A profile of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ — The Indianapolis 500
Each year, hundreds of thousands of patrons make their way to Indianapolis Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend for the Indianapolis 500. Approaching its’ 101st running, the 500 has grown in tradition and impact and has left a footprint that reaches far outside the 2.5 mile track on which the race is held. Throughout the entire week and weekend leading up to the race, the 500 has much more to offer than just the race being run on the track. Whether you are a racing junkie or have never watched a minute of the sport, there is something for everyone at the world’s largest single day sporting event.
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Track Length: 2.5 miles
First Running: 1911
Size of Field: 33 cars
Race Day Attendance Record: 350,000 estimated (2016)
IMS Mobile/Social Media
The race may be 100 years old, but technology available to fans at the track is certainly up to par with standards in 2017. Beginning in 2013, the IMS Mobile app became available for both Android and Apple devices and can help fans in many aspects throughout their time at the track. Complete event schedules, photos, track maps, areas of interest and tickets are all available through the app. Last minute news updates are pushed to the app throughout the weekend, keeping fans up to date on any changes around the raceway.
Keep up to date and informed with all aspects of the Indy 500 by following their social media accounts. Hashtags such as #500FashionFridays keep fans engaged leading up to race day, and the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway accounts provide race info and fun content throughout the weekend. With concerts, special recognitions and of course the race happening throughout the weekend, social media is a great way to remain clued in to all that is happening around the speedway.
Ticketing & Security
As one would expect, hosting an event for more than 300,000 spectators does require some security adjustments. Ahead of the race in 2016, more than 50 law enforcement agencies were called in to assist with these procedures at the speedway. License plate scanning, “prechecks” and secondary perimeters are often in place to ensure that safety is provided for all fans entering the track. Those coming to the track for the first time can expect long, but swiftly moving cue lines to get onto the track grounds. Mobile tickets and paper tickets are accepted. As mentioned, the IMS Mobile app also features ticket purchasing capabilities. Forget the printer and bring a mobile version of your ticket to the track for efficient check-in.
The Indy 500 has expanded from a single day race event to a full week of theme days and activities for fans of all ages.
Whether watching from home or live at the track, plan to take your seat early for all the ceremonial aspects of the race that take place beforehand.
First up are the 500 Festival Princesses. The 500 Festival takes over the Indianapolis area each May and culminates with the events surrounding race weekend. This year’s princesses represent 13 Indiana colleges and universities and 22 cities across the state. These princesses are selected based on communication skills, academic performance and community involvement.
Following a performance of “On the Banks of the Wabash” by the Purdue Band, former winning drivers of the Indianapolis 500 will take to the track to be recognized.
The Indy 500 does an exceptional job of embracing the history that helped this race become so special, and recognizing past winners is a part of that. Last year’s winner Alexander Rossi will be among those recognized this year, having won in his rookie start in 2016.
The final ceremonial lap once again embraces the history of the famous race by showcasing historic race cars on the track. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to a nationally recognized museum, and race day provides a chance for these historic cars to be put on display during a ceremonial lap on the track. For more information on the museum, visit their website.
The Indianapolis 500 continues a tradition of beautiful musical performances with many notable singers having taken part over the years. Following the driver introductions for each year’s race, “God Bless America”, “Taps”, “America the Beautiful”, and lastly the National Anthem are performed by various artists. This year’s anthem will be performed by pop artist Bebe Rexha.
Following these patriotic hymns and recognitions, the classic tune of “Back Home Again in Indiana” is performed. From 1972 until 2014, Mr. Jim Nabors could be found at the track each year performing this classic song. Oddly enough Jim is from Alabama, but became a legend around the racetrack over the years. Since his retirement from this performance, various artists have stepped in. This year’s rendition will be performed by Jim Cornelison, known for his anthem performances with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Each year during the performance of “Back Home Again in Indiana”, thousands of balloons are released over the track. This special tradition dates back to 1947 and is a special moment to witness from the raceway. Following these great performances, the drivers fire up their engines and begin the 200 laps in the hunt for an Indy 500 victory.
During the race, take time to sample the wide variety of food and beverage that vendors offer throughout the raceway. Loaded nachos, pork tenderloin, donut burgers and spiked milkshakes are just some of the delicious offerings found around the track on race day. For the concessions traditionalist, classic favorites like popcorn and soda are always available as well.
The Winner’s Circle
Once the race is complete and a winner is crowned, stick around the track (or stay tuned) for the winners circle traditions that help make the Indianapolis 500 such a fun tradition.
Each winner of the 500 kisses the famed “Yard of Bricks” after the race. This tradition was started by NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett in 1996 and continues today. The patch of bricks still visible on the track is the only visible remainder of the original brick track that has since been paved over with asphalt.
Dating back to 1936, the tradition of drinking milk in the Winner’s Circle continues to mark the momentous occasion for each driver. A three-time winner of the 500, Louis Meyer regularly drank buttermilk to cool off on a hot day at the track and was seen doing this after winning in 1936. A representative of the Milk Foundation captured this moment and helped make this an annual tradition for the race winners.
The main event and main attraction for any driver in the race is the Borg-Warner Trophy that greets each year’s winner in the Winner’s Circle. Every winning driver since 1936 has been awarded a spot on this trophy, crafted with sterling silver out of Chicago. Each winner’s likeness is sculpted onto the trophy each year to be recognized for all time as a winner of this historic race.
Impact & Reach
A race of this size and magnitude brings a certain amount of economic impact to the region, unlike any other event that calls Indiana home. That’s saying something considering Indianapolis has played host to multiple Final Four’s, a Super Bowl, and the 1987 Pan Am Games. According to Reuters, the last economic study completed in response to race weekend showed an impact of $336 million for the local economy.
In 2016 an estimated 33,000 hotel rooms were booked in the area. Many locals take advantage of the crowds on race weekend by offering extra rooms, or large yard spaces as additional parking spots. At $20-$40 per space, parking can prove very lucrative for area homeowners on race day.
While hundreds of thousands of fans watch the race live at IMS, millions take in the action from home or on mobile devices. In 2016, the typical local TV blackout for the race was lifted and ratings scored a 33.6. An average of 5.8 million viewers took in the race (via Nielson Fast National data). 6.8 million viewers took in the final half hour of the race last year, while 23,000 people utilized online streaming capabilities. Sponsors have taken note of this viewership, and in 2016 the Indianapolis 500 took on a presenting sponsor for the first time, PennGrade Motor Oil. Other Indy Car sponsors such as Verizon, Honda and Chevrolet will have a heavy roll in advertising throughout race weekend both on air and live at the track. (indystar.com)
The Final Lap
Whether a casual racing fan or full time gear junkie, take time to watch at least a portion of the “greatest spectacle in racing” this year over Memorial Day weekend. This year’s race will see a green flag at 12:19 PM ET on Sunday, May 28th. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 have done well to maintain the history and tradition of this famous race, while also providing updated facilities and amenities that create a fun atmosphere for patrons of all ages. As a Hoosier native, I am admittedly a bit biased, but there is truly no sporting event quite like the Indianapolis 500.
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