Going to Indy this week? Here’s what you need to see and do

Let’s say you’re making an oft-discussed, long-planned and much-anticipated journey out to Indianapolis for the first time this week, to take in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on the most hallowed weekend in motorsport. Maybe you were already in town for the big Mecum auction that took place over the past weekend. The point here is, there’s a ton to see, do, and eat in conjunction with visiting the Indianapolis 500. Here’s a quick and handy survival and to-do guide for all you road warriors out there.

Jason Porter’s image of last year’s pre-race starting grid gives you an indication of just how big the 500 really is. It’s the culmination of a intense week of racing action, history and tradition. A few changes are coming this year, the biggest of which we’ll discuss here. Here’s our favorite itinerary: Hit town on Wednesday, pick up your rental car and hie your way west on Interstate 70 to the Action Track at the Vigo County Fairgrounds in Terre Haute, right on the Illinois border. That’s where you’ll find the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series in action at the 49th annual Tony Hulman Classic, which gets underway at 6:30 p.m. These are wingless Sprint cars in sideways, slide-jobbing action on Indiana’s only half-mile dirt track. It’s an easy drive from Indy and well worth the trip. Find out the particulars at USAC’s website.

The competition continues the following night, Thursday, with the final running of the Hoosier Hundred for upright Silver Crown cars on the dirt (soon to be limestone, the better for horses) mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where Mecum just had its auction. The fairgrounds is located at East 38th Street and Binford Boulevard, with time trials starting at 6 p.m. The event website provides relevant information, but being that this is the final running at the historic fairgrounds, we expect a sellout. Make sure you get an event T-shirt. The following night, the Silver Crown series shifts to asphalt to do battle at the Dave Steele Carb Night Classic, being held Friday night at Lucas Oil Raceway, a .686-mile banked paved oval. Action starts at 5:45 p.m. with Silver Crown qualifying; the USAC USF2000 and Pro Mazda cars are also on the program. Also, be ready to check out Carburetion Day at Indianapolis on Friday, with final 500 practice set for 11 a.m., to be followed by the Freedom 100 for the Indy Lights series. Visit the outstanding IMS Museum, take a tour around the track aboard a bus, and if you want, stick around for the Carb Day party featuring Foreigner and Kool & The Gang. Also, if you to to the USAC website, you can find out how to get a superticket for all the week’s USAC-sanctioned short track races.

Saturday offers an cornucopia of riches. At the speedway, there’s a massive autograph session set for 9 p.m., with a big memorabilia show and sale in Pagoda Plaza where you can drop money on all sorts of neat stuff. In the town of Speedway, you can visit the fabled Mug & Bun on West 10th Street for a killer burger or a breaded pork tenderloin, or if you’re hankering for breakfast, check out Charlie Brown’s on Main Street. You can also work in a visit to the Dallara factory on Main Street, where Indy cars for the series are designed and built. Dinner-wise, the St. Elmo Steak House on Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis is to die for, but reservations can be tough during race week. Shapiro’s Deli Cafeteria downtown on Meridian Street downtown is also a good bet. Don’t forget the 500 Festival Parade through downtown on Saturday morning. To keep up on local doings, and especially on street closures, schedules and driving restrictions, pick up the Indianapolis Star while you’re out there.

On Saturday night, there’s only one place you’ve gotta be. It’s at Anderson Speedway, northeast of Indianapolis along Interstate 69, where the 71st annual Pay Less Little 500 for asphalt Sprint cars will be presented with on-track activities getting underway at 6 p.m. The Little 500 is 33 fire-breathing Sprint cars, as shown above in this track photo, going for 500 laps on a steeply banked quarter-mile track with a threea-abreast initial start and pit stops. It’s absolutely wild, one of the most enjoyable nights you can experience at a race track. Check out Anderson Speedway’s website for full information. Tickets are 40 bucks and it’s usually a sellout. Hit the Lemon Drop on Mounds Road for excellent onion burgers and lemon milkshakes.

Expect a long day on Sunday at Indianapolis. But if you’ve got any energy left after traffic, parking, hiking to the track and watching the race, you can head north on U.S. 31 to Kokomo Speedway on Sunday night for BC’s Indiana Double featuring non-wing 410 Sprint cars and Modifieds on a quarter-mile dirt oval, producing the sort of action depicted in this Chuck Baldwin photo from the track. Have at it, boys and girls! Nothing beats Indiana on Memorial Day weekend.

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