Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis 500
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Indianapolis Motor Speedway 4790 W 16th St Indianapolis, IN 46222
Indianapolis Motor Speedway website
Year Opened: 1909
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing
The Indianapolis 500 might be the most famous race here in the United States and perhaps on the planet. The annual race takes place the Sunday before Memorial Day and attracts an international audience to the city of Indianapolis. Record numbers of fans flock to the 2.5-mile oval track and create an atmosphere that many will talk about for the rest of their lives. The annual numbers produce crowds of close to 250,000.
The Indy 500 is considered the crown jewel of the Indy Car season and has become an American tradition. The weeks leading up to the race include various events including Pole Day, Bump Day, Fast Friday, and Post-qualifying practice at the Brickyard. Carb Day, sponsored by Miller Lite, features live music concerts on the last day of practice for the drivers and takes place on Friday; it’s considered the biggest event at the track before the race. Other events away from the track include the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon and IPL 500 Festival Parade downtown.
The complex was built in 1909 as a gravel and tar track that hosted a selection of small events. These events would attract large numbers from anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 and by the next season, $155,000 was spent to repave the track with 3.2 million bricks, each weighing 9.5 pounds, in 63 days. A 2-foot by 9-inch concrete wall around its perimeter was also added before the start of the season.
On Memorial Day (known as Declaration Day from 1868-1967) 1910 the first events on the updated track drew an outstanding 60,000 spectators to the track. Crowd sizes would thin out throughout the season at the track and the decision was made to focus on a single, large-scale event that would soon attract the attention of both American and European racing teams and manufacturers.
On Tuesday, May 30, 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 was staged and won by Ray Harroun who came out of retirement and capture the $25,000 purse in his Marmon Wasp. Since that day, the Indianapolis 500 has been held annually except from 1917 to 1918 and 1942 and 1945 due to World War I and II.
The brick track would be eventually paved with asphalt except for a middle portion of the front straightaway by 1938. According to its website, in October 1961, the remaining bricks on the front straightaway were covered with asphalt. A 36-inch strip of the original bricks was kept intact at the start/finish line, where it remains today as the fabled Yard of Bricks.
Food & Beverage 4
The carnival-like atmosphere produces similar food products that include the traditional giant turkey legs that sell close to 1,000 the weekend of the race, followed by the giant breaded tenderloin sandwich that can feed up to three people. Others prefer the basic track burger, but there are still copious amounts of race track foods to satisfy the masses who embark upon it every year.
There are pork skewers, Italian and Polish sausages, grilled pork chops, giant fried chicken fingers on a stick, and pulled pork sandwiches. If you are a traditionalist, there are hot dogs — over 27,000 served at last year’s event — along with an assortment of beer and cola options. A few newer beer options include Hinchtown Hammerdown pilsner released by local Flat 12 and Race Day Lager brewed nearby at Daredevil Brewing Company.
Fans are allowed to bring in their own food, and beer including. You are allowed to bring in an 18 x 14 x 14-inch cooler to the race. Glass bottles are not allowed inside the track. Something else that should not be brought in is whole peanuts, they are considered bad luck at the 500.
The gates open the day of the race at 6 am with the traditional blasting of the cannons, if you happen to be there at this time you are smart, while others are fighting traffic into the area, you have the opportunity to enjoy many of the events inside the track before the race. This includes everything from possible celebrity sightings, museum tours, and plenty of shopping and eating.
The IMS museum is open and features exhibits, cars, and plenty of memorabilia from the track's illustrious history. The midway offers more exhibits, plus virtual reality simulators and go-karts, and there are plenty of pre-race ceremonies that include the marching of the Borg-Warner Trophy to the bricks and red carpet arrivals.
The weather is usually very hot this time of year so dress lightly, wear sunscreen, and drink plenty of water. IMS has set up five different cooling buses and 75 mist sprayers around the track for fans to gain some relief from the sun.
