I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know who Carl G Fisher was until a couple years ago. My buddy Dan Ripley turned me on to him. He kept going on about everything Carl had done- the Speedway, Indy 500, Prest-O-Lite, the Lincoln Highway, (the first transcontinental highway) the Dixie Highway, Miami Beach, Montauk Bay… it seemed impossible that one guy could have been responsible for so much and yet known so little. If you think I’m making this up then check out his Wikipedia page.
So I dug in and Dan’s obsession became mine. I read a biography over vacation and then another when I got back. I began to see something very specific in Carl’s life, something, perhaps, unique to Indianapolis.
Carl never cared much about recognition, despite being a brilliant marketer, he hated being in the spotlight and rarely gave interviews. But this didn't stop him from pulling brilliant marketing stunts when needed. See the picture above from the Indy Star when he flew a car across the city attached to a hot air balloon to promote his auto-dealership (the first in the state). For Carl it was always about the idea. He loved cars, planes, boats...anything that went fast, he was obsessed with speed.
He left his name on none of his achievements. Carl served whatever idea captured his attention and felt that any focus on him was a waste of time. That being said, he had one of the most interesting personalities of his time. Stubborn and persistent, charming when needed, whatever it took to get something done.
I see so much of that entrepreneurial DNA still bouncing around Indy. People coming together to do great things, not worrying about the credit. I see this spirit alive in many Indianapolis entrepreneurs and residents. Sometimes we chide ourselves for our lack of ego but I suggest we look at the life Carl lived as an example of a deeply passionate and impactful life in the service of big ideas, not big egos.
I urge you to take some time and get to know Carl, he’s someone well worth obsessing over.