A Survival Kit For the Indy 500

Our choice of the phrase “survival kit” might be a bit overdone, but at the outset it presents an excellent opportunity for us to explain in detail just what this website is about and how it can benefit you the spectator. When we developed this network of web guides it was our intention to provide you, the spectator, with the in-depth knowledge you need to know “it” like a native. “It” referring to the venue, the city, the community, the traffic, the ins and outs, the what’s hot and the what’s not of everything related to a particular event. In this guide that event is the Indianapolis 500 mile race. So, while “survival kit” is a fun descriptor, the real thrust of this page and the website as a whole, is to simply provide all the links you need to buy your tickets, schedule your airfare, rent your hotel room, locate great places to dine, and basically know where to go, what to do and how to do it. We hope to provide you with the information you need to make your experience at the Indy 500 a great success.

So, what kinds of things might you need to know to make your experience at Indy a great success? Basically, you need to know how to avoid the common pitfalls of the novice spectator. Then use that information to make the most of your spectator experience. With 15 days of race related track activity taking place on a 530 acre property, located in the 12th largest city in the country, where 400,000 fans show up each year to witness the greatest spectacle in racing, it’s very easy for something to go wrong. It is our goal to help you avoid those problems and help you have a safe and memorable visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Spectators with great tickets, good hotel accommodations, easy access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a good all-around knowledge of the organizational aspects of the speedway and the city of Indianapolis as a whole are generally happy spectators. That’s not so difficult you say? True, it’s not that difficult. However, its easier to get one of those concerns all fouled up and when you do, you won’t be one of those happy spectators. So, the topics below are provided for your information with the hope that you will be able to use this information to your benefit and make your visit the best it can be.

TICKETS: At Indy, there are great seats, average seats, terrible seats, and no seats. So at the outset, you need to determine just what kind of experience you are looking for. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that great seats are expensive and hard to come by and terrible seats and no seats are easier to come by and a whole lot cheaper. If your goal is to arrive at Indy to be part of the event and you’re more concerned about saving money and less concerned about how much of the actual race you will see, then you might consider the terrible tickets or no tickets. If, however, you actually expect to see the race, then you will want to at least purchase average seats and if your budget will allow, purchase great seats.

Let’s start with terrible seats and no seats. The speedway is a two and half mile oval track. It is so large there is no single spectator seat where you can see the entire track. There are four holes of the Brickyard championship golf course in the infield which most people never even see due to the enormous size of the infield. For people who want to show up for the “party”, buying a general admission ticket, which gives you access to the infield and no reserve seat, is all that is required. This option is popular with the younger spectators and those with a very tight budget. For 2010 a general admission ticket for the Indy 500 is $20.00. Terrible seats start at $40.00 for face value and go up from there. Knowing which tickets are terrible seats is a bit more difficult to discern, but the following pointers will educate you about what to look for.

Terrible seats are seats that give you such a limited view of the track that the only thing you are able to see is the short span of track immediately in front of you. If, for example, your ticket were in the front row in the apex of turn 3 in the Northeast Vista, you might look at the back of your ticket at the map of the oval and think that you are going to be able to see the cars come down the backstretch into the third turn, then into the short chute and then into the fourth turn. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Each turn at Indy is ¼ of a mile in length. If you are sitting down close to the track in the apex of the turn, you will only see the cars after they come into the turn and you will lose sight of them before they exit the turn. Amazingly, you won’t even be able to see the cars start and finish the whole turn. If your tickets happen to be on the front straightaway, and you are in the front row or anywhere close to the track, you will only be able to see the entire straightaway, if you lean forward or stand up to see around your neighbor. As a rule of thumb avoid tickets which are down front close to the track. These are the single letter seats. By way of example, the first row of section 32 in the Northeast Vista is letter “A”, the next row is letter “B” and so on. The rows above “Z” start over only with double letters, such as “AA”, and “BB”. So, if you want to avoid terrible tickets, avoid single letter rows and while you’re at it, don’t just settle for row AA, you’ll see a lot more track in MM or SS than you will in AA and you’ll be glad you did.

Average and great seats are a little more challenging to spot and for that matter more challenging to come by. Based on what we have said so far, it should be fairly obvious that average and good seats start in double letter rows for the most part. Stick with that rule and you should at least avoid picking terrible seats. Now, following the double letter row rule, next consider the vantage point various locations offer. Spectators seated high in turns 2 and 4 see cars coming into the turns and leaving the turns and depending on how high up they are, they may be able to see the cars flying down the straight away heading away from them. Conversely, seats high in turns 1 and 3 allow spectators to see the cars heading toward them off the straightaway. The drivers are typically more aggressive coming off the straight away with a full head of speed, and therefore, turns 1 and 3 are typically more desirable than double letter rows in other turns and along the frontstretch and backstretch of the track. However, double letter rows in turn one are not just average they are exceptional and difficult to find and expensive to purchase. Penthouse seats in turn 1 are more valuable than gold. Because seats can be renewed year after year by the ticket holders, the very best seats in the house are owned by the royal families of racing or large automotive corporations. They have held those seats since 1945 and they will still be holding those seats in 2045.

Grandstand “E” despite being in the first turn, does not guarantee a great view of the track. Some seats in that grandstand are terrible seats, in our opinion. Many of the seats in Grandstand “E”, particularly the ones down low and closer to turn 2 simply do not grant you a good view of the track. Penthouse seats and double letter rows in the lower level of grandstand “E” are better if they are close to the apex of the turn.

So what are good seats? Besides all the information we have already provided, consider this. For the spectator sitting high in the apex of turn 1, he or she can see the pits, cars exiting turn four, cars coming at them down the front straightaway, cars leaving the pits, cars entering turn one, into the south chute, and into turn four. It is also the best view of the start and finish of the race. Arguably, there is no better spot from which to watch the Indianapolis 500. This would apply equally to the Brickyard 400.

The Indianapolis motor speedway is the original source of all race tickets. They not only sell race tickets they also reserve those tickets in the name of the race fan so they can be purchased next year. As long as the tickets are renewed by purchasing them when they go on sale for next years race (usually the week after the race), the race fan retains those tickets. This reservation system insures that the very best seats go to the same people year after year. If those people decide to go on a European vacation next year, those tickets will likely be given or sold to a friend or family member. The better the tickets the less likely they are to end up in the hands of a ticket broker. But because of the reservation system at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the best way of securing great tickets is to obtain them through a reputable ticket broker.

Great seats may still be available, but you will need to look for Penthouse-Paddock, Penthouse-Grandstand “A”, Penthouse Grandstand “B”, Penthouse Grandstand “E” or double letter rows in the turns in order to get a spectacular seat. One final word of caution. Beware of “map distortion“. You will find maps which mark the location of the various grandstands around the track. These maps do a fine job of giving you a general reference, but they are by no means a reliable way to determine what kind of view a particular grandstand offers.

If the information we have provided here fails to give you the information you need in order to find great seats, you can always use the default rule. Throw lots of money at the problem. Typically, better seats cost more. Ticket brokers know good seats from bad seats, and they charge accordingly. On average, you will find that tickets in the Penthouse-Paddock and Penthouse seats in grandstands “A” and “B” and “E” are the most expensive. You would also find that those tickets generally offer an outstanding view of the track. But they are by no means the only great seats and with a little effort you can learn the system and use it to your advantage when you return for the next race.

. by Mike K. Moser