The Time To Buy Is Now

This past Monday marked the halfway point for the Indianapolis 500. What does that mean, you ask? That means we are now closer to the 2017 Indianapolis 500 than we are to the 2016 edition. Or to put it in more general terms – we are now less than six months away from the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500.

I don’t think it was coincidence that IMS officials chose that day to put tickets on sale to the general public. Either that or the fact that it was cyber-Monday and they thought that tickets would be a great Christmas gift for the race fan in your circle of friends.

If you have always wanted to have good tickets in your name to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – now is your chance. Here’s my story about how slow it used to be to get upgrades.

When I was a kid, my first race was in 1965 and we had seats that were down low in Stand J. When I say low, I mean really low – as in just the first few rows from the track. Within two years, we managed somehow to upgrade to Stand A under the overhang. If it rained like it did in 1967 when they postponed the race after eighteen laps, we were covered and dry.

Not only were the seats dry, but they offered an excellent view. We were just south of the entrance to Gasoline Alley. You could see the cars coming out of Turn Four and heading through Turn One, before they disappeared in the short chute on the south end. We held those same seats every year through 1972, when my father inexplicably decided he didn’t want to return for 1973 or any year thereafter and gave up his tickets.

I was thirteen at that time. Little did I know that I would not attend another Indianapolis 500 for twenty years. Keep in mind, I always watched on television but I no longer attended. I found the 1991 race particularly entertaining. About three weeks later my wife (at that time) and I were driving back after a trip to Chicago. On a whim, I said I wanted to stop by and visit the Speedway. After a trip through the museum and a ride around the track on the tour bus, the bug bit me.

By the time we returned home, I had informed my wife that we would go to the 1992 race no matter what. There was no internet in those days, but I called the IMS ticket office later that year to see about ordering two tickets. They laughed at me. The race was a sellout every year in those days and I suppose they found my naivety charming. They suggested I try the secondary market. I had no idea what they were talking about and she said “…a ticket broker”.

I saw an ad for a race ticket broker in the old IndyCar Racing magazine. I had a map of the track from the 1991 program I had bought. I decided to order two tickets up high (about seven rows from the top) in the old Tower Terrace, south of the start-finish line but north of the entrance to Gasoline Alley. As it turned out, we were directly behind the winning pit of Al Unser, Jr. When my wife found out I had paid $350 for the pair, she blew a gasket. I heard about it up through Race Day.

Although we froze that day and the racing was not very good until the last fifteen laps or so – the race was back in my blood. We ordered tickets for 1993 the very next day. Being new on the seniority list, we were told to not even bother ordering anything but the cheapest seats at $30 apiece. For the next three years, my tickets were on the top row of the wooden bleachers inside Turn Four. I believe it was called the Turn Four Terrace, but the seats no longer exist.

By 1996, I had finally moved up in priority and was assigned seats in the SE Vista on the outside of Turn Two. But that was the first year of The Split, both in racing and at home. I was beginning to be mired in what turned out to be a very ugly divorce that I did not seek (or at least didn’t think I wanted at the time – it turned out to be a blessing), plus I had no real desire to go see what I considered to be a very sub-par field – so I stayed home.

I incorrectly guessed that both situations would be rectified by 1997, so I renewed my tickets and as usual – asked for an upgrade. By 1997, neither split – my marriage or the two racing bodies – showed any signs of improving. In fact, they both featured bitter sides that were dug in deeper than the previous year. I foolishly repeated the process of re-ordering tickets and asking for upgrades that did not come.

It finally dawned on me I was wasting money I no longer had. By the 1998 race, my divorce was finalized and the IRL looked as though it wasn’t going anywhere. I watched the Indianapolis 500, but it seemed like I was watching a USFL game instead of the NFL. Actually, it was more like watching the NFL Replacement players in the NFL strike of 1987. Most of the drivers and teams were different, but the venue looked the same even though the sound was way different. My upgrades weren’t going through and I was no longer going, so I finally let my renewal lapse for 1999 without sitting in those SE Vista tickets even once.

By 2002, I was getting interested in the “500” again. I still watched it in those dark days of the IRL from 1996-2000, but I had little interest in attending. But when Juan Montoya came over and won it for Chip Ganassi in 2000, then Helio Castroneves won the following year for Roger Penske and Penske returned to the series in 2002 – my interest grew. I took my kids up to qualifying for a day in 2002. It was the first time I had set foot on IMS property since 1995. Much had changed. I got the bug again.

