What To See, Do, Touch And Experience Before The 500 Race Even Starts

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

Some race fans migrate to the Indianapolis 500 each May and experience no more than the race itself; which is not a bad day of enjoyment. Others, however, roam, poke around, stand, listen and visit the nooks and crannies of the large Speedway complex, and some even venture out into the surrounding Town of Speedway neighborhood. Here are ten ideas on how to make your next, or first, visit a bit more interesting than just three hours of high-speed chills and thrills.

• An obvious choice is to get inside the IMS Museum located in the infield at the 16th St. tunnel entrance to the track. History abounds with many race winning cars on display as well as this year’s treat…a specially curated display featuring the Unser family with cars and numerous memorabilia items from Bobby, Al Sr. and Al Jr. The museum also has a sensational pair of stores selling everything a fan would want to take home.

• What are some “must buy” items to take home? Make sure you get a race program and add a free race day lineup insert as well. An event pin is a must as well as a piece of clothing to wear to let the world know where you were on May 27th. All are available on the grounds and at various souvenir stands. Also pick up a copy of the race day Indianapolis Star newspaper as well as the race winner edition the next day. One more stop would take you to the Firestone garage under the Tower Terrace stands where the will hand you a large Firestone poster free.

• Bring or buy a scanner or an am/fm radio with noise cancelling headphones. It’s easy to lose track of what’s going on over the course of 500 miles, and the scanner allows you to also hear driver to crew talk. Scanners are available at Racing Radios trailers on the grounds.

• If you’re into race history or collecting it, there is an Indy 500 Memorabilia show at the Plaza behind the infield control Pagoda. The show starts at 8:00 am on Saturday, May 26.

• The Town of Speedway, just west and south of the track on Main Street has worked hard in recent years to draw race fans to its shops and cafes. Among the highlights are two stores, Three Sisters and Antiques on Main, each having consigned items from 500s past. There are also many new restaurants and an indoor go kart track owned by former driver Sarah Fischer. Several teams have facilities on the street and even AJ Foyt has a café and winery.

• On race day get in the track as early as possible as things get hectic very early. No parking is available in the infield, but Town of Speedway residents make lawn parking spaces for the day if you cruise the side streets.

• Once inside the track stake out a spot along the south fence of Gasoline Alley and listen to the cars being warmed and see drivers come into GA from the motorhome lots. You may even spot a celebrity or two.

• While in the infield, check out the Midway area just north of the Plaza and the Pagoda. Chevy has a giant display, including several current and past Pace Cars. There are also activities for the kids and several teams have merchandise trailers.

• Don’t limit yourself to your seat (if you have one, during the race itself). Walk out to the corners, especially Turn 2, and relax on a grassy berm noting how drivers take different lines in the turns. The often-crowded Turn 4 berms will give you a view of cars as they slow for their pit stops.

• After the race either run to your car to beat the crowds, or relax, open your picnic coolers and enjoy the view of 250,000 fans as they parade out of the track, only to repeat the process next May.

• Oh, and enjoy the day!

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”