The Indianapolis department store,* When, commissioned Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, to address the sky above the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1920, the year the famous race instituted the four-lap qualification test, that became known as “time trials,” conducted over the several preceding weekends leading up to the 500-mile main event. After applying his craft, Art Smith, would circle above the racetrack as the lone automobile completed the timed circuit and the vapor of the original message, exhausted, dissipated. If his fuel allowed, the aviator would commence to reapply the commercial message in the freshening Indiana spring air, tracing the washed out shadows of the previous attempt.




* The promotion was so successful that other Indianapolis department stores hired Art Smith to skywrite over the Circle City. These included Wm. H. Block Co.:

b l o c k

And L. Strauss & Co.:

L S & C

As well as L.S. Ayes & Co., famously misspelling it:

L S  A i r e s

Correcting it immediately, Smith improvised an impromptu flyby, drafting the dot above the i into the long articulated armature of the Y in his wake:

L S  A Y r e s



Michael Martone is currently a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Alabama where he has been teaching since 1996. His most recent books are: Four for a Quarter; Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fiction from the Flyover; Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins, a collection of essays; and, Double-wide, his collected early stories.

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