The Indianapolis 500 is no longer the biggest day of the year on the auto racing calendar. But it remains the biggest draw of the year — auto racing or otherwise, and especially this year, when the annual Memorial Day weekend race celebrates its centennial.
The 100th anniversary race of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to be run Sunday, May 29 and interest in the race — which has struggled to maintain its popularity since the explosion of NASCAR in the 1990s — has spiked. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported recently that television ratings for the Indianapolis 500 last year were down 40 percent from 2006.
But WTHR-TV in Indianapolis reported last week that ticket sales for the Indianapolis 500 are up seven percent — the first increase in years.
“We attribute it to a lot of things, but obviously the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 the economy is a little better, we have a new ticket package,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of public relations Doug Boles told WTHR. “So there are a lot of things that contribute to it going up.”
Ticket prices for actual seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — more on seating there in a moment — range from $40 to $150. As of this afternoon, Monday, May 23, all the $150 tickets are sold out at the Indianapolis 500’s official Web site while two of the five $90 sections were sold out as well.
Tickets for the most inexpensive seats remain available, as do general admission tickets ($30) and race day infield tickets ($20). The new package Boles refers to is one in which adults can buy a general admission ticket and bring in a child (12 or under) for free.
Even in the midst of the recession and stagnant interest in Indy Car Racing, the Indianapolis 500 hasn’t lacked for capacity crowds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway-even if the actual capacity there remains mostly a mystery. The Speedway has spent decades declining to reveal the capacity of the facility or the actual number of people that attend the Indianapolis 500, but the Indianapolis Star spent six months inspecting the facility in 2004 and determined it has 257,325 seats. That doesn’t count the standing room only seating in the infield, which the Star measured at around 40,000.
It is believed that the annual crowd of 300,000 or so leaves the Indianapolis 500 in a, pardon the pun, dead heat with the Brickyard 400 — a NASCAR race that also takes place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late July — as the most attended sporting event in America. The Daytona 500 draws about 250,000 every February.