500 Festival

The month of May in Indianapolis is a time for celebration of the Indy 500 Mile Race, the largest single-day sporting event in the country. From a small beginning and the idea of four businessmen in 1957, the 500 Festival has become one of the largest in the country, bringing together people from across the country and around the world. Over 400,000 people come to the city each year to take part in the parade, the mini-marathons, the parties, the entertainment, and the excitement of this event. Each year’s Festival has carried a unique theme such as The Spectacle of Speed, Through the Eyes of Children, America, You’re Beautiful, and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Proceeds are used to further opportunities for our youth, and promote awareness of the many cultural, social, and educational contributions made by the city and the state of Indiana.

May, of course, is not just a time of celebration; it is also a time of remembrance. It is fitting therefore that a Memorial Day service is conducted on the Friday before the race as a part of the 500 Festival. Open to the public on the north steps of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, it serves as a reminder of all the lives that have been sacrificed for our nation’s freedom through every war and conflict. The memorial service includes a wreath-laying ceremony, a military flyover, and a horse-drawn caisson to symbolize the passing of brave men and women.

The 500 Festival program includes a Friday morning breakfast with mayors from Indiana cities and the coronation of the Festival Queen. The Queen is chosen from the 33 princesses who represent colleges and universities in Indiana, and serve as hostesses and volunteers for the city during the Festival. In addition, American Family Insurance sponsors a full day for visiting the Indy Motor Speedway, getting autographs, taking the family car around the 2.5- mile track, and visiting the Hall of Fame Museum. Reservations required for both events.

Saturday morning, the day before the Indy 500, families can have breakfast with all the cartoon and Disney characters who will be in the Festival Parade. The buffet also includes one bleacher ticket for the parade. The 90-minute parade, sponsored by Indianapolis Power & Light, is the highlight of the 500 Festival – Indianapolis Colts quarterback and MVP of Superbowl XLI, Peyton Manning was grand marshal of the 2007 parade. Led by 33 Indy 500 drivers in groups of three, floats, marching bands and drill teams from Indiana high schools and universities, celebrities, specialty groups, and thousands of balloons thrill the crowds that line the streets of downtown Indianapolis. The parade route goes down Pennsylvania Avenue to Washington and back up Meridian, ending at 11th Street. The Snakepit Ball is held every year as a part of the Saturday evening entertainment. Next year’s 2008 Festival Parade is scheduled for May 24, 12 Noon.

The countdown to the 500 Festival begins with the OneAmerica Mini-Marathon, the 8th largest running event in the U.S., with over 35,000 runners each year and another 3,500 for the 5K Finish Line Marathon. A Health Fitness Exposition is open to the pubic at the Indiana Convention Center. Contestants are invited to attend the Friday evening Champions Pasta Dinner, where celebrities make guest appearances and Celebration of Life awards are presented to people who have overcome special challenges to participate in the race. Following the two races, families and friends gather at Military Park for R&R, food, and entertainment. The post-race party is free for participants and guests, and the public is welcome to enjoy live music, food and drink, and shop for Indy 500 merchandise. Registration is now open for the Saturday, May 3, 2008 running of the Mini-Marathon.

In addition, the Festival sponsors a Rookie Marathon, just for kids ages 3-12. This non-competitive run begins at Ohio and Meridian Streets, with distances measured in blocks and based on age. All participants receive a goodie bag, a runner’s bib with the big number 1, and a finisher’s medal, duplicating the Mini-Marathon contestants. Registration: 317-614-6464.

A historical exhibit of the past 50 years of the Festival is on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum through September 2007. The 500 Festival in May 2008 promises to be another gala celebration, with a preliminary schedule of events already in place. The Legacy Art Project will feature Donald Lipinsky’s sculpture, paying tribute to the many volunteers, athletes, and people of the community who have dedicated their time and effort in support of the Festival. It will remain on permanent display in downtown Indianapolis.

500 Festival Hotline: 317-614-6400. On street and garage parking along the parade route.

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