There is a collection of events leading up to the race that includes the singing of the National Anthem, ‘America the Beautiful,” “Back Home Again in Indiana” followed by the command of “Drivers, start your engines.” This also includes the playing of “Taps,” hundreds of balloons sent off into the skies above, and a flyover by a U.S. military plane.
Main Street in Speedway has received a major facelift in the last few years resulting in multiple restaurants, breweries, and entertainment options. 1911 Grill offers 300 seats that overlook two indoor kart tracks offering American pub fare. It is owned by former IndyCar Series driver Sarah Fisher and her husband. Bourbon and Barbecue serve smoked Memphis-style brisket and pork over cherry, hickory, and oak while offering an impressive collection of fine bourbon.
Big Woods and Daredevil Brewing are two local breweries that are popular among many locals. Big Woods originated out of Nashville, Indiana, and is known for their pulled pork nachos and Quaff ON! amber beer. Daredevil is a 10,000-square-foot taproom that produces German-style ales and lagers and American pale ale and IPA.
The Indianapolis 500 attracts an estimated audience of around 230,000–highlighted by a sold-out crowd at the 100th annual race in 2016. The popularity has not waned locally as many have been attending the event since they can remember. The crowd is friendly, laid-back, and in great spirits. It would be hard to find a single person who is not welcoming to any visitor to the track on race day.
The IMS track is the largest sporting venue in the world and getting around the track can be a hike for many, but then again there is so much to see and many enjoy staying in one spot once the race has begun. When exiting the track one has to have the patience of Jobe, because it will take some time to exit. Local police do an admiral job of directing traffic back onto 16th Street/Crawfordsville Road and towards I-465. One option is to take a shuttle bus from either the airport, IUPUI campus, or downtown for a $37 round trip.
Return on Investment 5
The cost of a ticket to the race is as low as $35 leading up to the day before the race, it will cost $5 extra the day of the event. Other ticket options range from $60 to $135 for seats closer to certain turns and areas.
When it comes to parking all interior and exterior lots are sold out years in advance, but the surrounding residents will gladly charge anywhere from $20-$30 (average) to park on their lawn, driveways, or even on the street in front of their houses. There may be a few homes that charge a bit more, but make sure you have cash.
The Snake Pit is a concert line featuring popular EDM heavyweights who perform in the infield of the IMS oval during the race but it will cost $55 before the race to enter the concert area. However, it’s one heck of a good time and if you enjoy the blend of house, disco, hip-hop, and techno, this is the place to be on race day.
The IMS website does encourage fans to purchase tickets in advance to receive the best possible pricing. If you are planning on taking the race next year, you will save on many specials through the website.
The Indy 500 has plenty of extras that include a list of traditions and pre-race events, unlike any other event in the country. The facility gets one point for the various activities that include the Midway, Parade of Bands, and shopping and food areas before the race. If you arrive at 6 am when the track opens, you get to take advantage before the crowd swells.
The track gets a second point for the famous command of “Drivers, start your engines” which is usually said by a member of the Hulman-George family since 1955. For many years until recently, the command was “Gentleman, start your engines.”
The world's largest drum makes an appearance at the Indy 500, Photo by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
The third point is for the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” which has been a staple at the race since 1946. From 1972-2014 actor Jim Nabors sang the honors with the Purdue Marching Band, following his death, Chicago Blackhawks anthem singer Jim Cornelison has taken over the mantle.
A fourth point for the traditions that include the winning driver drinking a bottle of milk at the victory lane first started in 1936 and revived again in 1954. There have been times when drivers did not drink milk, much to the chagrin of many in attendance.
A fifth point is of the excitement and ambiance that the 500 still provides each year; the event is the largest single-day event in the country and still attracts an impressive 200,000 fans for the race each year.
If you have an event that you can attend once in your life, the Indianapolis 500 is one of those events. The sights and sounds of this are spectacular and are something to revel in and it offers something for even the non-racing fan like myself.
------ Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel. Email at Marc.Viquez@stadiumjourney.com