INDIANAPOLIS — We’re less than two months away from the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. However, if you’re on the fence on if you should come or not, hopefully this report will help sway your outcome to be a part of the largest spectator sporting event in the world.
On the surface, I can totally get why some would consider the Indianapolis 500 intimidating. With 300k people in one place, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to go, where to sit, where to park, where to stay and how to navigate the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Let me ease your mind.
Why To Go
Who doesn’t want to be a part of something special? The Indy 500 is an event that hits all five of your senses at once. From the touching pre-race pageantry to the aroma (smell), noise (hearing) and literally feeling of the cars going by to the taste of an Indy Dog, Brickyard Burger or Tenderloin (taste), the Indy 500 gives you everything in one and you’ll be leaving wanting more.
There’s a reason why grown adults cherish this day. It’s a second Christmas. It’s also why you’ll weep tears of joy in the morning and tears of sadness when it’s over because you’ve had such a great time, the thought of having to wait 365 more days until you get to do it again sinks in.
However, the wide range of emotions make this worth it. To see a place so magical, a Cathedral you could call it, for the first time, will bring a feeling to your heart that you’ve never experienced before. To be in a place that millions have been to before and so many magical moments have occurred, you won’t regret it.
Also, for the newbies that have never been here before, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a place to where you can bring your own food and drinks in. You can save a buck or two by doing so, as long as what you’re bringing isn’t in glass. When I sat in the grandstands, my choice was plenty of water, a few beers, a Gatorade or two, peanut butter and jelly or ham sandwiches and some chips. You can bring all in.
Also, bring a washcloth to put in your cooler to use to cool off. On top of that, I also liked to bring a squirt bottle to use to spray some water on yourself as well on a hot day.
While a crowd of this magnitude seems overwhelming, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so big, you won’t come in contact with all those masses either.
The following items are permitted through Indianapolis Motor Speedway admission gates:
- Binoculars, scanners and headsets
- Camera stands (tripods, monopods) as long as they do not cause a safety hazard or obstruct the view of others. Camera stands are not allowed within grandstands and concert areas
- Carts and wagons are allowed every day except Indy 500 Race Day (collapsible only). The use of carts and wagons may be restricted in some areas
- Coolers no larger than 18”x14”x15”, coolers may be hard or soft sided
- Flags as long as they do not obstruct the view of others. Flags are not allowed within concert areas
- Food and beverages (i.e., water, soft drinks, beer, and wine in non-glass containers)
- Mobility aid devices used by guests with disabilities. Guests are responsible for securing unattended mobility aid devices. IMS reserves the right to prohibit any device based upon safety considerations
- Personal, non-commercial photo and video cameras. Video cameras and audio recording equipment are not allowed within concert areas
- Service animals (trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability)
- Strollers, lawn chairs and folding camping chairs. Strollers, regular height lawn chairs or folding chairs are not allowed in Concert Pit and VIP areas
- Umbrellas as long as they do not obstruct the view of others. The umbrella’s user takes sole responsibility for the safe use of the umbrella.
The following items are prohibited through Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates:
- Aerosol cans (Sunscreen excluded)
- Animals (except service animals trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability)
- Bicycles (guests may use dedicated bicycle parking structures at Gates 1, 6, & 9)
- Carts and wagons (Indy 500 Race Day only)
- Coolers larger than 18” x 14” x 15”
- DRONES, or unmanned aerial systems
- Fireworks and flares
- Glass containers
- Golf carts, ATVs, scooters, minibikes, roller blades, skateboards, skates, pogo sticks, and hover boards
- Illegal drugs and substances or drug paraphernalia (including without limitation marijuana)
- Items restricted by local, state or federal law
- Lasers of any kind
- Offensive or obscene materials (e.g., flags, signs, clothing)
- Soliciting of any kind (including goods, materials, services, or ticket scalping)
- Scaffolding or platforms
- Selfie sticks
- Trampolines and swimming pools
- Weapons of any type, including knives, firearms and ammunition
- Any other items not mentioned that may pose a safety hazard or diminish the enjoyment of the event by other guests may be refused at the discretion of security and management. These items are subject to change without notice. There are no provisions for checking and holding prohibited items. Prohibited items may not be left at or around the gates. Items left unattended will be removed and discarded
Where To Sit
That’s all about preference, but if you’re still new to racing, this isn’t like stick-and-ball sports to where the lower you are, the better. In racing, you want to sit higher up. The higher, the better. You can see more of the track and the cars don’t look as fast as they do if you sit too low. Sit too close to the track, the cars are a blur.
With what’s available right now, my best advice is the North Vista. It has the most room left and you get a view of the cars down the backstretch, through Turns 3 and 4 and a shot of them down the frontstretch. What I like about this stand is the fact that there’s usually some room to move around and now completely crowded on top of one another and with nothing but space in front of you, you typically get a nice cool Indiana breeze in this stand to make things seem not as hot as it can be elsewhere.
