As a nearly lifelong Hoosier (someone from Indiana), it may come as a surprise that I’ve never actually attended the Indianapolis 500 race itself. This year, at the famous race’s 106th running, I set out to change that and headed out before sunrise southeast towards Indianapolis on the morning of Sunday, May 29th. Destination: Speedway, Indiana.
Speedway is a town and enclave of Indianapolis; situated just northwest of downtown Indy. After parking at the Indianapolis International Airport and taking a shuttle bus, I was at my first Indy 500. I later came across a picture online of the pre-dawn line for the track, stretching down the road.
For many people, the Indianapolis 500 is an annual destination. As a result, people have been known to rack up some seriously impressive attendance streaks reaching into decades, often watching from the same seat. This year, about 300,000 people attended the race.
Walking to your seat at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway helps you appreciate just how big the track really is. Inside it, among other things, is part of a golf course as well as a road course.
There are a number of prerace ceremonies and traditions to keep fans busy before the flag waves.
Some of the traditions include the fly-over, the singing of “Back Home in Indiana”, and the procession of the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.
Before the race, the starting flag was delivered by helicopter and a parade of historic Indy cars took place. One of the cars in the parade was the 1912 Indy 500 winner (the second year for the race). One of the drivers in the parade was Mario Andretti. There’s even a red carpet for the celebrities that attend the race.
There’s a sort of subdued excitement when the racecars get pushed to their pit stalls, knowing what is coming up in a little bit.
Two drivers that caught my attention in the field of 33 were Hélio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson.
In 2021 Brazilian driver Hélio Castroneves became the fourth person ever to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. This race gave him the rare opportunity to compete for a record 5th win. Something that has never been done in the 106 years of the Indianapolis 500.
Jimmie Johnson, the retired multi-time NASCAR champion turned IndyCar racer, was fulfilling a childhood dream by competing in the 500.
Sitting in pole position was six-time IndyCar champion, Scott Dixon. Interestingly, the cars are lined up in rows of three instead of the usual two often seen in racing.
The cars went around the track a few times, picking up speed as they went.
The pace car, a Chevy Corvette C8 driven by retired IndyCar racer Sarah Fisher led the 33 cars around the track a few times before pulling into the pits as the race began.
Watching the race, one of the things that stuck to me was just how little time seemed to have passed each lap. It seemed like before I knew it the cars were flying past me, completing another lap on the 2.5-mile course.
The cars weren’t the only thing going fast; the race itself seemed to fly by, with the laps quickly adding up. Before long, 50 laps had already been completed.
Sitting near the pits, I got a close-up view of the precisely choreographed pit stops. I could smell the burnt rubber from the cars as they peeled out of their pitlanes.
Watching the race on the lower part of the bleachers adjacent to the front straight, you can really appreciate the speed of the cars as they go past you, doing well over 200 miles an hour.
Another thing that stuck out to me was how tight the racing was. The pack of cars seemed to stick together as the race went on.
The race produced visceral reactions from the crowd, who were brought to their feet throughout the race.
A major benefit to where I was sitting was the giant tv screen just across the track. It enabled me to follow the race even when the cars were out of sight.
In the end, the winner was F-1 turned IndyCar racer Marcus Ericsson, a first-time winner of the 500. This ended up being one of the fastest races in Indianapolis 500 history in regard to elapsed time.
The number of spectators in the stands at the end of the race seemed to be almost as many as when the race began hours ago.
There are traditions even after the race is over. Two of which are the winner getting milk to drink and kissing the strip of bricks at the start-finish line. Kissing the bricks is a relatively new tradition, starting in the 90s, while the milk-drinking dates back to the 1930s.
I had a great time at my first Indianapolis 500, and it was long overdue.
The Indianapolis 500 has transcended racing and has become a cultural phenomenon for Indiana and the rest of the world. It can draw the interest of someone who normally has little interest in auto racing.
If you want to know more about the track and the museum, please check out my blog post. You can also check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s official website or visit the official website of IndyCar. Have you ever attended the Indy 500? Let me know in the comments!