19 August 1978

In Iran, the Cinema Rex fire causes more than 400 deaths.

The 1978 Cinema Rex fire in Iran was a tragic incident where a cinema in Abadan was set ablaze, leading to over 400 deaths. It is believed to be a politically motivated act that exacerbated tensions before the Iranian Revolution.

19 August 1909

The first car race takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On this day in 19 August 1909, the first race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, now the home of the world’s most famous motor racing competition, the Indianapolis 500.

Built on 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of Indianapolis, Indiana, the speedway was started by local businessmen as a testing facility for Indiana’s growing automobile industry. The idea was that occasional races at the track would pit cars from different manufacturers against each other. After seeing what these cars could do, spectators would presumably head down to the showroom of their choice to get a closer look.

The rectangular two-and-a-half-mile track linked four turns, each exactly 440 yards from start to finish, by two long and two short straight sections. In that first five-mile race on August 19, 1909, 12,000 spectators watched Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer win with an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour. The track’s surface of crushed rock and tar proved a disaster, breaking up in a number of places and causing the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators.

The surface was soon replaced with 3.2 million paving bricks, laid in a bed of sand and fixed with mortar. Dubbed “The Brickyard,” the speedway reopened in December 1909. In 1911, low attendance led the track’s owners to make a crucial decision: Instead of shorter races, they resolved to focus on a single, longer event each year, for a much larger prize. That May 30 marked the debut of the Indy 500–a grueling 500-mile race that was an immediate hit with audiences and drew press attention from all over the country. Driver Ray Haroun won the purse of $14,250, with an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has been held every year, with the exception of 1917-18 and 1942-45, when the United States was involved in the two world wars. With an average crowd of 400,000, the Indy 500 is the best-attended event in U.S. sports. In 1936, asphalt was used for the first time to cover the rougher parts of the track, and by 1941 most of the track was paved. The last of the speedway’s original bricks were covered in 1961, except for a three-foot line of bricks left exposed at the start-finish line as a nostalgic reminder of the track’s history.

19 August 1934

The first All American Soap Box Derby is held in Dayton, Ohio.


The first Soap Box Derby was organized by Myron E. “Scottie” Scott, a news photographer for the Dayton Daily News in 1933 and was held on Hilltop Avenue in Oakwood, Ohio (suburban Dayton). Nineteen boys and nineteen race cars showed up.

Sensing the enormous interest, Scott secured sponsors for a larger effort. When the event was expanded, it was moved to Burkhardt Avenue near Smithville Road in Dayton, Ohio. On Saturday, August 19, 1933, 362 kids, aged 6-16, showed up with homemade cars built of wooden crates, sheet tin, wagon and baby-buggy wheels to race in soap box vehicles they built themselves.

The 1934 event took on national stature when champions from 34 other cities came to Dayton to compete. Put up at the Van Cleve Hotel, they were the toast of the town for three days. There were parties, a banquet and theater outings. Wild Bill Cummings, the Indy 500 winner, took part in the celebration, as did Jimmy Mattern, the round-the-world flyer. Renowned NBC radio man, Graham McNamee, broadcast the race live and Mayor Charles J. Brennan made a flying trip down the Burkhardt Hill course.

After the Dayton Championship, there was an Ohio Championship, then the All American Soap Box Derby and, finally, a Blue Flame Championship for kids 16 to 18 with advanced cars. Prizes included everything from college scholarships to a three-day trip to the World’s Fair in Chicago, a small, powered Custer Car with a 1/2 horsepower engine, box cameras, radios and Babe Ruth bats and balls.

The Dayton winner was 13- year-old Jack Collopy, whose salvage yard creation included baby-buggy wheels, gags-pipe axles greased with lard and a clothesline steering system. The national winner was Robert Turner of Muncie, Ind., who made his car from the wood of a saloon bar.

A year later, the race moved to Akron, Scott got a public relations job with Chevrolet and later named the Corvette.

19 August 1934


The first championship Soap Box Derby is held in Dayton, Ohio.

The Soap Box is a youth soapbox car racing program which has been running in United States since 1934. Each July, the World Championship finals are held at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. Cars competing in this event are are unpowered and it relies completely upon the gravity to move.

The All-American Soap Box derby began the Rally World Championship in 1993. The Rally derby is a grand prix style of race in which each district sends back a number of champions based on number of racers and races in each district. Today there are broader categories that extend the age range to younger racers and permit adults to assist in construction. This is especially helpful for younger children who cannot use power tools, as well as to provide an outlet for adults.