The pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the morning of the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2023. (IndyCar photo)

Indy Traditions: The Pagoda

Pagodas are very ancient architecture of Asian origin. They began as a place of worship, most commonly Buddhist, or at least a place to house sacred relics. 

Sometimes festivals were held at the pagodas and sometimes these festivals included horse races. 

Many years later the tradition of pagodas was recreated in the New World as small buildings to house officials for horse races at fairgrounds tracks. 

1913 Pagoda
The original Indianapolis Motor Speedway pagoda shown in 1913. (IMS photo)

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s pagoda follows this tradition. The Panasonic Pagoda, which was completed in 2000, replaced the glass-and-steel master-control tower, which was built during the winter of 1956-’57. Prior to that time a Japanese-style pagoda had occupied the spot. In fact, there were two of them, the first being built in time for the 1913 500 and serving through 1925. It housed the press, timing and scoring, prominent officials and VIP guests and, toward the end of its run, a radio broadcast booth. 

Because it stood fairly close to the edge of the track, it was replaced with a new version a few yards further back in 1926.

The current building, which has 10 stories and rises to the height of a 13-story building, has a subtle suggestion of the old pagodas designed into it for nostalgia’s sake.