How to Survive the Indy 500... and Still Have Fun!

What the Party Scene Was

The Beginning...

As times change so doth the partying at the Speedway. During the race in August 1909, the cops were out in force and anyone caught drunk was escorted off the property. Politeness was enforced.

Through the years, the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a giant parking lot, a golf course, museum headquarters, and garage area. It has always been a popular place to watch the race as well.

When America drove Model T's, people could park along most of the inside edge of the track and watch the race. Of course only the first row or so could see.


As the years rolled by, more stands were erected, yet folks still enjoyed tailgaiting in the infield.

Eventually, bleacher sections sprouted up along the main straight. Some people began erecting scaffolds in the infield in order to see the race. Some were as high as 40ft. They would sell space on them to other fans. They could get pretty full. A tall one fell over in 1960, killing two people and injuring 40. Photo of that accident. From then on, the scaffolding was not allowed.

the 60's and 70's
We find the first turn infield area crowded deep with people. Scaffolding has been banned. Except for the people sitting on top of vehicles, bathroom, or even in the trees, only the people close to the front row could see the cars. One might wonder, what these people had to do if they couldn't see the race cars.

In the 60's you blend a little sunshine with a lot of young people, throw in some music, bikinis and beer, and you have a party.

1972 Infield

The 70's show up and the partying picks up. Heavy drinking, pot smoking, LSD, nudity and free love all make appearances. Like some American campuses, the infield is filled with the generation of kids pushing the limits on drugs, sex and rock n roll. Rowdy drunks would always turn over some old junker cars after the race was over and puncture the gas tank and set them on fire.

1985 after the party!
After the race is over...

Remember streaking? People taking off their clothes and then sprinting naked past crowds. Pretty funny. Although everyone preferred sun-bathing weather, the infield crowd would show up and start partying bright and early even in the pouring rain. Once mud puddles develop, you would get to see people running and sliding in it.

1980 Turn One Snakepit inside the fence
The Turn 1 Snakepit - 1980. The people close to the track were photographers.

the 80's

By the time 1980 rolls up, things are getting a little more serious. The streaking has been replaced by strippers on top of vans, men and women both! (Although the drunken exhibitionist men would be booed into fast retreat.) Bikers blend with teenagers and hicks and everybody was partying. Fights would break out sometimes. Frisbees and footballs would fly through the air across peoples heads and cars. The Snakepit became a dangerous place to venture if you were a naive young lady. Drunken guys would surround girls who wander in and taunt them to flash. Girls who ventured in could count on some verbal harrassment - if not physical!

1981 Turn 3
1981 Turn 4

But all in all, the majority of the people were there to watch the 10% who were getting crazy. By the time they passed out, a new wave would be drunk and ready to entertain the crowd. It was often more interesting watching what was going on in the Snake Pit than it was watching what was happening on the track!

It was a pretty popular pasttime, especially for the largely midwestern youth who didn't have things like beaches to bring large crowds of teenagers together in a unrestricted environment. Cops would generally stand back and let it happen.

Fans streaming in at 5 a.m.
1988 Race Day - 5 a.m.
For decades, people have stayed in line over night in order to rush into the infield when the track opened on race day. Qualifying weekends too. Thousands would line up year after year and wait for the bomb to go off at 4 a.m. signalling the opening of the gate! These people hoped to get a good spot for their car and also grab a spot along the fence so that they could actually see a little racing. They would tape off sections to try and hold their ground. If you were back further in the infield, say behind the row of trees and several rows of vans and cars and you weren't going to be seeing anything on the track. Some people would climb a tree or sit on top of the bathrooms to try and catch a glimpse of the race cars, if they didn't have a van to stand on. Vans also made good stages.

Click on thumbnails to see large pictures of 1st Turn infield.

1974 1977 1979 1980
These photos are from 1974, 1977, 1979 & 1980 respectively.

If you have any good photos from the infield, send me a copy -

The 90's

During the 80's, the Speedway began putting up bleachers along the inside of Turn One and this began to put a big crimp in space for all the partiers. By some unorganized way, everyone shifted the party over to the inside of Turn Four.

The Speedway must have decided that they didn't need this type of environment at the Indy 500. They put up tall bleachers all along the inside of Turn Four, thereby blocking the view of all the people who showed up early to get a good lawn location.

However, not being able to see a race car during the entire race, did not prove to be a deterent to the party people. They still showed up in large numbers.

So, the police began going through the crowd in waves. They would wander in and through the crowds in groups of 4 or 5. Some were also on horseback.

Here you can kind of see a gang of them roving along. I was really taking a picture of this girl who had just slapped the dude - funny.

Drunks, underage drinkers, strippers, potsmokers, and rumblers could look forward to going to jail if they weren't careful.

After several years of this the crowds began to dissipitate and things greatly calmed down. With almost as many cops patrolling the infield as there were visitors, the fourth turn became worse than a prison camp - with weekend cop wannabees armed with hand guns, going back and forth through the crowd stopping people from doing anything that might seem rude in a church service! They were resorting to ordering people in the middle of the 4th turn infield to turn down their radios. It was ridiculous and almost to the point that if you even showed your face in the 4th turn, you were going to jail.

The Speedway removed the 4th turn stands and put a grassy viewing hill in its place which still blocked the view of the track from the infield. THen they roped it off so you couldn't park your car near it. Over the decade, the huge crowd had been reduced down to almost nothing. Just a hundred people or so would still show up to park along the 4th turn road and sit on coolers and drink beer for old times sake.

Long Line at 3rd turn Snackbar
People tailgating in Turn 3 infield
There is now a grassy hill all along the back stretch and Turn 3.

The 00's

The Speedway has built a road course all through the 4th turn. In 1999, you could walk through it, in 2000, you could not. By 2001 it was all out of bounds.

Some party action can now by found in the 3rd turn infield, especially on race day.

The biggest party inside the Speedway now happens on Carburation Day - the Friday before the race. The last event of the day is the Carb Day Concert, where national acts perform for huge crowds - and its FREE!

Carb Day 2001 Carb Day 2001 - "Collective Soul"

Concerts so far: (Click for my photos of those concerts)
2000 - Smashmouth
2001 - Collective Soul
2002 - Better Than Ezra
2003 - Cracker
2004 - Blues Traveler (got sick, replaced by LIVE)
2005 - The Black Crowes
2006 - Third Eye Blind, The B-52's

There has always been lots of partying going on outside the Speedway and still is today. Thousands camp across Georgetown Road from the Speedway. 16th Street and Georgetown Road gets shut down for all the people partying in the street. A lot of crazy things go on, especially the night before the race.

Here is a picture from the coke lot in 2000. Some engineering students attempt to get their tv to fly.

The night before the 500 features special events, races, concerts and partys all over town.

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