The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was monumental for a lot of reasons. It was the first time—ever—the race completely sold out. The first time the local media blackout was lifted since the early 1950s. And the first time a rookie won since 2001. An estimated 350,000 people attended to see Lady Gaga take a two-seater ride with 500 legend Mario Andretti, and to watch Alexander Rossi cross the finish line on fumes then get a tow to Victory Lane.
But the drivers, the celebrities, and the cars don’t make the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. From those who come to carry on family traditions, to the gear-heads and motorsports diehards, to the partyers who just come for the beer and the Snake Pit, it is the Indy 500 fans who visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, year after year, who really make this historic event what it is.
In May, 100 such fans, each captured in this pictorial tribute, told us what brought them here.
Jill CunningtonIndianapolis, Ind. Business development manager. Indy 500 appearances: 36
“It’s the only thing myself, my brother, and my mom and dad still do together every year. When I was a little kid, we started coming. We’d park down by 30th Street by the railroad tracks and walk in. It’s a lot of tradition. And watching the technology in the cars change is pretty awesome. And the thing about this race is, anybody can win. It’s a pretty neat deal that you can be a one-off team or you can be in a Penske, an Andretti. You can win it. It’s a pretty neat opportunity for everyone. If you can get here, you can win.”
Henry Graham Norwood, Mass. Retired.
Indy 500 appearances: 20
“I like the tradition, the history of the place. I’ve been following car racing my entire life—not here, per se—but at home and stuff. It goes back to when I was born in the late ’40s. My whole life, it’s all I’ve ever done. My father and my uncle raced back in the ’40s. My father didn’t drive—my uncle was the driver. They raced stock cars back in the late ’40s through the ’50s. I follow IndyCar.”
Indianapolis, Ind. Writer.
Indy 500 appearances: 1
“When I moved to Indy this past August, I didn’t know much about the city, much less the race. I’ve never been an avid sports fan, so I didn’t think I’d care that much when May rolled around. I didn’t anticipate how much energy the race would bring to the city, reaching far beyond Speedway. I have found myself excited about the Indy 500 because it’s at the heart of the city I’ve come to love. It spurs pride of place.”
“I was born in Indy. I probably started listening to the race when I was 4 or 5 years old. We’d watch the clock in church, waiting until we could get out. Usually they’d had about 10 laps done by the time the sermon ended. I just love the aura of the Speedway. Growing up watching and listening to it, you get to know the drivers. It’s just Indiana. It’s so Indiana. Being a guy, I’m a gear-head. I love mechanics. I love knowing about how cars run, how they stick to the track, about aerodynamics. This is the best of Indiana right here.”
“The people who aren’t here anymore, their children, and their grandchildren—we keep coming back here. And it’s just like we never left. It’s the same every year. The legend just keeps going because the race gets in your blood.”
“My best memory is when I was about 10 years old. You see them warming up their tires, and then the checkered flag goes, and your first time seeing cars go at 200 miles per hour is pretty cool. It blows your hair back and gives you goose bumps.”
“My favorite part is definitely the atmosphere. I come every year to watch the cars, but I definitely come for the atmosphere, the environment, the people. It’s just about the culture of the Indianapolis 500. I’ve been coming here since I was 6 years old. I’ve seen the track from when I could stick a peg board down to the drivers and have them sign it, to today when they remodeled the front, the pagoda, all that. At the end of the day, I think it’s just being able to teach people that I know—like my 13-year-old niece—the history, what it means, the memories of the bricks and what it means. And the memories of our city and what it means for our city.”
Scroll through the gallery to meet the rest of the Indy 500 fans in our tribute.