9 Keys to Enjoying Your First Indy 500 Weekend
Making the most of the greatest spectacle in racing.
You've heard all of the hype, all of that "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" stuff, but you can't say you've sampled it yourself. But being a car enthusiast in America means setting aside time to attend the Indianapolis 500 at least once in your life. When that day comes, as it rightfully should for any car nut, you'll want to make the most of your first Indianapolis 500. Here are nine keys to doing it right.
1. Drive there in style. You'll be arriving in Indianapolis amongst a throng of automotive enthusiasts, so you can be sure your peers are peeping your ride. The 2015 Chevrolet SS I drove in from Michigan was a ton of fun to beat on -- especially with its manual transmission -- but I couldn't help wishing it wasn't so damn invisible. A sleeper is fun when you're dodging the fuzz on the freeway, but it makes no bigger an impression than a Malibu when you pull up to the valet line. If you have a hot ride in the garage, or the scratch to rent something flashy, go ahead and flex that muscle for race weekend.
2. Bask in the excitement of race weekend. I'd never been to Indianapolis before, but I have a hard time believing that downtown Indy is ever more bumpin' than during the 500. (OK, maybe for the Manning-era Colts during the playoffs). The crowds and excitement you'll find for the Indy 500 remind you that the culture of cars is alive and well, and still growing.
3. Ride in the pace car. Granted, this one is just about impossible without an invitation from Chevy. But if you can somehow swing it, you absolutely must. Chevrolet Indy Car driver Josef Newgarden seemed to enjoy driving around IMS in the Corvette Z06 pace car as much as I liked riding shotgun. "I've never driven one of these before," he said while powering around the speedway at 156 mph. "What a great package. And such a crisp engine note!"
4. Visit the Hall of Fame Museum. An incredible amount of Indy 500 history lives in this little museum within the Speedway infield. If you're looking for the goldmine of historic racing metal, here it is. Names like Lotus, Delage, Bugatti, Bentley, Packard, Miller, the list goes on. Plan on getting lost in the Hall of Fame and loving every minute of it.
5. Make it into the pits. Even if you have to bribe and/or incapacitate some Speedway staff to do it. Only when seeing the race cars up close do you start to appreciate all of the sweat and tears that the engineers and teams put in ahead of race day. Plus, on that very strip of pavement, singing hot rubber will soon be rolling in after an electrifying trip around the track at 200-plus mph.
6. But also walk among the masses. The crowd is perhaps just as entertaining as the race itself; as you approach the camp grounds you'll see every type of American-flag garb you could possibly imagine. That intoxicating aroma of sunscreen, cheap pilsner, and freshly fried Oreo-flavored churros (verdict: delicious) will keep you coming back year after year.
7. Find some ear plugs. This one is key. The initial few laps sound phenomenal when unmuffled, but about 50 laps later you're straining to hear yourself think. Save your ear drums so you won't need a hearing aid before next year's race, but if you want to really stay plugged into the action…
8. Tune into the race-day radio comms. Chevy let us rent some ear defenders with access to each team's radio transmissions between the pit crew and the driver. Simply type in the driver number for the team you want hear, and listen up. Having that live, inside look into the action is irreplaceable and totally exhilarating -- and there's no other major sport that gives you that level of on-demand access to what the coaches tell their players in the dugout or on the sidelines.
9. Explore scenic Indiana! On your drive back, be sure to venture into some good ol' fashioned American landscape. I took the opportunity to visit a friend of a friend's pig farm about an hour north of Indiana. Of course, he asked, "Why is your Impala so loud?"