The roar, the vibration, the Memorial Day sunshine, heating up two and a half miles of asphalt and 400,000 people. Can it be anything but the Indianapolis 500?
One of the world’s most famous car races takes over the capital city of Indianapolis, and much of Indiana, for the entire month of May. 500 Fever bubbles over into the parade, the festival and even the tortoise races at the Indianapolis Zoo.
This year’s race is set for May 26.
Pack your sunblock, hat and earplugs—we’re off to the races.
Some people avoid the Indy 500, fearing it’s too big, too hot, too noisy, too raunchy in the infield. Yes, all that’s true, but it’s manageable mayhem. And a true American experience.
An estimated 400,000 people converge on the Speedway during the spectacle on Memorial Day weekend, so there may be 400,000 different race-day plans--although the people passed out on the lawns don’t look like long-range planning types.
Here are some neophyte tips, along with suggestions from Indy 500 veterans, that might make the experience run as smoothly as an eight-second pit stop.
Well, there’s no denying the scope of the race, continuously touted as the largest one-day spectacle in sport. The track has 250,000 permanent seats and room for another 100,000-plus in the infield.
Not to mention the size of the Speedway itself: The largest spectator sporting facility in the world. Try to imagine Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, Rose Bowl, Wimbledon Campus, Vatican City and the Roman Coliseum all tucked inside its 2½-mile oval.
Most people are planted in their seats, seeing just their fraction of the track. But you can roam a bit, popping up to see the perspective from another angle now and then.
Heading to the track, some people consider crawling inch by inch in steaming gridlock part of the experience; they are glad to pay homeowners $10 to $20 to park in their front lawns. Others would rather have oral surgery, and so take the bus in from lots around Indianapolis. There are three park-and-ride options downtown and two at the airport.
The race day can soar into the 90s. And it can feel even hotter, surrounded by all those people and all that asphalt.
Spare a thought, too, for the drivers—the track can reach 130 degrees. In 2006, poor Brazilian driver Vitor Meira ran the entire three hours and 10 minutes without one drop of water when his water bottle system failed.
Emergency workers often treat more than 400 people, most for heat exhaustion. So, the moral is to stay hydrated throughout the day, and take and find as much sun protection as you can. Sunscreen and a hat are musts.
Some of the more expensive reserved seats have backs and cover from the midday Hoosier sun. Fans with general admission tickets can pop beneath the sprinklers under the straightaway grandstands, or stand in front of the misting fans in the infield.
Some people bring their own small battery-powered fans, others spritz themselves with water from plastic bottles with fan tops. By the end of the day, it’s not unusual to see people loading their hats with ice and squashing them back on their heads.
No question, an Indy car hitting 230 mph is going to let you know it’s coming. And going. Is it the shrill buzz of a demented hornet as the cars take a curve? The roar of a furious lion on the straightaways? There aren’t enough animals in the zoo to describe the din.
So, time for earplugs, at the very least. Lots of fans rent radio headsets to block the track noise while letting them eavesdrop on drivers, their spotters and team members.
Too raunchy in the infield?
Absolutely. Like Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” and the victor swilling icy milk from a bottle, the loose, lewd infield is Indy tradition.
Generations of women have heard that same chant, “Show us your ----” from generations of intoxicated men. Inexplicably, some women oblige.
But it’s possible to spend the entire day at the track and never see the infield up close. For most race goers, walking back to their cars or bus stops is enough of a revelation, passing couples in the grass and drinkers passed out in the heat.
Some of the extracurricular activity is just playful, too, like the teenagers splashing in the fountain near the Hall of Fame Museum at the Speedway. Some of them never see one lap of the race or any car but the one they rode in to Indy, but they’re sunburned and happy all the same.
When You Go
The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for May 26. 317-492-6747; 800-822-4639 for tickets.
For more information about Indianapolis, 800-323-4639.