The 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 has had us on the edge of our seats for nearly the whole month of May. The 30 days of anticipation building to the event is certainly what makes it special for fans and competitors alike. It's one thing to watch it all unfold on TV, but it is a completely different experience to be there.
I was lucky enough to be there for the event and I wanted to let you in behind-the-scenes a bit to show you how it all looked like from the eyes of our team.
I suppose the first official task that I executed for this event was writing and sending our personalized guest communications to everyone we would be looking after through the weekend. I did this in close collaboration with our Director of Hospitality to ensure all of the details were aligned. To create one of the most VIP and unique experiences for our partners, our program for the weekend resulted in over 150 possible different agendas. It's very important for us to lay the foundation for a great weekend experience with clear and personalized communication for everyone.
I arrived early Wednesday morning ahead of the race for preparations, meetings, setup and other key infrastructure needed for the weekend. We have had teammates back and forth to the track for the last couple of weekends getting setup, and have generally been planning for this weekend for 7-8 months.
All in, it was a pretty fast 120 hours full of activity. Let's get into it!
We arrive at the hotel, which happens to be the de-facto home base for all sorts of Indy 500 activity. It is an energizing scene with drivers, team personnel, and fans all buzzing about. For most of us behind-the-scenes, today is arrival and orientation day. We have a couple of meetings at the hotel to square up final details about the events within the events we have planned.
Josef Newgarden hosted his second-annual celebrity ping-pong tournament nearby to raise money for his charity, SeriousFun Children’s Network. We scored an invite, so we got to enjoy some great company for an even better cause. Him and many other IndyCar drivers, including his teammate Helio Castroneves, battle for the tournament win in a single-elimination tournament for a fun time of relaxation ahead of a very intense weekend for the drivers.
After the tournament, we head to St. Elmo's to have an official kick-off dinner with our partners to get together, catch up and also run through details for the weekend again. We have been having regular calls together for many weeks surrounding just this event, but with events at this scale it is inevitable that there are some last minute changes that we want to stay ahead of.
St. Elmo's is a hot spot for all-things racing. It is not uncommon to run into a racing legend here or there, in-town celebrities for the events and other industry guys and gals. None of us missed the famous shrimp cocktail - a must when you are in town.
After a quick bite at the hotel, we have our first meeting of the day. The first section was the team preparing for the media lunch we hosted with our friends at Team Penske. For the last few years, we have brought a select group of media together at the wonderful Team Penske Hospitality in the infield of the Speedway for a special presentation. The food is always delicious (thank you Team Penske!) and the group is always excited to start the weekend.
We stayed behind a bit after to bring guests through the garage and pits of the legendary Speedway. Teams were hard at work getting their cars setup for the weekend.
There was a little downtime after that which gave me a chance for the "day job" of keeping up with emails and other activities happening. Our agency looks after 130+ events per year for various brands and clients, and even when I am at one of those, the other events don't stop being planned. Next up for me will be Montreal F1 on June 9, so I was working on projects around that event.
For dinner, we arranged for a group of VIPs to attend the annual Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame dinner. It is a pretty special experience for guests to step inside history and be witness to some of the most important moments in US motorsport history. I did not attend that dinner, and got a casual bite with the team downtown.
Day 3 started early at the hotel with a quick meeting over a quicker breakfast. Since our team was now set to divide and conquer various activations through the day, it was all logistics this time around.
First up was a look through the run of show for a very special tribute we put together with Team Penske honoring the passing of Betty Rutherford. Since I had the honor of designing the graphic that rode with Helio, it was really special for me to see this unveiled with Helio and Johnny Rutherford.
The other major prong of our day was around the unique activities designed for a select group of digital influencers who got the chance to see the inner workings of the event. This included exclusive tours, meet and greets, VIP museum access and technical presentations.
Those different activities took up most of the day at the track. After that, we returned to the hotel and got setup for a fun presentation at the lobby bar by Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden.
We wrapped up day 3 with a wonderful dinner at the hotel with the whole group of guests for the weekend - the first time all of us got together at one time! It is a fun kick off to what turns out to be a weekend full of business networking, new connections made, names matched with emails and fun experiences amongst colleagues and partners. This is a massively underrated benefit to sponsoring properties at events - the face time you get to provide to people and the new starts you are responsible for making.
It's race weekend! The 103rd racing weekend for the Indy 500. Remarkable. I woke up pinching myself to be even a small part of the history and pageantry of the event.
Saturday is the day for the annual downtown parade, which our partners have VIP access to thanks to having an entry in the parade. This unlocked some special assets that we put right to use. We had our usual breakfast meetings and then set out to escort two of our guests to the float they rode on.
While the parade was getting started, some of our team headed to the track with guests to give them a VIP tour of the garage and pit area along with some special meet & greet time with select drivers. This is always a fun part of the weekend for us, especially for guests who have not been to a race before. There is so much more to it than how it looks on TV and to be the one to explain how things work is a special thing.
Activating a race weekend doesn't have to be 100% focused on racing-based activities. For more inclusive events, we can add on all sorts of custom activities for guests when there aren't any major things happening at the track.
In this case, we set up golfing at Brickyard Crossing and personalized spa appointments in Indianapolis. Guests had the opportunity to choose their fancy as part of the invitation, and everything was taken care of from there.
I can imagine you see where the 150+ different agendas come from now. There is a lot to it behind the scenes but it's our favorite part. After all of the various festivities, we head back to the hotel for a quick change. The guests stay put, but we head straight back to the race track to set up for our evening dinner.
This time, it will be held inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum where we have arranged a very special appearance by racing legend Mario Andretti and historian Donald Davidson. The environment was remarkable, sitting amongst the Mario Andretti exhibit on the infield of the 2.5 mile Speedway, hearing from the man himself. It's hard to put into words.
Race day! Funny enough, this race is one of our more straight forward days in terms of execution. Since of course the planning of this day all comes down to IMS and IndyCar, it is mainly us making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there. We have done this event twenty or more times in various capacities and race day is usually pretty consistent.
The day started for guests at 8:00am, and for us at about 5:00am. We had a police escort arranged for our guests to travel traffic-free into the Speedway, which bypassed miles and miles of people waiting on 16th street to get in. Camping for this line starts days before the race - amazing fan dedication!
It was about 6pm on Sunday when I got back to the hotel and all I had left to say is "Wow. What an event." No wonder it is called The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The last 20 laps alone were an absolute thrill and enough action to cover the entire day.
And just as we sat down for our end-of-event dinner together, our team in Charlotte was just getting started hosting a small group of VIPs at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 in NASCAR. While I can’t be in two places at a time, our team sure can.
Now, in what world do you not want to be part of that type of weekend?