The First Sign Of Spring

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For some, springtime arrives with the first sign of the yellow buttercups opening up to take in the sun. Others consider it spring when Daylight Savings Time causes their bodies to crave more sleep, like mine did this morning. A more pessimistic approach to the approaching spring is when the stalks of green onions start springing up throughout the lawn and demanding immediate attention.

For sports fans, baseball spring training and March Madness both get the blood pumping. All of these signal the oncoming warmer weather. For me, however, there is only one clear signal that spring – or more importantly, May – is just around corner: when the tickets to the Indianapolis 500 arrive in the mailbox. I got to experience that annual rite of passage this past Friday afternoon when I got home from work.

I pulled in the driveway. As always, I stopped and checked my mailbox. There amongst the bills and the coupons for five dollars off for my next gutter purchase, was this thick, light blue envelope simply marked “Speedway, Indiana”. I recognized it immediately. I’ve been buying tickets directly through the Speedway for the past twenty years and that simple envelope has never changed. It was a welcome sight on a cold afternoon and a long week at work.

Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait to get inside and tear open the envelope. But tear isn’t the right word. When I get my electric bill, I usually just stick my finger in and rip it open. In fact, that’s how I open most of my mail. For this envelope, however, I searched for the seldom-used letter opener in my desk. This was to have a clean incision.

After carefully opening the top, I pulled out the 2012 order form, the usual ad for the 500 Festival Parade and found what I was looking for: a simple rubber-band binding four giant tickets. I gently slipped the rubber-band off the top and inspected each ticket thoroughly, making sure that each one had the correct section, row and seat assignment.

Then I took a minute to admire the work of the graphics artist. Some ticket designs are better than others. This was one of the good ones. Being the one-hundredth anniversary, it needed to be. There should be nothing odd or funky for this race. One of the stranger designs was for the 2006 race. It was of Dan Wheldon’s winning car seen from overhead, on the yard of bricks with the words “90th Running” burned through the ticket with a laser. Yes, it was an expensive effect, but it was more about showing off the technology to do so, than it was about creating an artistic ticket. Mercifully, that effect never returned.

Instead, this was a ticket that was colorful and tasteful – yet attention grabbing. There were subtle salutes to the past, but still modern and current looking. Best of all – it didn’t look cheap. Last year’s souvenir program was the first to be produced in the Jeff Belskus era, after Tony George had been ousted. It had a very cheap feel to it. The pages were of thinner stock, and the articles and layout had an amateur quality about it. Hopefully they will realize that this is something that people buy for lifelong keepsakes. I would gladly pay more for a program that had a more quality feel to it, and I think most patrons would agree. Fortunately, they treated the tickets as a piece of memorabilia rather than something strictly to get you in the gate.

One exceptionally nice touch on the ticket is the use of the term “International 500 Mile Sweepstakes”. This is what adorned the tickets when I was going to the races as a young kid. I never knew what that meant and somewhere along the way it disappeared. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but it is a nice nod to the past to see it on there.

The new ticket was supposedly inspired by the 1937 ticket. I’ve never seen what that looks like so I have no idea if it’s similar or not. But I know that every single detachable stub, down to the “Rain Check” has an old, nostalgic look to it.

These days, most event tickets are computer-generated and come from Ticketmaster. When Tennessee played North Carolina in the Music City Bowl this past December, each person had about eight different items that resembled tickets all joined together. It was confusing, but only one of them was an actual ticket. I still don’t know what all of those other things were, but my actual ticket was in the car. I had to run to the car, grab the real ticket and sprint back to the gate before they would let me in. I missed kickoff.

It’s nice to see that the Speedway still treats the Race Day ticket as something to cherish. Everything is on a very large placard, which appears to grow in size every year. I hope they never go to the ever-popular e-ticket that simply allows you to print a bar-code on your home computer. Something just doesn’t seem right about that. For one thing, it would deprive me of that first sign of spring that I got to experience this past Friday. It’s a sign that the Month of May cannot be that far off.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “The First Sign Of Spring”

  1. Wade Wilson Says:

    “International 500 Mile Sweepstakes” is the orignal name for the “Indianapolis 500″ now “Indy 500″, it keeps getting shortened over the years. Sweepstakes in old timey talk means contest or sporting event.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      Thanks, Wade. I too always wondered what that meant.

    • billytheskink Says:

      If the history books are correct, the 1979 race was the last to officially be called the “International 500 Mile Sweepstakes”. The “Indianapolis 500 Mile Race” has been the official name since.

  2. Articles about the ticket include the Centennial Era Logo in the description of the ticket, but I don’t see it in the representations on line. Am I missing something?

    • Mike Silver Says:

      It’s on the lower left, which is not in the photo. The photo only shows the main part of the ticket. This is one of the coolest tickets ever.

  3. I was lucky enough to be invited to what turned out to be the final game of the World Series last year. My ticket was printed out, much like a airline boarding pass, on plain old paper. (I’m sure there were “real” tickets somewhere, I just didn’t get one.)

    I’m sure IMS could save money by not doing it the traditional way, but I’m happy that they still do. I liked everything about this story–from the plain envelope with Speedway on it to the description of the tickets themselves. I hope they get plenty of feedback on their process so they understand it’s important (at least to some.) Good one, George.

  4. You may have missed kickoff but you got to see two endings to that football game.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Making me even more anxious about receiving tickets to my first 500.
    Hope they come soon, very soon.

  6. Jim Gallo Says:

    Got my tickets in the mail last Friday too. A happy day it was.

  7. The Ticket is like that with our local Nationwide races as well as the Bristol races.

  8. bentwickerbill Says:

    George, a copy of the 1937 500 ticket can be viewed here…

  9. Great account of your receiving your tickets, George. Saturday was the Big Day here in Omaha. Good times. Good times, indeed, and even better times are just 2 1/2 months away.

  10. james t suel Says:

    I got my tickets friday also, and that made my day! I still have all my ticket stubs from my first 500 in 1960 thru this years. i always thought the tickets for the 500 were works of art.Iam now 60 years old ,an still get look for that great month of may.

  11. Br!an McKay Says:

    I’d expect that you’d scan or photograph a ticket to show us.
    I paid $186 for Saint Petersburg, and I had the privilege of printing several pages with my paper and ink rather than getting a holographic, gold-foil-labeled, four-color, beautiful representation of something distinctly Florida/Tampa Bay/Saint Petersburg/IndyCar street racing… To see the Grand Prix of Alabama, I bought a multicolor, little, plastic card Season Pass to Barber Motorsports Park…

  12. Getting that envelope is BY FAR my favorite sign of Spring. My wife and each get four seats (mine in the SE Vista and hers in the NW), so we get two of those each year. It always puts a smile on my face when I open the mailbox and see them.

    Just FYI….. my ticket from the 1973 race has the Sweepstakes wordiing on it. I don’t know when they stopped it, but it was sometime between then and 1983 when I started getting my own tix, since I have all of the stubs since then.

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