Every year on Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of thousands of people make their way to Speedway, Indiana for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, the Indianapolis 500. Making its debut in 1911, the 500 will be running its 102nd iteration this year. Having only paused twice for World War I and II, it’s safe to say that the “Spectacle” has stood the test of time. The thrill, pageantry and tradition have kept loyal followers and casual fans alike coming back year after year.
Like Billy Beane said in Moneyball, “How can you not to be romantic about the Indy 500?” Okay fine, he actually said baseball. But it’s true! The level of tradition and passion that you find among fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is unlike anything else in sports. Living in central Indiana, you don’t have to look hard to find Indy 500 patrons that have had tickets in their families for generations or others that have incredible consecutive race streaks (I recently met someone that will be attending their 60th in a row this year!). From the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” to the race winner drinking milk and kissing bricks, tradition is everywhere you look on race day.
The beauty of the Indy 500 is that it’s not just for diehard racing fans. Every year new fans experience the sights and sounds of 33 cars zooming by at 230mph and are hooked. It’s not hard to have a great time at IMS on race day – even without the racing. The Snake Pit in Turn 3 has evolved over the years to now be a music festival inside the track (“The Greatest Spectacle in Raging”), featuring acts like Deadmau5, Marshmello, and Zedd. The Indy 500 has taken a race and its transformed into so much more.
And yes, the racing is really, really good. It’s part of the Motorsports Triple Crown (along with F1 Monaco and 24 Hours of Le Mans) for a reason. No other race takes over a full month on the calendar like the 500, allowing for two weeks’ worth of practice and a full weekend dedicated to qualifying. The largest single-day sporting event in the world, the 300,000+ in attendance are treated to quite the show.
If you’ve never been to the Indianapolis 500, grab a few friends and fill up your IMS size-appropriate cooler and head to the track this Memorial Day Sunday and witness the Spectacle for yourself. For a Hoosier like myself, there are few (if any) better days of the year than the Indy 500. Again, how can you not be romantic about the Indy 500?
Not every race or sporting event is as engrained people’s lives or the culture of a state like the Indy 500. However, we can learn so much about marketing events from the historic race. Built on legacy and tradition, the 500 has grown and survived through its fans and supporters over generations. The race has adapted (hello, Snake Pit concert), but never changed its core (a 500-mile open-wheel race).
Check back next week as we take a look at how to create year-round interest at your sporting event venue, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Reach out to me on Twitter, @KGinty. Let’s go racing.