Longtime Memories Of Infield Parking
There are many memories I have of parking in the infield at the Indianapolis 500. As far back as I can remember, we parked in the infield for qualifying and Race Day, except for 2006 – I’ll get to that in a minute. Some of the infield scenes I witnessed as a young naïve child in the sixties practically scarred me for life, as I saw couples engaging in activities that I didn’t even know existed at that young age. After the 1972 race, I went on a twenty-year hiatus from attending the Indianapolis 500, as I graduated high school, college and reluctantly entered into adulthood. After six years of marriage to my first wife, I finally convinced her that we needed to return to the tradition of attending the Indianapolis 500 on an annual basis.
1992 was my first race back. Not a whole lot had changed. There were still several drivers in the field that day that had raced there in my last appearance twenty years earlier. Hearing Tom Carnegie’s booming voice introduce names like AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Al Unser and Gary Bettenhausen gave me the sensation I had returned to my childhood.
It was very cold that morning as we parked our car in the Turn Three infield parking lot. The temperature was probably in the lower forties when we arrived, and only got up to fifty-one by the drop of the green flag. Although it was 7:00 am as we got out of the car in the infield, the car next to us had a keg iced down in the trunk and already flowing, with several ambitious college-age kids eagerly helping themselves. My then-wife was not impressed at her first glimpse of the event I had spoken of in such glowing terms.
Nor was she very impressed with the race she saw. We had great seats that day in the Tower Terrace, just south of the start-finish line. We had a perfect view of the now-famous Scott Goodyear/Al Unser, Jr. battle that completed the race. She yawned. All she wanted to do was to get back to the car and get warm. I convinced her that we needed to wait until all the post-race activities were completed before we left. She reluctantly agreed, but not without complaining about how cold she was every forty-five seconds.
As we finally made our way back to our car in Turn Three, she acted more naïve than I had been in the sixties. The disgusted look on her face suggested she didn’t know adults ever engaged in…um, adult activities – much less in a public place. As we meandered toward our car, we witnessed couples loving, couples fighting, fans relieving themselves and fans throwing up. Many other fans were seemingly taking a peaceful nap outdoors on a frigid day – sometimes on the hood of their cars.
When we reached our car, the keg next to us was empty and on the ground, while the once-eager college students were all passed out in odd places and positions. As I smiled while remembering my college days, my future ex-wife yelled to hurry up and unlock the door with the constant horrified look on her face. She was not amused and did not return with me the following year. I took my father instead and we had the time of our lives. She and I divorced in 1996. I’m glad that my second wife has a much better sense of humor about such things. Susan is much more likely to go with the flow in most situations.
As an adult, I’ve parked in Turns One, Three and Four for the race. I’ve also parked in the dead-center of the grounds, by the golf course. That’s where we were in 2004 when the rain came and ended the race early. As we headed back to the car in a downpour, we had just crossed the foot-bridge that crosses the Formula One track, when we heard the announcement to take cover because there was a tornado bearing down on the Speedway from the southwest. What were we to do? We just continued to trudge on in the rain, until we made it to the car. There’s nothing like changing out of wet clothes into dry ones while sitting in a cramped car with everyone else.
In 2006, we had a racing newbie in our group. She was twenty-two and really didn’t want to be there. The night before, we were discussing when to leave for the track the next day. She suggested 10:00, while I wanted to leave at 5:00. Against her wishes (and mine), we compromised at 7:00. Big mistake! As we were inching along while sitting in the traffic on 16th Street just in front of the Speedway Motel, it was announced on the radio that the infield was full. We had to peel back and turn around to drive back under the trestle and search for a lot with spaces left. By the time we parked both cars for $25 a car, I had blown a gasket. Have you ever gotten to the point where you uncontrollably yell a string of expletives at anyone within earshot? That’s the level of frustration I had reached.
Instead of being at the track early and having easy access to the car, we had to load up our coolers and junk, and start the long hike. If you were there that day, you’ll recall how hot it was. By the time we lugged all of that stuff to our seats, it was way too late for my liking and I was exhausted – and in an extremely bad mood. I vowed I would never park outside the track ever again. So far, I haven’t.
Unfortunately, that could all change. You see, one of the best deals ever was that if you had a grandstand ticket, you were allowed to park in the infield for free. As more and more real estate was eaten up inside the track by the Formula One track, the revamped Turn One area for the motorcycle track and the Turn Four Miller Beer party area (or whatever it’s called), there have been fewer and fewer infield parking places. Inside Turn Three has been all that’s been left for the past few years.
But here’s where things change. It was announced this week that starting with this year’s 500 – IMS will be charging $75 for “Front-row parking”, whatever that means. The release went on to say that there would be some infield parking available for $25, but that no vehicles would be allowed into the infield without a parking pass.
Hmmm. Somewhere I heard a few years ago that eventually there would be no infield parking available to fans. I guess this development is better than that scenario. You knew at some point this would happen. With the new regime looking for ways to increase revenue, this was fairly predictable that it would be sooner than later. The $75 price tag is a little hard to swallow; but when you consider the proximity to your seats, the ability to get to your car throughout the day (very important if you don’t want to lug souvenirs around all day) and the exorbitant prices for spaces outside the track that are far, far away – I suppose it’s not that bad.
It is a choice for fans to make whether or not to buy this spot in addition to their ticket. Fans may grumble, but at least the ticket prices have remained the same for quite a while. Quite honestly, I expect tickets for the 2014 race to increase. If this optional cost for a parking pass helps to keep ticket prices from rising too much, then I’ll reluctantly have to say that I’m for it. Now let’s see how much they charge for a tenderloin sandwich this year.