Indiana State University Newsroom

Indy 100: New class combines century of racing, U.S. history

May 9, 2011

As Indiana State University student Neil Stough perused the schedule of classes for last semester, a class about American history caught his eye. But that's not all that was involved.

"Then the motorsports sold me," he said.

Stough was a student in a class that combined U.S. history with the history of motorsports in the 20th century. Joyce Young, director of ISU's motorsports program, and history professor Lisa Phillips co-taught the new class, which was specifically created this past spring semester to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the first running of the Indianapolis 500.

"For a first time out, I can't believe how organized they've got it," Stough said. "It's challenging. You have to be there in class, you have to read, you have to study in order to keep up with the class, but they arranged it that way."

Young had the idea to create the hybrid class. Since she specializes in motorsports, she approached the history department with the idea. Phillips expressed interest in teaching it, and the course was born.

"She loves everything there is to love about motorsports," Phillips said of Young, "and so her enthusiasm really helped bring us on board."

Young explained the racing elements of the class, while Phillips taught about broader U.S. history. At the end of each class, they would ask students an essay question about what they learned during the session.

"We take the different developments, changes and occurrences that are going on in racing in any given decade, and look to see if that is mirroring what is going on in U.S. history, and vice versa," Young said.

In the class, they taught how events in the course of racing history in the 20th century paralleled events in American society. The class read "Hard Driving," a book about Wendell Scott, an African-American driver who raced in NASCAR during a time when the country was segregated. The class learned about how Scott endured segregation during an era when many African-Americans in the U.S. experienced similar hardships.

The class also learned about Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify and race in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 races. In late April, Guthrie even visited ISU to speak to the students and give a public presentation about her experience. Brian Donovan, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who wrote the book about the now-deceased Scott, also visited ISU during the semester.

There were times during their careers when Scott and Guthrie both feared for their safety, Young said. "There is a lot of overlap in terms of what they had to face," she added.

Students didn't just learn from events on campus. In April, the class toured the Hall of Fame Museum of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the historic racetrack that hosts the Indianapolis 500. Donald Davidson, the historian of the speedway, led the tour, which was after the museum closed to the public. He explained different aspects of history that students have learned about in the class.

The museum also displayed many of the cars that had won each Indy 500 since the race first began.

"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this collection of cars since many belong in private collections," Young said. "The museum had made a great effort to obtain each for the special showing to celebrate this special year in Indy 500 history. From a highlight standpoint, it was extremely interesting to see how the cars had evolved over time throughout the decades."

Students also learned from Morgan Lucas and Shawn Langdon of the National Hot Rod Association. Scott Smith, director of public relations at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, and Dick Jordan, vice president of communications for the United States Auto Club, also visited the class.

Phillips and Young hoped that by combining motorsports and history, the class would appeal to students interested in either subject while also introducing them more in-depth to the additional material.

More than 50 students enrolled in the course, which was taught once a week. The class had a diverse mix of students, Stough said.

"Everybody has to get something out of it," he said. "Everybody has to be able to take history and correlate it into motorsports of that era."

Since the class premiered for the first time last semester, Young and Phillips weren't sure if students would learn the parallels between U.S. and motorsports history. Yet Phillips discovered that students sometimes learned those lessons even better than the professors intended.

"That's the beauty of it, is that Dr. Young and I don't always know what's going to come out of class at the end of the night," Phillips said, "and we told the students that, and so they're as much a part of making those connections as we are, and it's really fun."

Photo: (Submitted Photo)
Indiana State University student Scheyanna White poses in a car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. White attended a class that taught the past 100 years of motorsports in conjunction with a century of U.S. History. The class was taught to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the first running of the Indianapolis 500.

Photo: (Submitted Photo)
Joyce Young, director of motorsports studies program at Indiana State University, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson and ISU history professor Lisa Phillips at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. Young and Phillips taught a class that received a private tour from Davidson. The class was taught to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the first running of the Indianapolis 500.

Photo: (ISU/Holley Hiett-Myers)
Legendary racecar driver Janet Guthrie speaks to a class of Indiana State students. Guthrie's visit was part of a class that taught the past 100 years of motorsports history in conjunction with U.S. history. The class was taught to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the first running of the Indianapolis 500.

Contact: Joyce Young, director of motorsports studies program, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2000 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or