I ordered four tickets for the 2003 race. This time they placed me in the Turn One Terrace – more wooden bleachers on the inside of the track, more or less in the short chute. But I was there. The following season, they upgraded me to the newly created (in 2000) Pit Road Terrace. We were behind the No.2 pit stall. They offered a unique and decent vantage point and we had great views of the pit action of what were normally the front-running cars.

The next year, I asked to be higher up and got it fulfilled – we were on the top row. We stayed in those seats until 2012, when Mother Nature got the best of us. If you’ll recall, 2012 was unusually hot. There was no shade in those seats and as the race wore on, the sun got more in our face. At Susan’s urging, I asked for an upgrade for 2013 – across the track in what was pretty much the same seats I had growing up – Stand A, under the overhang but in front of the support posts. I guess ten years of buying tickets helped, because lo and behold, I got it.

The 2017 race will be our fifth year in those seats in Stand A. During Qualifying, we have moved around trying out potential seats for if we ever have the urge to move again. Two that stand out would be Stand E or the Paddock Penthouse, but then you’re talking about a serious upgrade in price too.

Many of you probably have similar stories that involve much longer stretches of time. But for those of you that have toyed with the idea of getting annual tickets through the track, now is the time to do it.

Last year’s race was the first sellout in twenty years. Indications are that ticket renewals were up this past summer over last year. The Indianapolis 500 is on an upswing. They no longer have the wooden bleachers inside of any of the turns. You can start out with decent seats your first year and start getting upgrades very quickly. But it sounds like that won’t last for long. Another couple of years with increased demand and it may be tough to get upgrades or even tickets if you aren’t on the renewal list.

You can order your 2017 Indianapolis 500 tickets here, while the following chart shows the remaining seating areas with available tickets. Click on it to enlarge.


We are talking about a gift of a lifetime here. If you are getting tickets for a person that has never experienced the sights and sounds of the Indianapolis 500 – you are giving a gift that can alter someone’s life. Do you think I’m sounding dramatic? Think how different my life would have been had I not made a detour to IMS on my way back from Chicago in 1991. I probably would never had moved from that casual fan that watched the “500” every year along with the random race I might have landed on while flipping around.

So this Christmas season, treat the race fan on your gift list to tickets in their own name, giving them the option to renew each year. Better yet, treat yourself to some tickets so that you can ensure yourself of seeing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on an annual basis. Give yourself or someone you know the merriest Christmas of all.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “The Time To Buy Is Now”

  1. Renewed our tickets the week after the 100th. Have been doing that for 30 years+ now. Yesterday, I received the postcard about the bronze badge. I have been getting them for 10 years now and tried to enter my order online, but the website had no place to do that. I guess I’ll have to call the IMS ticket office today to see what happened. Anybody else have that issue?

    • Jim,saw them for sale in my Indy Car newsletter today Up another 10 this year.Just a few years ago they were 100.I bought 2 last year just for the keepsake. They are a good deal if you live need Indy.

      • Ed, Yes, the price went up last year to $135/$150 from $125/? in ’14 and ’15 and from $100 prior to that. I think last year was the first time they gave a discount if you purchased early. My wife and I head over there the day before the GP and stay until after the 500. Have been doing that the past 2 years and plan to do the same next year. When you add up all the gate admissions alone for those days, it really is a bargain (even at the $150)! And, we have been able to get in the gates before they open to those without badges or passes. Not a big deal, but staking our seat claims a few days is nice. Plus the in and out privileges on top of the garage access. Last year they allowed all bronze badge holders pit access on the Monday after qualifying, the last practice before Carb Day. Looking forward to May again!!

        • Bruce Waine Says:

          A good deal ….. Perhaps……..

          However, when put in realistic perspective……… How many people can be relied upon to afford the lodging commencing “the day before the GP and stay until after the 500?”

  2. I admire your perseverance George. Quite a chronicle. I remember the 1992 race well, mostly for the cold. It was actually warmer here in Wisconsin yesterday than it was on race day in 1992.

    I have left hints with my children that I would enjoy another go at the “Indy Racing Experience” as a Christmas present. If that happens I want to concentrate simply on going as fast as the car will allow. My first time there I was mostly overcome by the history of all that has taken place there and not focused so much on going fast. If I do go again I will want to rent some fans to fill the stands opposite my photo. I think George will agree that the “Indy Racing Experience” would be a good Christmas present for any racing fan from 18 to 80.

  3. I received notification last week that my tickets (and upgraded seats) had been purchased. I have moved around a lot but find that I just really enjoy the SW Vista, outside of turn 1, as it allows me to see the incredible speeds off the front straight all the way into turn 2. That being said, I would not object to penthouse E tickets should someone care to purchase them for me.

