An Offseason Day Around Indianapolis

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Last month, I received an interesting e-mail from longtime reader and commenter, Steve Kormanik (Steve K). Like many of us, Steve is an IndyCar fan – but he is also a football fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes. To many that live in the Midwest, that is probably blasphemous – but since the only meeting between Tennessee and Ohio State I can recall, resulted in a 20-14 Vol victory that featured Peyton Manning against Eddie George – I harbor no resentment toward the Buckeyes. Hiring former Florida coach Urban Meyer did nothing to make me pull for them, but other than that – no hard feelings, but I digress.

Steve’s e-mail had little to do with football, except to mention that he and his wife would be in central Indiana to attend the Ohio State-Purdue game. He said that since he had never seen the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in person, they had scheduled to spend that Friday before the game in Indianapolis and he asked me what 500/IndyCar related things one could do on their first visit ever to The Speedway during the first weekend in November. He also asked about some of the iconic places to eat.

That question was not as easy to answer as you might think. Think about it – I sometimes can’t accomplish in a three-day weekend everything I want to do while in town. How on earth could I tell them what to cram into a few hours?

After much thought, I was able to come up with a pretty good list of things to do that would more than fill up their day. I figured I would let him pick and choose from that list. Just to let you know, Steve e-mailed me after their Friday visit to IMS. He thanked me many times over and let me know what they did and his opinions of each. As predicted, they were not able to do everything that was on the list. He figured that he would be returning at the end of the season, when the Buckeyes would be playing in the Big-10 championship game. He guessed correctly as Ohio State clinched a berth in the game by trouncing Indiana this past weekend.

It occurred to me that Steve is not an isolated case. Everyday during every offseason in the bleak of winter – there are racing fans that have never set foot on the hallowed ground at IMS that find themselves in Indianapolis for one reason or another. They have some free time on their hands and want to check out The Speedway for their first time. We that go to IMS every year, take it for granted that everyone knows what to do when they get there. They don’t.

Susan and I spent a long weekend there just last December. It was cold and rainy practically all weekend, but we had a blast. So as a public service, I am offering my guide for what anyone should try to do on their very first visit to IMS in the offseason, when there is no racing going on.

You should begin at the logical starting point – the track. Enter the main gate off of 16th Street, at the south end. This will be a tunnel that runs underneath the short chute between Turns One and Two. When you pop out on the other side, you will see the Hall of Fame Museum straight head. That is your first destination. There is plenty of free parking just to the right of the museum. When you get out of your car, be sure and just take a look around you. It is then that the enormity of the place will become so apparent. The turn closest to you at that point is Turn Two. You will notice how much steeper the banking looks in person, while it looks almost flat on television.

When you get to the front door of the museum, you will notice gift shops on either side. Resist the temptation to go in there first. Wait until after touring the museum. You don’t want to lug stuff around with you. The museum is $5.00 per person. It’s well worth it. There are some of the most iconic cars in Speedway history on display, including the 1911 winning Marmon Wasp. Some non-winning cars include the front-drive Novi, the 1968 wedge-shaped turbines, Danica Patrick’s rookie car, the 1961 Cooper-Climax and Jim Clark’s 1963 Lotus. My personal favorite winning cars on display include all four of AJ Foyt’s winning cars, along with the Bill Vukovich Fuel Injection Special in the 1953 livery and the Belond Special that won in 1957 and 1958 driven by Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan respectively. Other favorites are the winning cars of Bobby Unser (1968) and Mark Donohue (1972).

The cars on display rotate on a regular basis. Some are owned by individual owners and have been returned to them. Those in the IMS collection that aren’t on display are stored downstairs in “the basement”. It is my goal to one day see the basement of the museum. I know a couple of people who have been there and say it’s an unbelievable experience. One friend was given a personal tour by Donald Davidson. They spent several hours down there together.

Susan does not get the thrill out of gawking at the same cars year after year that I do. I could spend hours in the museum. If you’re more like Susan, you may stroll through and be out in forty-five minutes. Either way, on your way out, go to both gift shops on each side. They have similar, but different merchandise. The clothes are pricey (and polyester), but they do have some good DVD’s and a nice selection of hard-to-find books. They also have some decent IMS souvenirs that are fairly reasonable. I would also recommend to get a program from the past year’s 500. They aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but they are still packed with a lot of current and historical information.

But before leaving the museum building, go back to the desk where you bought your museum ticket and buy a ticket for the bus ride around the track. I believe it also costs $5.00, but it is a must. You’ll ride in small coaches playing a taped narrative by Donald Davidson. Again, you’ll notice how steep the banking is as you pass through Turns Three and Four, after entering the track on the backstretch from the pit lane access road. The bus will pause on the Yard of Bricks on the main straightaway before going through Turn One and returning to the museum parking lot.

After you’ve done all you can do at IMS on a cold offseason day, head a couple of blocks southwest of The Speedway. There, you’ll find Main Street in the town of Speedway. You will won’t to head south – more specifically, to the Dallara factory. The full tour is $15.00 per person, but it’s worth it. Ask if Sean Dunham is available to be your guide. He is young, but grew up loving the 500 and knows his stuff. He took us through last December, and then took my extended family through again in May. My brother and I both picked his brain. If he doesn’t know something, he’ll tell you. They also have iRacing simulators for IMS in there that you can drive for free. The Indy Racing Experience is in the same building. Weather permitting, they give street-legal two-seater rides for $30. Not bad, considering that two laps at IMS cost $500.

Sarah Fisher’s shop is right next door. I’ve heard they give tours, but I’ve not been in there.

