As a relatively new IndyCar fan, I first attended the Indy 500 in May of 2018. 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 offers more than a weekend’s 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)? 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!
You Should Expect Unpredictable Spring 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 sporadically raining. Monitor the forecast regularly before you leave for Indianapolis and pack accordingly. I recommend dressing in layers!
You Should Expect to Camp Out for the Most Fun
Okay, so you can stay at a hotel if you want to, 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.
You Should Expect Parking to Take Awhile
If you don’t camp out 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 to have a practical walk from your parking spot to the track. The surrounding neighborhood offers street parking and paid yard parking to a lucky few, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that you might have to walk over a mile 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.
You Should Expect to Plan a Full Weekend Trip
Unless you have to work, I recommend taking a weekend-long trip to get the most out of your first Indy 500. If you really want the full experience, you retire and stay the whole month! All jokes aside, there are events at the track or in town almost every day during the week leading up to the race. You’ll at least want to be at the track to kick off Memorial Day weekend with Carb Day on Friday!
You Should Expect to Know Who's-Who on the Track
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 help you enjoy 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 legend, you’re going to want to keep track of at least a few cars during the race. Up to 33 cars can be on the track on race day, so you have plenty of candidates to root for.
You Should Expect to Meet Your Favorite Drivers
If you think IndyCar drivers are as impossible to meet as, say, NFL stars, you are thankfully mistaken. Thanks to fan sessions held at every IndyCar race, you can expect to get an autograph or picture with your favorite IndyCar driver. 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 pick strategically to ensure you meet the person you’ll be rooting for on race day!
You Should Expect Lots of Red, White, and Blue
You better believe you’ll see a lot of red, white, and blue at this race. My best description of the Indy 500 is that it feels like “the heartbeat of America.” You’ll also experience another type of “freedom celebration” when you visit the track on Friday. 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 to catch a glimpse of IndyCar’s rising stars!
You Can Expect to Bring Your Cooler Through Security
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 or leave your cooler in the car. 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!
You Can Expect a 7AM Party on Sunday Morning
It’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve never attended 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 and party going on in the center of the track during the race. It’s called the “Snake Pit”… and the party begins at 7AM! 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 and more!
You Should Expect a Life-Changing Experience
I started crying when Jim Cornelison sang “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The moment I fell in love with the Indy 500 for good, though, was the first time I heard one of the cars zoom by at 200+ mph. 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. Keep in mind that you are witnessing history being made, whatever the outcome.