How to attend the Indianapolis 500 on a budget

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Photo: Jonathan Ferry (Getty Images)

Attending a racing event comes at a cost – and the bigger the event, the more your bank account is affected. As America’s premier motorsport event, the Indianapolis 500 can get very expensive if you’re not ready for it. But like me a certified poor childcan attest, this is not the case to have be so. In fact, you can attend the Indy 500 on a pretty tight budget, as long as you know what you’re doing.

Plan early

The best way to score cheap tickets for any race is to start planning well in advance of the event. If you buy your Indy 500 tickets as soon as they go on sale, for example, you’ll be greeted with much lower prices — and more options — than if you try to book race week.

The same goes for hotels and flights. While most Indianapolis-area residents know to permanently inflate prices around Memorial Day weekend, you’ll have a much better chance of closing a deal months in advance than if you were trying to book accommodation today.

Spread the costs

The easiest way to save money – and my biggest secret to attending races on a budget – is to travel in a group. Your hosting costs will be significantly reduced if you post with friends. That $250 rental car or $80 Uber ride is much more affordable when you cut the cost in four.

It’s not always glamorous. I’ve stayed in a one-bedroom hotel with no less than six people, and I’ve crammed four people into a small tent before, and it’s not exactly comfortable. But he is cheapand sometimes you have to sacrifice a little comfort to keep your wallet happy.

You will probably have to travel

According to a in 2016 history, the average out-of-town entrant spent between $785 and $900 on flights to Indianapolis for the Indy 500. That’s, to put it lightly, a no-go for those in between us looking to save money at every turn.

Your best bet is to find alternative transportation. I used to fly to Boston and then road trip to Indianapolis with a friend. I flew to Chicago or Detroit and rented a car with some friends and then went to Indy for the race. I even took the train! Just make sure you do the math; a $500 flight to Chicago and a $300 rental car aren’t a bargain unless you’re able to split the car rental cost with a friend.

If you really need to fly directly to Indianapolis, set up a Google alert for flight price fluctuations as soon as possible. You’ll get an alert when tickets are the cheapest, so you’ll know when to book.

Getting to the track

Pulling up to the track and attempting to park on race day is, politely, a shitty sight. Traffic is always jammed, even if you arrive early or leave late, and parking can get expensive on race day (although there are plenty of locals who are happy to let you park on their lawn for 5 $ to $20).

Driving to the track and parking is totally fine if you show up with a ton of friends – but my group actually started taking Ubers on race day morning. Just before reaching heavy traffic, we ask the driver to let us out and leave a generous tip; this way we are able to share the cost, the driver doesn’t have to sit in traffic and can make another trip, and we can complete the last stint on foot (which is usually faster than the driving). We then usually end our day splurging on hot food at a Speedway restaurant; by the time we finish dinner the Ubers are cheaper and the traffic cleared up.

Another great option? Cycling! If you can rent a bike for the weekend, chances are it’s cheaper than renting a car, and you can chain it up at Speedway.

Finally, if you can handle the Coke Lot, you can camp there and walk the trail – but it’s generally a horrible experience.

Be prepared to be a little uncomfortable

Your accommodation for the Indy 500 probably won’t be great if you’re racing on a budget. Hotels are going to be expensive no matter what time you book. Airbnbs anywhere near downtown Indy or Speedway also to be expensive. You’re probably going to have to compromise somewhere.

You can get a hotel or an Airbnb, but your best bet is to find somewhere a good distance from the track while splitting the cost with friends. Or you can camp on the track, which isn’t particularly nice, since the Indy 500 campgrounds are full of Snake Pit revelers and don’t have any permanent bathrooms.

Pack your own snacks

The call for track food and beer will be strong. Resist the urge. You can bring large coolers and backpacks into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; take the opportunity to stock up on food and drinks. You can thank me when you avoid spending $8 on a crap can of beer because you’re able to pull a cold one out of your bag.

Pro tip: Avoid ice packs and freeze water bottles that are slightly less than full instead. You’ll keep your drinks cold, but you also drink a glass of cold water when you realize you’ve had a little too much other thing.

Where to splurge

If you’re going to splurge everywhere during your Indy 500 adventure, spend the extra cash to secure yourself a solid seat. General admission for the Indy 500 is fine, but having a dedicated seat makes the rest of your experience so much nicer, since you can hang out in Pagoda Square to watch the pre-race festivities and then get a decent view of all the action.

If you buy a GA ticket right now, you can get one for $45. If you want a reserved seat, however, you can grab one for as little as $55. If you want the most expensive seat in the race, it’s still only $135. I can attest that the more expensive seats are worth it; many of them are shaded, which means you can avoid sunburn on race day, and they are located near permanent sanitary facilities. Wins all around!

What about the bronze badge?

Die-hard IndyCar fans will likely have heard of the bronze badge; buy one and pin it to your lapel, and you have door and garage access every day of May – except for race days (like the 500 or Grand Prix GMR; those are both an additional charge).

But at $160, it’s not worth it if you’re only having a short time on, say, Carb Day and Race Day. Save your money and go for a bronze badge when you can join a qualifying session or practice day to watch the action from Gasoline Alley.

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