    • I too enjoy the SW Vista Jim for the reason you gave-the sense of the speed of the cars coming toward you is breathtaking. When there is a crash there is only an instant between the time you hear the screeching tires and when the car slams the wall.

  4. SE Vista very bottom corner is my favorite seat on race day. Quick exit after the race . Great view turn one and two and three plus video board . Plus is beer stand and bathrooms just steps away . Recently I have been a guest of US FOODS in the Colt’s suite on practice day turn two . That suite is very top nearest SE Vista love to be there on raceday , The last four years I have had 8 free tickets from the Indiana National Guard short chute between 3&4 right above tunnel . Not first pick but I get to take a handful of guest the last four years .

  5. I had “season tickets” from 1983 though 2000. By about 1998, after a couple of upgrades, I finally got seats on the outside of the track just into the fourth turn after years of trying. Gave up my tickets at that time as my kids were being born and other priorities took over. My son and I went to the 100th anniversary race in 2011 and then last year the 100th running. My seats were very good, on the inside tower terrace near the top. We liked them so much that we renewed for this year. So I am again a “season ticket holder.”

  6. Thomas Metcalfe Says:

    While you’ve overall been attending longer than I have ( I’m 52), I didn’t know you basically had the same seniority as me. My first race was in 2002 also. We started off not under cover in Stand B for the first two years. Year 3, 2004, we moved up a few rows in Stand B, but were under cover. 2005-2006, we were in the very last section “upstream” in the Paddock Penthouse. In 2007, to my surprise we got into the Paddock Press Penthouse (section 10, across from the media center). This is a relatively unknown section when I tell people about it. There are only 2 rows. For 4 years were in row 2. Which is fine, but you have to hunch over to see the replay board in front of us. Somehow I was able to get into the first row in 2011 and we have been there since. We have 3 seats, me my wife and our daughter. I’m trying to get a fourth seat, but trying to stay in the same area. No such luck so far. In speaking with the folks at the ticket office, they tell me I would have to wait at least 10 more years before I can even think about getting into Stand E Penthouse. Keep your fingers crossed. Maybe we’ll get lucky down the road.

  7. I had 4 seats in Sec 1 NWV up near the top where you see 3/4 of the track and the jumbo – rton but I turned them over to my daughter .
    But here is the kicker she became a new customer even though the tickets stayed in the family.
    Now the old man can’t do the steps so my daughter called the ticket office and explained my problem.You have to have 25 years or more for good E or B stand seats. So I shot myself in the foot bye turning over the ticket about 5 years ago.
    I got lucky last year and got great seats in Stand B.I thought that would be my last race at Indy being the100th. But I can’t help myself I was emailing the guy last night.I know now that I will go to that race until I crock it has been a part of my life that keeps me going.I always said it was like Christmas twice a year.
    I first bought tickets in the Turn 1 infield to get my foot in the door back in the 70’s but never sat in them as I knew a bus company owner that would get me seats back in the day when every 500 race was a sellout.

    Everyone has a story they say😆

  8. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Hey George! We’ve likely discussed this before, but we were neighbors in PRT for years 2001-2008 and didn’t know it.

    Sec 14, between 1st and 2nd pit stall, then to Sec 17 between 3-4th stalls. In 2009, we got upgraded to Sec 37 of PRT, Row H (top), where we’ve been since.

    Originally I started in ’88 and, much like your experience, was told to try Bleachers first ($20 Backstretch) then keep trying to upgrade.

    The next year was moved to First Turn Terrace, right about where the old Tree in #1 stood, and was there through 1993, to E Stand Box (low) from 94-96. Cancelled my tickets (in protest) for 97-98, then reapplied again in ’99 (given Tower Terrace at Pit In) through 2000. Got the upgrade to PRT in 2001.

    Love being on the Front Straight for all the activities leading up to the green flag.

  9. A couple days late here (things are busy, so I have to catch up on most of my internet reading on weekend mornings), so I don’t know how many people will read this comment, but there has obviously been much increased demand for renewals this year. For the first time since I started buying my own tickets in 2008 (I’d been going every year since 1996 except for 2004, but always got tickets from somebody else or a scalper), I wasn’t able to move up further in NE Vista. Some of that might have to do with the fact that for 2016, I went from 2 tickets to 4 (therefore, it’s harder to find an open block higher up), but I have a feeling that it might be a couple more years before I manage to break into the “double letter” rows. Section 16 (one section before the apex of Turn 3) Row X will have to do for a while. Which is fine. They’re great seats.

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