Community Indy 500

Ultimate Guide to the Indy 500: 2021 Edition

May is always one of the best times of the year to be in Indy — because that’s when the engines start revving up again at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the Indy 500. 

After a rough go of things last year, racing fans are ready to cut loose a little and celebrate, and they’ll get their chance on May 30, when the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 comes to the Brickyard.

If you’re planning to be among the spectators in the stands this year, we’ve got the skinny on everything you need to know to have a great time.

Can You Actually Get Tickets to the Indy 500 This Year?

Maybe. Last year, the pandemic caused a major delay in the big race, and the stands ultimately had to be closed to most spectators. 

This year, IMS announced that it will allow 135,000 fans to attend the Indy 500, which means the stands will only be filled to 40% capacity. While that will be the biggest mass gathering at a sporting event since the entire pandemic started, it’s still a lot smaller than normal — so tickets are hard to get.

Here’s what’s going on: Roughly 170,000 tickets were already sold before the restricted attendance was announced. A little over a week ago, IMS asked ticket holders to commit to attending or exchange their tickets for credit toward next year’s race. Roughly 35,000 tickets were returned — and it’s expected that more may follow.

Fans who don’t already have tickets can apply to reserve some through the IMS ticket office. As more tickets get returned, those who have their applications in will be given a chance to snap up the extra grandstand or suite seats. General admission tickets, which are typically sold the day of the race, will not be available, however.

What Kinds of Pandemic Restrictions Are Still in Place?

All ticket holders will also be required to wear a mask (which can only be removed while they’re eating or drinking) and undergo a temperature check at the gate. This rule applies even to guests who are fully vaccinated. (Only children under four years of age will be given an exception.)

Plus, fans who are able to score a ticket will still not be permitted on the infield spectator mounds during the race so that social distancing can be maintained. Seating will also be assigned: IMS intends to fill the best sections of the grandstands a little heavier than the less desirable sections, and people who bought their tickets together will be seated as a group. 

Unrelated groups of ticket holders will be separated by several seats to their right and left from other parties, which means that there will be roughly three or four feet of space between them. IMS officials say that they’re following the guidance of health and safety experts and the spacing will be sufficient to lower the risk of infection. 

What about fans who have the coveted bronze and silver badges that grant access to the pits? If you’re among those lucky few, you can still gain access to the paddocks — but only if you can prove that you’ve been vaccinated against the Coronavirus. If you’ve had your shot (or shots), make sure you have your vaccination card handy.

If you don’t have your vaccine, you have the option to exchange your badge for credit against a future event when restrictions are eased a bit further. Log into your IMS account or call the ticket office no later than Friday, April 23 by 8 p.m. to make your request.

In addition, IMS is asking fans to do a self-assessment on race day before they arrive. If you’ve recently been exposed to COVID, have a fever or are experiencing flu-like symptoms, you’re being asked to stay home.

What Can You (and Should You) Take with You to the Race?

The concession stands are expected to be up and running this year — but in a limited fashion that’s designed for “touchless” transactions whenever possible. Plus, social distancing will be enforced in the queues, so you can generally expect lines to be long despite the diminished size of the crowd.

The wise fan will carry food and drinks with them to the race, but remember these rules:

  • Coolers and bags cannot be any larger than 18”x14”x14”.
  • No glass bottles are permitted, so beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) need to be in cans or plastic.
  • Pack sandwiches, fruit, chips, pretzels, cookies and other easy-to-grab and easy-to-eat food items so that your crowd doesn’t go hungry.
  • Make sure that you have several bottles of water, soda or juice for each member of your party so that nobody ends up dehydrated.

Since May weather can be unpredictable, at best, it’s wise to wear layered clothing that you can peel off if it gets warm, and make sure that you have sunscreen tucked into your pocket or bag.

Finally, remember this: If you’re a smoker, you can no longer smoke (or vape) in the grandstands. If you need a smoke break, you have to find a spot at least 20 feet from any building or entrance to the seating areas. 

What Else Should You Know About Race Day?

The gates are still going to open at 6 a.m. on race day, and the race will begin promptly at 12:45 p.m. — so get there as early as you can. There’s no infield parking this May (and IMS says if you have an infield parking pass you should check your online IMS account for a replacement), but there’s plenty of other parking available. 

If you do have tickets for the race, you should apply now for parking — many of the best parking lots are already sold out as of this writing, and parking slots in other areas are going fast. 

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 2021 may not quite be what you remembered pre-pandemic just yet — but it’s sure to be a fun-filled adventure that’s full of excitement for everyone in attendance!