him to oncoming traffic, and his Wasp featured a new-fangled contraption known as a “rear-view mirror.” Harroun went on to become the first winner of the Indy 500 with a time of 6 hours, 42 minutes.
The Indy 500 has been held almost every year since except during the World Wars. Over the years, the bricks slowly disappeared as parts of the track were paved with asphalt. In 1961, all but a three-foot-wide section of brick at the start/finish line was paved. The three-foot strip is a tribute to the “yard of brick,” or “Brickyard.”
The Indy 500 is now limited to vehicles featuring open wheels known as “Indy Cars.” Foreign drivers gradually made the Indianapolis Speedway their primary base and the race gained international fame. Advances in technology added excitement, with speeds now exceeding 225 miles per hour.
Many Indy 500 traditions have developed over the years, including patriotic songs, pork tenderloin sandwiches, and a superstition against eating peanuts. Perhaps the most famous is the Indy’s call to action – “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
For over 100 years, fans have thronged to Indianapolis for the thrill of watching “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The annual Memorial Day event attracts some of the biggest names in auto racing along with about 400,000 enthusiasts from around the world. Today, the speedway is the world’s largest sports facility.
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