For eats, Lino’s Italian Coffee is in the building with Dallara. It is authentic Italian coffee and sandwiches. It’s not bad and Susan loves it. But it’s a little pricey and a little too pretentious for my blood. I’m more for the Mug-N-Bun on 10th street. Go to the end of Main Street, make a right and the Mug-N-Bun is a few blocks on your left. The tenderloins are decent, and the burgers OK. Their hot dogs and Coney dogs are very good and so are their fries. But the real star is the root beer. If you don’t like root beer, you may want to pass. But if you love root beer like I do, it’s a must. It is homemade and literally the best root beer I’ve ever tasted. Get it in the glass frosty mug. It is an old fashion drive-in. You can eat in the car, or go into the sit-down dining room across the parking lot from the main building. But if it’s real cold, your food may get cold because they walk it across the parking lot from the main building. They have a large menu, so I would go to their website at http://www.mug-n-bun.com/ and study the menu. Hint: Don’t get the pizza burger.

Another casual place for breakfast or lunch is Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steakhouse. It’s worth it just to see all of the old racing memorabilia they have in there. Like Mug-N-Bun, you’re going more for the experience. The food is decent, but not outstanding. However, the portions are big and the breakfast will really fill you up. They have no website, but Google it and you’ll find plenty of info. It is on Main just south of the Dallara Factory and across the street.

On the nicer side, check out Dawson’s on Main. It is on the same side as Charlie Brown’s, but north of the Dallara factory. It is a nice, casual restaurant. They serve good steaks and seafood, but also good burgers and perhaps the best tenderloin on the west side outside of the track. Check them out at http://www.dawsonsonmain.com/

If you have a sweet tooth, go to Long’s Bakery. It is more towards town at 1453 N Tremont St. It’s an old fashioned bakery and their donuts are legendary -but they usually have a line.

Even the most experienced travelers would have a hard time filling all of that into one day. I suppose you could start out at Charlie Brown’s for breakfast, go to the Dallara Factory, have lunch at Lino’s or the Mug-N-Bun, then head to the track and spend your afternoon there. Then stop off at Long’s Bakery for some donuts to eat later, before heading back to Speedway to eat dinner at Dawson’s.

So, what have I missed? That’s a pretty full day I’ve laid out, but I don’t live there. What about the locations of the individual team’s race shops? I’ve never been to any, so I don’t know what to tell you. If anyone has, please chime in.

But this much I know. It was nineteen degrees in Nashville this morning as I type. Thinking about all of this made me think it might be worth a drive up there some offseason weekend just to get the racing juices flowing during what looks like will be a long cold winter.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “An Offseason Day Around Indianapolis”

  1. I believe that IMS museum gives AAA discounts.. Even though the $5 admission is still a screaming bargain who doesn’t want a discount and the discount on the gift itmes certainl helps. While in the museum you may also run into a slightly harried 70ish year old gentleman with a british accent. If you see him walk up and introduce yourself, that would be Mr Donald Davidson himself (I’ve seen him the last two times in the museum, and once he day after the race two years ago he was outside loading the tour busses) Word of warning do not call the race the INDY 500, to him it’s always been the Indianapolis 500..

  2. Regarding Longs Donuts: they are continuously baking them all day. On race weekends the line goes down the block. One warning, they only take cash.

    Charlie Browns is one of the most friendly places you can eat, and you never know who you will see in there. I’ve seen Robin Miller eating at the counter, entire pit crews, current and former drivers too.

    For me Mug & Bun’s food was not bad, but the root beer was outstanding! For a great tenderloin, though, you will do better at Dawson’s.

  3. Stopped by the museum a year ago while visiting my folks. Great bargain and friendly staff. I’d like to see some of the “building fund” money IMS got from the state go towards improvements on and an addition to the museum building. Why not have everything on display at once–?

  4. Museum AND track ride. Just being inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a rush.

  5. Maurice Kessler Says:

    While at the Museum, take the elevator to the 2nd floor and view the hundred of thousands of historical photographs of the track, drivers, riding mechanics, and other track personalities and famous visitors, all listed in various categories for easy searching.

  6. The ’96 Citrus Bowl. Known to Buckeye fans as the illegal cleat game. Google it…I am looking forward to heading back next week. Charlie Brown’s and Dallara sound like winners.

  7. Well done George! This is very helpful information. I have done just about everything inside the track including three laps with the Indy Racing Experience. My favorite car in the museum is the 99 Belanger Motors Special made famous by Lee Wallard and Tony Bettenhausen, but they are all great to see in person.

    However, I never taken the time to go to Speedway, so I am looking forward to going there sustained by fine food, great ambiance, and homemade root beer.

    Is it May yet?! What is that white stuff falling outside? Can IndyCars race on snow tires?

  8. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I second the second-floor photo archives shop recommendation (via elevators to the left of the Museum ticket desk).

    There is also a brief movie running hourly, or on-demand as traffic dictates, in the Hall of Fame that is a good primer for first-timers to the Speedway.

  9. Is it May yet?? Thanks so much George et al. for your suggestions. I am hoping to finally visit Indianapolis next year (or in 2015). Now I know the highlights of what to see and do.

    Are visitors able to get off the bus at the bricks? Have to have my photo taken at that spot. Won’t admit wanting to get any closer to them.

    Just bought myself Professor Davidson’s revised book on the Indianapolis 500 as an early Christmas present.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

  10. SFHR shop is the only Indycar shop that is close to the track. Andretti, Taget and I think KV shops are around the 71st & Zionsville Road area in the northwestern corner of Indianapolis (still inside the I-465 circle). Ganassi 2 & Rahal’s shop are in Brownsburg, right across the street from John Force Racing’s shop. I live in Brownsburg and drive by those shops almost every day., but have never stopped to see if thr do any tours. I do know that many of the NHRA shops are also in Brownsburg and most of them have open house during the U.S. Nationals, which is an idea I think the Indycar teams should have been doing for years.

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