If you would have asked me three years ago to tell you anything about the Indy 500, I’d probably respond with a firm “I don’t know,” and then quickly follow-up with “except that it’s 500 laps.” I couldn’t even tell an IndyCar from a NASCAR! Thankfully, I know a little bit more about the Indy 500 these days (pro tip: it’s 500 miles, not laps) and even had the opportunity to attend the race myself!
If you’ve ever considered making the journey to Indianapolis for the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ I highly encourage you to go for it. The world’s largest single-day sporting event actually offers a weekend’s (or month’s, depending on how dedicated you are) worth of activities and culminates in one of the most exciting left-turn only races you’ll ever see.
What should you expect during your first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) during the month of May? I’m glad you asked! We’ll start with the logistical stuff first and then get into all of the best parts of the event!
Indy 500 Expectation 1: Unpredictable Weather
Outdoor events are always weather dependent, but late Spring in the Midwest is one of those weird times where it could be 40 degrees or 90 degrees, ridiculously windy or excessively rainy. Monitor the forecast regularly before you leave and pack accordingly.
Indy 500 Expectation 2: Country Accommodations
Okay, so you can stay at a hotel if you want to (and since I was tagging along with Tyler’s family, I did), but the real fun happens when you camp out near the track. There are tons of sites to set up your camper or tent, including the yards of local residents! The culture of the sport is such that you’re always making new friends with the person next to you or sharing the stuff in your cooler. It’s this casual, friendly atmosphere that makes me love country sports so much. Sure, you can see downtown Indianapolis from the grandstands, but the suburbs definitely turn country here throughout the month of May.
Indy 500 Expectation 3: Parking is Going to Take Some Time
If you don’t camp near the track, you’re going to have to commute. Given the lack of parking structures in the area and the fact that race day attendance will total more than 300,000, you need to arrive bright and early if you want to be able to have a practical walk from your parking spot to the track. The neighborhood surrounding it offers street parking and paid yard parking to a lucky few, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that you will likely have to walk over a mile from where you park if you’re not the first to arrive. Tyler’s parents made a deal with a local couple on Saturday to save us a paid spot in their yard on Sunday, so I highly recommend making some friends and striking a similar deal to save yourself some hassle.
Indy 500 Expectation 4: Plan for a Weekend
Look, if you’re going to make the most of this experience, you need to be in town the whole weekend. If you really want the full experience, you retire and stay the whole month! All jokes aside, there are events happening nearly every day starting with Indy 500 qualifying the weekend before the race. You’ll at least want to be around to kick off Memorial Day weekend with Carb Day on Friday!
Indy 500 Expectation 5: You Need to Know Your Drivers
The Indy 500 is a cool race no matter how much you really know who’s who on the track, but doing your research (and becoming a fan) is what’s going to keep you engaged for all 200 laps. You might find a racer whose journey in the sport stands out to you or a team whose history you can’t help but respect. Whether you’re rooting for a rookie or a seasoned veteran, you’re going to want to be able to pick out at least a few of those colored dots you see darting by you at over 200 miles per hour! Up to 33 cars can be on the track on race day, so you have plenty of candidates to root for.
Indy 500 Expectation 6: You Can Meet the Drivers!
If you think IndyCar drivers are as impossible to meet as, say, NFL stars, you are thankfully mistaken. Fan sessions scheduled at the track allow you to say hi to your favorite drivers and ask for an autograph or a picture. Even though the Indy 500 fan session will undoubtedly have the highest attendance of any race this season, arrive early and you should get a good place in line. Historically, there have been different lines to meet different drivers, so be sure to pick strategically to ensure you meet the person you’ll be rooting for at the race!
Indy 500 Expectation 7: Prepare to Celebrate Freedom
You better believe you’ll see a lot of red, white, and blue at this race, but you’ll also want to experience another kind of freedom. The Indy Lights series is the final stop that up and coming drivers make on their “Road to Indy,” and the Freedom 100 is how they make their debut at IMS. Many of the drivers you will see in Sunday’s Indy 500 race are successful graduates of this program, so you’ll want to be around for this race to catch a glimpse of IndyCar’s next rising stars! The race takes place on Friday afternoon and is a great way to get your adrenaline pumping for Sunday’s race!
Indy 500 Expectation 8: You Can Leave the Clear Purse at Home
While IMS still has event security at all entrances to ensure the safety of spectators, you don’t have to worry about them asking you to throw away that new bottle of water you just bought. Food and beverages are allowed at the track, though coolers are obviously still subject to search. There are some rules about how large your cooler can be; be sure to visit the event website for specifics. Since you will be at the track nearly all day on Sunday, this is the perfect way to store all of your snacks (you’ll want a lot of them) and save some money on your trip!
Indy 500 Expectation 9: Prepare for a Rager... on Sunday Morning
I am willing to bet that you’ve never been asked to attend a crazy party on a Sunday morning. What you might not know about the Indy 500 event is that there is actually a massive concert series and party going on in the center of the track, called the “Snake Pit”… and the party begins at 7:00 AM! If you always turn down invites from your friends to go out because you’re a morning person, this is your opportunity to get lit on your schedule. Even if you’re not going to be raging in the Snake Pit, Sunday morning is packed full of events you’ll want to be around to watch, from the Borg-Warner trophy’s march to the bricks to historic race car laps to the green flag!
Indy 500 Expectation 10: This is Going to Be Awesome
Wow, you guys. I know 500 miles may sound like a lot, but you will be on the edge of your seat for the whole race. The moment I fell in love with IndyCar for good was the first time I heard one of the cars zoom by at 200+ mph and I promise you it’s a sound you’ll never forget. Wear ear plugs if you must, but don’t block out anything else about this incredible day. You can tell from the way the drivers talk about this race to the 300,000-plus people in attendance that this event is Indiana’s pride and joy, so just keep in mind that you are witnessing history being made, whatever the outcome.
Have you been to the Indy 500? What was your experience? I’d love to hear all your favorite IndyCar memories in the comments below! Click here to learn about Wisconsin’s own version of the “Indy 500” event.