More than the combined populations of Fort Wayne and South Bend will converge upon the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a celebration of speed and history.
One in every 850 people in the continental United States will be right here, hoping to enjoy a beautiful day of racing, beer, food, and friendship.
What Woodstock was to rock and roll, the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is to racing. Never before have so many gathered to watch so few go so fast.
Packing that many people into one spot with seriously limited access to public transportation requires intense planning, great coordination, and nearly 400,000 very calm heads.
If you are coming to the corner of 16th and Georgetown for the biggest event in the history of racing, here are 10 very important things to know and exhibit:
10 – Remember what this weekend is all about. You will be reminded throughout the pre-race festivities that this is Memorial Day weekend – a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices of soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom. Remember too the families of those who perished in wars that allow us to live free and enjoy a comparatively silly event like the Indy 500.
9 – Do not bring bottles. Track personnel will let people do damn near anything here to enjoy an afternoon of fun, but combining bottles and race cars going 230 miles and hours can ruin a driver’s afternoon – or life. Glass tends to break, and cut tires tend to bring mayhem. Bottles will be confiscated at the gate, the line will be slowed, and you will be reviled by those behind you.
8 – Relax on your way out. What’s the hurry, Murray? Enjoy yourself for a while after the race ends. Hurrying out after the checkered flag is silly as it’s what many thousands of your peers tend to do. Let the crowd thin, and then hop in your car and beat it until next year. Also, it you had had a few too many, don’t get in the car at all. Race night in the Marion County lockup is no fun, and neither is wrecking into someone else because your reflexes are slowed by too many hops and barley sodas.
7 – Enter a pool. Unless you have a favorite driver, the race will be mostly meaningless to you if you don’t take part in a pool where you draw a driver. This Indy 500 is a little unique in that the majority of the cars are competitive and the chances you will pull a back-marker are small. Fans need a reason to cheer, and a pool provides that in the same way fantasy football aids Sunday fun during football season.
6 – Make sure you are settled for the start. The parade laps and first 10 circuits around the 2.5 mile oval is among the most thrilling 10 minutes in sports. Don’t struggle through traffic, trudge through security, and heft a giant cooler only to miss the best moment of the day because you had to pee. After the first 10 laps, you can allow your attention to drift until the last five laps (right around three hours later).
5 – If you have a cooler that rolls, bring it. It is quite likely you will need to walk a mile to your seat or perch, and a case of beer plus ice, will weigh 20+ pounds. Unless you are a tenacious workout warrior, this will prove a daunting challenge and provide unnecessary additional motivation to quickly empty the cooler’s contents. Rolling a cooler for the majority of your walk will make you feel much smarter than the lunkheads like me lugging your chilled consumables.
4 – Leave for the race early. There is only one trick to get to the front of the line before other race/party fans, and that is to leave home earlier than they do. If you are like me, you believe you can find a shortcut to bypass traffic. Sadly, only mine works, and I’m not telling you the trick.
3 – Bring essentials – other than beer. Sun block will be a great idea, given the weather today, The forecast was for more rain today than Sunday, and the sun is shining bright for Carb Day. Pack some water as well. Drinking nothing but beer – even light beer – for the entire day, combined with 85 degrees will cause some dehydration. And for the love of God, wear comfortable shoes. This place is gigantic, and you are going to log some serious mileage throughout the day.
2 – Wander the grounds a little bit. The sheer size of this complex is outrageous. There is nothing like it. Take it in and enjoy the colors, sounds, and bizarre circus that 400,000 people gathered in one place with nothing to do provides.
1 – Be patient. There are going to be lines of people as security screeners check bags. There are going to be lines of cars as access points for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are choked with cars. There are going to be lines for the restrooms as hundreds of thousands dispose of millions of beers that have run the gauntlet from mouth to bladder. Line, line, everywhere a line. There will also be confused and/or inebriated fans who don’t quite know where the hell they are that stand and spin in circles. Thousands of cars will stop as the driver greets and quizzes yellow shirts tasked with moving cars into parking lots surrounding the Speedway. Relax. Take a deep breath. Being in a hurry Sunday morning will not be rewarded.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.