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Speedway Tour Blog: The Famous Tomato

The Famous Tomato is a must-stop for every visitor to Speedway.

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Take a look at downtown Speedway, and if you haven't visited, in say, five years or so, you will be hard-pressed to recognize it. 

Speedway is a developer's dream with ambitious plans to bring new life to the Marion County town, while retaining it's history and uniqueness. Racing team owner Ed Carpenter, whose first memories go back to this small town, loves what is happening here.

"I remember back when there's a Steak 'n Shake on 16th, and that was where you could go eat after a day at the track. And now, the way Main Street’s developed, you've got barbecue, and Sarah (Fisher) built her facility over there which has pizza place now. Big Woods is obviously a great place. You've got the Daredevil brewery. There's just been a ton of development, and three race shops over there now between Bryan Herta (who) still has an operation on Main Street," Carpenter said. "So just a really cool, cool project. And hopefully, they finish that hotel at some point. And yet, this will kind of cap it off."

Credit: WTHR

Ed, his team and I enjoyed lunch at, perhaps, Speedway's most unusual place — The Famous Tomato.

It is in Speedway but not part of the new development. In fact, The Famous Tomato harkens back to another time. Step inside, and you'll see almost every type of soft drink known to man. In addition, candy from every part of the country can be found here. 

The owner, Mike Ray, is completely hands-on and fights hard to make this 10th Street staple succeed. In the recession of 2008, he lost a 39-year-old business in Avon, and he wants to make sure customers keep coming back.

"I've grown up here. My mom grew up here. My grandpa and grandma. So basically, I'm from here, I didn't live here forever. But I've lived here probably the last 40 years. And one day on the way home from the old farm market, I saw this was empty," Ray said. "And like I said, this used to be a Village Pantry. I called him and ended up buying it off Marsh before they closed. We started the old farm market express. I just thought it'd be great to be close to home and have something here in Speedway, so that's why I did it."

Credit: WTHR

True, many customers enjoy satisfying their sweet tooth with candies and soft drinks, but the real draw here is the "world famous" salad bar. The bar has been a lunch destination for years for Speedway workers and racing teams. 

Ed Carpenter and I enjoyed our salad bar lunch with his racing team outdoors on a picnic table, but the COVID-19 pandemic made some necessary changes to The Famous Tomato procedure — a change that has stayed to this day.

"It used to be self-serve. It was almost like a hot crap table in Vegas. I mean, there's unlimited, everybody wants to be on that table, and it was so crowded. When COVID hit, for us to stay open, we designed it to where we would serve your salad. You just walk around, tell us what you want in it. Well, we were open the whole time through COVID. None of us here had COVID," Ray said. "It's a lot cleaner. It is a different world people are, you know, more concerned — and it works better for us. We can keep it cleaner. Things don't get cross-contaminated where people put stuff back. Nobody's fingering stuff, trying it, sampling it. I mean, so it does work better."

Credit: WTHR

Customers pay by the pound, and serving customers really does work as the lunch crowd can get through the line quicker. 

For the folks who make this stop for lunch every day, The Famous Tomato staff is like a family, and they keep that sense of community that makes Speedway so special. The store is an oasis of familiarity and home in a changing world. 

The Famous Tomato is a must-visit for every visitor to Speedway.

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