Indianapolis Motor Speedway: The Complete Guide

103rd Indianapolis 500
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Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! The storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway is hallowed ground where history is made and racing legends are born. For those who can’t get here on Memorial Day weekend to experience the race itself, there are still plenty of ways to experience this iconic landmark all year long. Here’s what to know before you go.

History and Background

The first Indianapolis 500 took place in 1911, when Ray Harroun piloted the Marmion Wasp to victory at an average speed of nearly 75 miles an hour. IMS facilities have certainly evolved through the decades to keep pace with technological advances; along the way, they have added events like the Brickyard 400, Formula One World Championship rounds, the United States Grand Prix, motorcycle racing, and air shows to accommodate fans of different stripes. 

Hulman & Company announced the sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November 2019 after 74 years of family ownership. They sold it to Penske Entertainment Corp, a subsidiary of the Penske Corporation transportation services company that has deeply respected ties to the property.  

Seating at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hovers around 250,000, with an expansive infield area that brings the total capacity up to approximately 400,000 people. Factor in a global viewing audience of millions, and it’s easy to see how the Indianapolis 500 capably ranks as the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

The area inside the oval track clocks in at several hundred acres—for sheer scope, that’s big enough to comfortably fit the Rose Bowl, Churchill Downs, the Rose Bowl, Wimbledon, and Yankee Stadium with room leftover to spare.

Although the Indianapolis 500 logically covers 500 miles, the track itself is two and a half miles long, requiring 200 laps in total. 

How to Visit the Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 always takes place on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day. Plan to make a day of it and don’t get in a hurry. Traffic can be brutal and road closures are to be expected; allow more time than you think you’ll need to park and make your way in. Many attendees opt to shell out a few bucks to park their vehicles in a neighborhood front yard and walk in. Glamping, RV, and tent camping sites are also available in the infield and in lots surrounding the speedway. Alternatively, you can take a shuttle to and from Speedway for $60; Race Day shuttles pick up passengers at both the Indianapolis International Airport and downtown near Lucas Oil Stadium.

Visitors can bring in food and drink, or purchase on site from any number of vendors. By way of dress code, anything goes, but black and white fashions are always in style. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget your ear protection. Race cars are loud!

Indiana weather can be unpredictable. If there’s any chance of rain, pack a poncho. Otherwise, load up on sunscreen, pace yourself when it comes to alcohol consumption, and stay hydrated.

If you plan to attend, you can purchase your tickets on the IMS website; tickets start at $35.

Indianapolis 500 Events in May

If you can't attend the Indy 500, the city celebrates the spirit of the race the entire month of May. The OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon kicks off the festivities on the first Saturday in May; participants run a course to and from downtown, even taking a lap around the Speedway track.

Visitors are welcome to bring in box lunches and grab bleacher seats to watch race practices throughout May. Carb Day, the last session held on the Friday before the race, is followed by a pit crew competition and a concert. Tickets for the event start at $30. Other popular race-related events include the 500 Festival Parade, a kids’ day, a memorial service, and the Snakepit Ball. 

Check the IMS website for the full schedule of events.

Other Events and Experiences

Brave visitors with a serious need for speed can arrange a two-seater ride around the track at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour through Indy Racing Experience.

Beyond a packed seasonal schedule of races, practices, and other events, IMS has been featuring a holiday “Lights at the Brickyard” tour since 2016. During this festive event, the facility is decorated with more than three million lights and displays along a two-mile course, which takes guests through the infield and down a portion of the track. 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

Inside the oval at the southern end of the track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is a good place to orient and educate yourself about all things IndyCar; displays detail IMS history and exhibits boast race cars past and present. Make sure to marvel at the esteemed Borg-Warner Trophy featuring the carved faces of winning Indy 500 drivers.

The museum is also where guests can sign up for track tours with pit stops at Gasoline Alley, Pagoda Plaza, and the Yard of Bricks. Make sure you kiss the bricks—it's track tradition for race winners to pucker up at the start/finish line.

Things to Do in Speedway

Speedway’s short stretch of Main Street just beyond the southwest corner of the IMS proposes territory for shopping, drinking, and dining. Look around: You might just find yourself rubbing elbows with drivers, owners, and other racing bigwigs at Dawson’s on Main, Barbecue and Bourbon, and Charlie Brown’s Pancake & Steak House. Big Woods and Daredevil Brewing Co. offer creative ways for craft beer lovers to wet their whistles, while wine drinkers can sample the wares at Foyt Wine Vault

The Dallara IndyCar Factory provides an up-close look at the engineering and technology that goes into creating contemporary race cars. Or, put your own pedal at the medal at Speedway Indoor Karting.

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