It is said that motor racing was born the minute the second automobile was built. This is not quite true, but why spoil a good story with facts?
The first automobile, a name coined to describe self-powered vehicles, dates all the way back to the 17th century. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, many prototype steam vehicles were built, but it took until the 19th century for a practical steam-powered vehicle to be built.
The first automobile race in the world was a 200-mile endurance run to demonstrate reliability. The aim was to award the manufacturer of a practical substitute for horses and other beasts of burden as carriage propellants. An award of $10,000 was offered to the manufacturer of the vehicle that could maintain an average speed of 5 miles per hour over the course. Since only one vehicle finished, half the prize was awarded.
The first real organised motor race was the Paris-Rouen contest for horseless carriages, organised by the newspaper Le Petit Journal, to run from Paris to Rouen on 22 July 1894. Eight qualifying events over distances of 50km (31 miles) were held on routes around Paris to select the starting grid for the 126km (78 miles) main race.
The first finisher was not eligible for a prize since his steam vehicle required a stoker. The official winner was Albert Lemaître, who drove a 3hp petrol-engined Peugeot.
Soon after that, motor racing started to spread throughout the world, and the first American automobile race was held in Chicago on 28 November 1895.
Initially, races were held on public roads, but as vehicles became faster, safety concerns resulted in a ban on racing. To remedy this problem, races moved to purpose-built race circuits. The first one was Brooklands in the UK, which was opened in 1907. Racing stopped there on the outbreak of WWII when the site was used again for aircraft manufacturing.
Soon afterward, in 1909, the US unveiled their first racetrack, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is still in use.