My Unforgettable Indy 500 Weekend

Ever since I was a kid I have watched at least some portion of almost every Indianapolis 500 race. It reminds me of my Dad, Memorial Day and being a kid thinking how strange and cool the Indy cars looked and sounded. I had always wanted to go to the Indy 500. I just had my Indy 500 weekend and it couldn’t have been better-well maybe the hat!
Indy 500 hat, Lee Abbamonte
The Indy 500 isn’t just a race-it’s a weekend. It is an event of epic proportions. The race itself is the largest single day sporting event in the world with some 300,000 people in attendance.
Indy 500, how big
It’s hard to explain just how big the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is but this graphic above should help a little. The infield of the 2.5-mile oval can hold within it: the Vatican; Yankee Stadium; the Rose Bowl, and Wimbledon amongst a few other things. You have to see it with your own eyes to believe the size and see the volume of people.
500 festival parade, Lee Abbamonte
Indy 500 weekend starts on Friday with special events including dinners with drivers and certainly fun nights out in the fantastic little city of Indianapolis. I didn’t have many expectations but Indy is a true hidden gem in American cities. I really enjoyed it.
Monument Circle, Indianapolis, Indy
There are nearly as many monuments in Indianapolis as there are in Washington DC. Some are truly profound and very eye-catching like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Monument Circle-right in the center of the city.
Balloons, 500 Festival Parade, Indy
Saturday is the 500 Festival Parade. This is actually the 3rd largest parade in America behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rose Bowl Parade. I was shocked to find that out but when I experienced it, I could believe it!
Josh Kaufman, Lee Abbamonte, Indy 500
I was fortunate to have media passes and was able to meet a lot of the celebrities and state officials that were in attendance including Josh Kaufman, who recently won The Voice. I also met a few Olympians including Gracie Gold, who medalled in Sochi in figure skating for the US.
Gracie Gold, Lee Abbamonte
I also met both Mayor of Indianapolis and the Governor of Indiana. Both were really nice guys and I enjoyed chatting with them both. However, my two favorites were far and away sports related not including several actual Indy drivers I met including defending champ, Tony Kanaan.
Tony Kanaan, Lee Abbamonte
Andrew Luck is the Quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and was a really nice guy. He is really big as well and was very personable to everyone he met.
Andrew Luck, Lee Abbamonte, Indy 500
But my favorite was Mark Cuban. I was fortunate to chat with him twice over the weekend and had previously met him at South by Southwest in Austin a few months ago. I really admire him and love his attitude!
Mark Cuban, Lee Abbamonte
Celebrities and drivers aside, the parade was pretty cool and really showed the pageantry of the Indy 500 weekend. The city of Indianapolis knows how to throw a big event. Aside from Indy 500 weekend each year and of course the Brickyard 400 as well, the city has also hosted a Superbowl (The New York Giants won FYI) and hosts the Final Four every few years. They know what they’re doing.
Media Passes, Indy 500
That leads me to the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500; which I will go ahead and say is simply a great spectacle no matter what event. I have never seen so many people in one place and what a spectacle they put on!
Indy 500, car
The pre-race traditions at the Indy 500 are legendary and I feel extremely fortunate to have had a front row seat to all of them including the final ever singing of ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ by the legendary singer Jim Nabors. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I was so excited to be a part of it and I encourage you to watch it here.

I also had a front row seat on the track, actually on the bricks for the driver introduction and photograph. I couldn’t believe my luck although I did kind of force my way in. It was a true experience and one I won’t soon forget especially given the size of the trophy-it’s literally bigger than most of the drivers!
Indy 500 driver intro
That’s the thing that’s cool about the Indy 500. You can actually get tickets that allow you to walk on the track and see the actual cars and chat with the drivers right before the race. I got a great look at Kurt Busch before he drove Indy and then later on that night drove a NASCAR race in Charlotte! I cannot think of another sport in the world that lets you do that. It makes you really feel a part of the event.
Kurt Busch, Indy 500
A few other things pre-race that were really cool was watching Leann Rimes up close and personal sing the National Anthem, preceded by Florence Henderson aka Mrs. Brady from the Brady Bunch sing God Bless America-I thought that was random but what do I know?!
Leann Rimes, National Anthem, Indy 500
Also, mark Cuban had to climb the ladder to wave the green flag and let’s just say he didn’t look too comfortable doing so! It was pretty funny to watch him struggle but he eventually made it and the race started with a mighty roar…and what a race it was!
Mark Cuban, green flag, Indy 500
I make no claims of being a huge racing fan. However, I still know more than the passive fan but have just never really paid enough attention to really see what all the hype is about. This race changed that for me. The 98th Indy 500 was awesome and ended up being the 2nd closest finish in Indy 500 history.
Indy 500 fans
Ryan Hunter-Reay won a classic race over 3 time champion Helio Castroneves by less than a second after 500 miles. There were several lead changes down the stretch and it couldn’t have been more exciting. I loved every second of the race and my whole Indy 500 weekend.
Indy 500, winner, Indy
Indianapolis is a legitimate city with a lot to do. I was very pleasantly surprised. It really has everything you need including big time sports, good restaurants, nice hotels and some attractive residents-I’m sold!
Lee Abbamonte, Indy 500
I highly recommend you check out Indianapolis for an Indy 500 weekend. Even if you don’t like racing, you’ll like the event and the feel of the city during the weekend. I look forward to coming back again soon for what I am sure will be another big sporting event!
Gasoline Alley, Indy 500
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Indy for my Indy 500 weekend. All views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone and have not been coerced in any way…as always.

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  1. Unbelievable pictures, Lee. It looks like you had an amazing experience. I have to say I am very jealous!

  2. Indy is a very underrated city but that’s the way we like it. It really fills up for big events and conventions but it maintains the small town, midwestern feel that we love. Nice write up and glad you had fun. I’ve been going my whole life and have never been on the track like you were. That’s something to shoot for next year!

  3. Hell of a race to be at for your first Indy 500! Glad you’re on board with racing, it has great drama!

  4. Awesome! I would love to do this! I’ve only been to NASCAR but it doesn’t have the history that Indy does.

  5. Very nice piece and photos. You are a very lucky man. My husband would love to do this. He goes to the nascar race near our house every year.

  6. Lauren Walker says

    I love this article! This does such a justice for my hometown. We’re a humble and proud place and the 500 is one of our greatest treasures. I’ve been going every year that I’ve been alive. Indy Car is a big part of my family and it’s definitely worth the time – the 500 weekend that is, and you also saw one of the most exciting races too so that’s awesome. Glad you enjoyed and come back and see Indy again sometime!

    P.S. You’re an inspiration to my goal. I’ve always wanted to visit every country. I plan to do so starting soon so thank you for all of the knowledge!

  7. You win for the most celebrity sighting selfies over the weekend. Glad you had fun! Until next time!

    You best be sporting that hat in NYC this week, as well.

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