Indy 500 Impressions: Friday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

So for those of you who don’t know, there’s this thing called Carb Day. And in Indiana, it’s a really, really big deal.

It felt like half the state was at IMS on Friday to watch an hour of final Indy 500 practice, followed by the Indy Lights race, a pit crew competition and a pair of concerts (Barenaked Ladies and the Steve Miller Band).

There’s really nothing in NASCAR that’s equivalent to this. In NASCAR, every day of a race weekend is usually built around the on-track activity. There might be things to do, but the race cars are the focus.

But on Carb Day, the on-track stuff is a sideshow — it’s just an excuse to come out and party. And tens of thousands of people did, dragging their coolers around and wearing some outfits worthy of People of Walmart.

Here’s Carb Day summed up: As the Barenaked Ladies sang “One Week,” a group of bros climbed up on top of their coolers and started shotgunning some beers. A dude wearing an American flag tank top that read, “WE’RE NOT COCKY — JUST THE BEST” poured his beer down the hatch — and then took a huge tumble off the cooler.

The cooler spilled open, ice and beer everywhere. The bro, lying on the grass, looked briefly stunned, then jumped up and high-fived his buddies. Party on.

So yeah, this day wasn’t really about racing. But what a crowd. Tickets were $30 each, and that granted access to anywhere on the track property — the grandstands to watch practice and the pit stop competition, the Pagoda Plaza fan zone and the concert venue in Turn 4.

Last year, there were 100,000 people who attended Carb Day — but that was for the 100th running of the 500. For argument’s sake, let’s say 75,000 attended this year’s Carb Day — again, at $30 apiece. That would be $2.25 million in revenue, not including concessions and souvenir sales.

The point is, even with overhead costs and fees for the performers, etc., the track is easily going to clear $1 million — for a practice day.

Now, Indy didn’t just come up with this idea and it was suddenly a hit. I get that. It took decades of tradition to reach this point.

And, of course, this doesn’t happen at every IndyCar race. It’s unique to the 500 and part of the weekend.

But NASCAR could try and take a couple notes from what happens here by making one of the race weekend days into a party day. Scrap the Sunday pre-race concert, for example, and move it to a Friday. Chop down on practice sessions and add driver appearances or other fun diversions instead.

Let’s be honest: In this world, there are far more people who are fans of getting drunk than are fans of race cars. So appeal to them, gladly take their money and give them a place to go wild for a day.

Tracks like Michigan and Talladega have tried things along these lines, but more could follow suit. One of those is Indianapolis, which is going to try it for the Brickyard 400 this summer; a two-night concert festival featuring the likes of The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer is already on the calendar.

11 Replies to “Indy 500 Impressions: Friday”

  1. I love the Indy 500 but the drunks ruin the fun for me because I am just not a drinker. I only go on Sunday and for me it’s about racing. Not praying to the porcelain gods!

  2. Been to Indy several times and there is some serious drinking going on there… However, I think the guys, (and girls), at Talladega could put them under the table in less than 50 laps.

    The Olympic caliber performance for drinking happened in ’87 when Allison torn up the fencing. There was a red flag which meant there was an extra 4 hours of drinking added to a 3 hour event. Alabama fans NEVER run out of beer. They bring twice what they think they can possible drink. What if there’s rainout? What if the truck won’t start and you have to spend Sunday night at the track re-building the distributor? They are prepared.

    After the race, we hung out at our car near on of the main track exits and watched the show. If we had iPhones back then, we could of spliced together a two hour X rated documentary.

  3. I’m curious to know what you thought of the pit stop competition they have? I’ve always enjoyed it and would really like to see NASCAR do something similar, even if it is “just” for the all star race.

  4. What the heck Jeff?? I really take offense to the Walmart comment. Not all of us are millionaire’s or even in the $100,000 bracket. We have no choice but to shop there. Very nice and respectable people do shop at Walmart in case you didn’t know.

    Maybe you need to make IndyCar your new beat, since NASCAR can’t seem to compare. Maybe you should try it for the rest of the season and then come back and let us know what the “regular” season races are all about.

    I’m sorry and I hope you don’t band me from your site (like Jim Utter does) but these last two posts have just been so very critical of NASCAR. Maybe I’m wrong but haven’t your coverage of them been your bread and butter these last few years. You’re talking about one race compared to all of NASCAR’s events. Do they not have some sort of concert at each and every race? And the fans camp out for days on ends at ALL the races do they not.

    1. If that’s what real racing looks like, why do they struggle to put 30,000 in the stands at almost every other event?

    2. Syndy I’m not talking about the racing. I’m upset with Jeff on the way he is being so critical of the way NASCAR does their pre-race activities.
      As for going to a race I’ve never been to either but I watch all NASCAR races and every IndyCar that doesn’t coincide with the former. IndyCar’s are really fast but not a whole lot of lead changes , (i.e.) St. Petersburg (8) Long Beach (6) Birmingham (8) Phoenix (4) compared to NASCAR: Daytona (37) Atlanta (9)
      Las Vegas (14) Phoenix (15). That being said IndyCar is my 2nd favorite form of racing.

      1. Anita,

        NASCAR is my home and I don’t feel like I’m being overly critical. I’m just sharing my experience of what I am seeing here. My eyes are wide open here and I’m thinking of ways NASCAR could improve; I want it to be better.

        Also, I shop at Walmart. Surely you would agree people walk around wearing their pajamas there or other weird outfits at times (I was referring to the “People of Walmart” website which has photos of odd-looking individuals shopping there).

        1. Thanks for sharing your experience at the 500. I’m happy to hear there are WalMart people there. LoL Your description was spot on and visions from the website came to mind. I thought I was the only one who noticed those folks who have no home training on how to dress in public! Talladega has done a great job with activities for fans. I agree more tracks need to up their game. Note how many people were complaining of the lack of activities at Charlotte this weekend. Thanks again for a look outside our NASCAR world. You know I was not a supporter of your Indy trip, but as always you gave me a new view via your experience. Keep doing it the way you do reporting, Jeff!! You are the best!

        2. Jeff,

          I know you love NASCAR and you like all of us fans want the very best of our beloved sport. It just seemed like you are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to the one big race of IndyCar to the many of NASCAR.

          As for the Walmart comment, I didn’t know there was such a website but yes I have saw such photos on Facebook and I still don’t like it because it seems to put all Walmart shoppers in a very unflattering light.

          P.S. I still love your perspective of all things NASCAR even if I don’t always agree. ????????

  5. Indy is unique the track ,musuem the fan X is different.The 500 the snakepit & more.

    There used to be between 8 to 10 showcars at every Nascar event.Every car should be available to fan at no extra cost.The live tv broadcast trackside show Sprint/Nextel zone & gaming Gamestop Nascar trailer,Goodyear,Chevy stage /Zone ,Ford Performance,Toyota Terrace test drive simulator/Showcar/food zone for the Toyota owner.

    The brickyard is the best Nascar fanzone after Daytona 500 that i attended.Music experience at the track pre race concert of 15-17 minutes.Why nobody is buying ticket to see a short performance like with usually poor sound quality unless you have fronstrech ticket.

    It takes a while to create a unique experience like the Carb Day or the Food City FanZone friday at Bristol w the Pepsi Music Stage,showcar,autograph session by drivers live interviews of drivers on location.

    MIS came up w a unique offer musicfest/Nascar Racing will see how it evolve without Mr.Curtis .Jeff Indy offer something different

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