Inside the IMS Photo Library

This May 21, 2019, photo shows a proof sheet of photo negatives housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Photo Library in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
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SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WTHR) - In a quiet suite on the second floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, you'll find yourself surrounded by more than a hundred years of history a lot of people don't realize is available to the public.

It's the IMS Photo Library, where Michael Roth plays caretaker to more than 5 million images from the speedway's century of life.

"It's an amazing historical archive we have here that really is priceless," Roth told WTHR.com as he gave us a tour of the archive. "It tells so much of the story, the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway right here and we're oftentimes kind of a little-known secret."

Roth personally doesn't have a favorite because "it's so hard to pick one favorite photo out of 5 million," but one of the most commonly requested pictures is of 1953 winner Bill Vukovich as he sits atop a table recovering after one of the hottest runnings of the Indy 500 on record with track temperatures hitting 130 degrees. The second photo that came to mind literally takes you back to the beginnings of the Speedway itself. Often called "The Vision," it shows the first-ever pole sitter, Lewis Strang, looking down at a chalk outline representing the speedway. He was there with Carl Fisher, one of the track's founders, for a newspaper interview discussing Fisher's long-term plans for the track.

This WTHR photo shows two of the most-requested pictures from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Photo Library archives.

The archival team has three full-time photographers, including Roth, plus two full-time archivists. If you visit and want a print of a picture that hasn't been digitized, one of those archivists can get it scanned for you and print it off in a variety of sizes. Most ask for an 8x10 they can carry out with them, but Roth said he once did a mural at someone's home that was closer to six-feet by ten-feet.

Out of the roughly 5.1 million pictures in the archive, close to 3 million are on some kind of film (e.g. 8x10 glass negatives, 35mm, 4x5) and roughly 100,000 of those have been digitized. Before digital when it was all on film, the public had no option but to look through printed proof sheets of negatives and other hard-copy archives.

Now, even with digital - some people still just prefer the old way.

"Surprisingly enough with the Digital Age, in 2019, we still have people who just want to touch the books," Roth said.

You may even run into your favorite driver while you're there. Roth said just during his time with the archives, Tony George, Roger Penske, Tony Kanaan and Mario Andretti have all come in. Even if you don't run into someone famous, you could still overhear some great stories.

"The customers themselves have decades of stories they can tell, and they like to reminisce," he said.

A photo of Sage Karam hangs on the wall of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
Pictures of every driver who competed in the 103 Running of the Indianapolis 500 are seen hanging on the wall of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows a photograph often called "The Vision," in which Lewis Strang, the first-ever Indianapolis 500 pole sitter, looks down at a chalk outline representing the Speedway as part of a discussion of the track's future. (WTHR Photo)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows a photograph of Bill Vukovich after winning the 1953 Indianapolis 500 - one of the hottest runnings of the 500 on record - as he recovers from the heat. (WTHR Photo)
Computer stations are set up inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind., to help visitors search the archives for the photo they want to see, May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
More than 5 million photographs recording the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are stored in a Halon-protected room in the IMS Photo Library at the IMS Musuem in Speedway, Ind., seen here May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows 4x5-format negatives stored in sleeves at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Musuem in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
A 4x5-format photographic negative is seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
Michael Roth, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum photo retail manager, holds up a glass negative stored at the IMS Photo Library in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
Michael Roth, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum photo retail manager, holds up a glass negative stored at the IMS Photo Library in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
Photos of past Indianapolis 500 racers are seen in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind., May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
Some older sections of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo Library at the IMS Museum are cataloged on note cards that explain where the photos can be found and what they show. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows a card catalog with information on non-digitized photos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Musuem Photo Library in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows volumes of proof sheets of photographic negatives of every picture taken at some of the first runnings of the Indianapolis 500, housed in the IMS Photo Library at the IMS Museum in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
A book of photos from the 22nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1934 by F.M. Kirkpatrick, housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in Speedway, Ind., seen here May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
A book of photos from the 22nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1934 by F.M. Kirkpatrick, housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in Speedway, Ind., seen here May 21, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows a picture taken by F.M. Kirkpatrick at the 22nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1934 housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Photo Library in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)
This May 21, 2019, photo shows a proof sheet of photo negatives housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Photo Library in Speedway, Ind. (WTHR Photo/Evan Hoffmeyer)