Buy tickets here
Where To Park
This also isn’t as overwhelming as it seems. The simplest way to park is, is to find your grandstand that you’re going to be sitting in. If you’re sitting on the south end of the track (Stands E, SW VISTA, South Vista, G, SE VISTA), park down there in lots that direction.
If you’re sitting at the north end (J Stand, NW VISTA, North Vista, NE Vista), park up there. While most lots around IMS are sold out, there’s plenty of neighborhood streets you can park in near that area.
What most don’t realize is, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is surrounded by neighborhoods. Most folks that live in these houses will park cars in their yards and/or driveway for a fee. My advice for this is, go out to those areas in the day or 2 leading up to the race and if there’s some people outside of those homes, talk about parking on race day and see if you can pay in advance.
Most parking will range from $20-$50 depending on the place so just bring some cash and you’ll easily find a spot. The best advice is to just look at this map and have a basic plan and you’ll be fine. Race fans are some of the most accommodating and nicest sports fans that you’ll find. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or need a quick reminder of where to be pointed to go to. They’ll easily lead you to whatever direction you want to head in.
When To Leave
As with any large event, the earlier you leave to head to the venue, the better. I’m not saying you need to leave when I do (5 am) but I wouldn’t wait much longer than the 7-8 am hour to start making your way to the Speedway either.
As far as which route to take to get there, again, it all just depends on where you’re seating. I’ve attached a map here for the traffic flow so you can see which roads are open.
I come from the south so I take State Road 37 (now it’s Interstate 69) to I-465 west. At the time that I leave, I can get all the way to the Crawfordsville Road Exit (Exit 16A) and then take a quick left by the Hardee’s, then another quick right onto 25th Street. That will get you to all the arteries to the neighborhoods as well as if you have a parking pass to the track to get to Georgetown Road.
What To Do Leading Into The Indy 500
So, you decided to go. Great!! Now, you may be wondering what to do around town while you’re here. If you’re a racing enthusiast, there’s plenty of race week events going on around town.
Friday is Carb Day at IMS, but that night, you can head just west of IMS to Indianapolis Raceway Park for the Carb Night Classic. You can see the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 race while also seeing Pavement Midgets and Silver Crown. Great value here.
The night before, the USAC Sprint Cars are on the east side of Indy at the Marion County Fairgrounds (Circle City Raceway). Also, on Tuesday night, the sprints are out west in Terre Haute which is about a 90-minute drive from Indy and well worth it the visit.
If you also want to focus on non-racing things to do too, I highly recommend going to Main Street in Speedway. That’s in the shadows of IMS.
Eat breakfast or lunch at Charlie Brown’s. You’ll thank me later.
Also, visit the Dallara facility. Stop in at the Foyt Wine Vault for some drinks. Go to dinner at Dawson’s on Main or Big Woods Brewery too. A stop at Sarah Fisher’s Go Karting facility is a must and while you’re there, grab some pizza too.
You can make a full day/night or evening on Main Street.
If you want to head into town and want a couple of Indianapolis staples, St. Elmo’s is definitely a must. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it if you have it within your budget. The shrimp cocktail is definitely the way to go. Heck, even if you don’t want to pony up the higher-priced menu items, a great date night is to just go in the bar area and grab some drinks and appetizers and people watch. It’s a great atmosphere.
Shapiro’s is another great spot with historic Indianapolis ties too. They have a parking lot so you won’t need to worry about finding parking spaces.
If you’re above 21, the date night at St. Elmo’s and a visit to the Slippery Noodle will give you a true Indiana summer night. So would a stop to Mass Ave on the eastern part of downtown. There’s plenty of nightlife in that direction.
A Good steak: St. Elmo’s, Harry & Izzy’s, Ruth’s Chris, Bynum’s (this is on the south side and looks like a hole in the wall, but trust me, it’s not and well worth it)
Italian: The Old Spaghetti Factory, Vito Provolones (on the southside, phenomenal small restaurant that doesn’t break the bank), Iaria’s
Mexican: Nada, Bakersfield
If you have kids, the Indianapolis Zoo and Indianapolis Children’s Museums are both great and easy places to have some fun. I can’t recommend highly enough to go to both while in town. Both have public parking and are easily accessible. That and a visit to the IMS Museum are great places and things to do with kiddos which will leave lasting memories that they’ll never forget.
Another fun date activity or even a place to take the whole family, is to go about an hour south of Indianapolis to a park called Brown County State Park. It’s a scenic drive with a lot of fun activities to do. Between horseback riding, trails, shopping, great restaurants or just to picnic in a park to get away from the city hustle and bustle, you can’t go wrong in Brown County either.