Lights At The Brickyard

One thing you always hear about IndyCar racing is that television doesn’t do it justice. No matter how hard they try, TV cameras just cannot capture the sheer speed or sound of a race car. While it makes for enjoyable viewing, there is nothing like being there in person.

I’ll apply the same set of logic to the lights display that is currently set up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Lights at the Brickyard, where we visited this past weekend. This is the second year that IMS has held this event, after starting it last year in November of 2016.

For the second year in a row, I’ve seen almost nightly photos posted on Facebook and Twitter of the parade of lighted exhibits that greet you as soon as you turn in from 16th Street. To be perfectly candid, the photos looked OK on social media last year – but not spectacular. I figured I could have seen something just as good driving around my neighborhood.

But more and more, I started seeing and hearing comments from people I knew, whose judgment I trusted. They raved about it. By the time I thought I might want to check it out last year, we had run out of free weekends in December.

Fast-forward to this fall. When we first started seeing promos from IMS that it would be coming back, it was Susan who suggested we carve out a weekend and go up to see Lights at the Brickyard. I’ll never pass on a trip to IMS, but my expectations were still a little low. What appealed to me most was the chance to drive my own car onto the road course and then down the famous main straightaway across the yard of bricks. It didn’t matter if it was at night. If I didn’t see a single lights display, it was fine with me.

Well, we did see plenty of displays and I was impressed. The problem with the photos I saw on social media (and what you’ll see posted below) is that they focus on one single display and you don’t get the sense that there are others around it.

We bought the Speedy Pass online Friday before driving up on Saturday, which is not cheap – $50. But that will allow a carload of up to fourteen people go through. If you have a few friends chip in, that’s not as painful. Best of all, it gets you in very quickly – way ahead of the pack that was lined up on 16th Street waiting to get in at the $30 per carload rate ($25 Monday –Thursday). But since we had gone to the trouble to rent a hotel room and wanted to eat dinner at Dawson’s on Main later on, we didn’t want to spend the night waiting in line. The extra $20 was well worth it.

With the Speedy Pass, we entered through the gate over by the Brickyard Crossing. That led us to the tunnel just past the Turn Two Suites. Those without the Speedy Pass entered through the Main Gate off of 16th Street that leads straight to the museum. The display starts at 6:00 pm. On Friday and Saturday nights, it runs until 10:00. Sunday through Thursday, it closes at 9:00.

As we were approaching the track from Main Street in Speedway at 6:08, I could see police cars in the middle of the street. At first, I thought it was a bad wreck. Instead, they were there to direct the line of traffic into the Speedway. As we drove past that line and turned into the Brickyard Crossing parking lot beyond Turn Two, I knew we had made the right call with the Speedy Pass. Below is the non-Speedy Pass line we saw as we were leaving IMS around 8:00.


Before we made the turn into the parking lot, we were already seeing decorations along the fence on 16th Street. There were more in the parking lot. Of course, no trip to IMS would be complete without the yellow-shirts. This time, they were yellow-coats as the temperature had already dipped into the twenties. They were friendly and directed us to the drive that goes directly behind the Turn Two Suites. It, too, was decked out for the season.


We were directed to the gate where they scanned my Speedy Pass from my phone, although I had also printed a paper copy just in case the technology failed. We were handed a nice booklet and told to turn off our headlights to parking lights only and to not stop or stand on the course. They didn’t need to worry – it was too cold to get out.

Once we popped out of the tunnel and appeared in the IMS infield, the real light show began. We quickly merged in with those that had waited much longer, just behind the museum. From there, we snaked along the infield road course at a slow pace. Even if there were no other cars on the track, we could have navigated just fine with no headlights on. The entire track was lined on both sides with small Christmas lights, giving an almost fairyland air to the whole thing.


It didn’t take long for us to see the large, well-placed and timely salute to the late Jim Nabors, who passed away on November 30th.


As we wound through seeing the countless displays on both sides, I had to remind myself that we were at IMS. But all I had to do was look over and see the giant Pagoda in the distance. That was how I kept my bearings as we followed some of the twists and turns of the road course.

I’m not sure, but I think we even left the actual road course a couple of times. We seemed to get awfully close to Turn Three, but that could also be my imagination. But this display of the abominable snowman from “Rudolph” is pretty deep into the infield.


Again, photos give you the impression that there are single displays scattered throughout and not a giant collection. This video Susan took may give a better idea of what the journey through IMS looked like.

After our trip through the decorated infield, we finally came upon what I was looking forward to. The road course dumped us out onto the main straightaway of IMS just south of Turn Four. I’m not sure why I was surprised at this, but there were not only lighted displays along the fence but even in the stands. There were many animated moving displays throughout the course, and that also applied to those in the stands.

But by this time, I was more focused on what was ahead – the view every driver sees (albeit in the daytime without taillights from passenger cars in front of them). And there was just a touch of snow and ice on the main straightaway along the sides of the inside wall for that added winter effect.





Susan also got this three-second video of the snow animation on the scoring pylon.

After we crossed the yard of bricks, passed the scoring pylon and headed towards Turn One still taking in the decorations, I assumed that the light show was coming to an end, but it wasn’t. Just before Turn One, our path took us to the area that goes back behind the Formula One garages and back towards the Pagoda – an area that is always packed with people on Race Morning. There were more decorations back there. Our parade then turned right into Gasoline Alley and into the famed Garage Area, which also had displays such as this one in each row of garage bays.


As we left the Garage Area through the back, we continued to wind around to view even more displays until it ended at the guard station in front of the museum. You could either turn right and exit the Speedway or turn left at the giant lit sign that said “Gift Shop Open”. We turned left.

We went into the museum (which was closed) to visit the main gift shop. I realized I had never been in that building at night before. It was great way to cap off our experience.


There, they had the usual assortments of souvenirs, but there was a surprise – they already had merchandise available for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 to be run next May, even Christmas ornaments with next year’s logo. They also had an ornament for Lights at the Brickyard, which we bought for our current tree at home.

My assessment of Lights at the Brickyard is a huge double “thumbs up” from Susan and me. I was a little skeptical. In fact, I was wondering if it was going to be borderline tacky. But once we got inside – I got it. It didn’t just blow me away, but I allowed myself to get immersed into the whole experience. There are religious decorations appropriate for Christmas and Hanukah and seasonal decorations like holly, Santa Claus and candy canes. There are decorations with a racing theme and others like cowboys and undersea themes for the kids or if you are not into racing or Christmas. After all, nothing says Christmas like a hammerhead shark in lights.

As usual, we used Susan’s points for our hotel; so it only cost us the $50 for the Speedy Pass and of course our dinner at Dawson’s and our breakfast Sunday morning at Charlie Brown’s before we headed back home (just after getting our usual order at Long’s Donuts).

Leave it to IMS President Doug Boles to come up with a way to generate revenue at a racetrack in December. While most facilities are gathering dust and snow, he has turned the Speedway we love into a winter wonderland and given us yet another reason to come to Indianapolis and spend money. Five years ago, we came up for the 2012 IndyCar Victory Banquet held at IMS in December. We ate at Dawson’s that Saturday night and it was deserted. In fact, all of Speedway was a ghost town. Saturday night, Speedway was hopping and Dawson’s was a thirty minute wait. The local merchants have got to be glad that Boles is pulling fans their way at a time that has been historically dead for them.

Lights at the Brickyard runs through December 30th. Based on the response that we saw, I’d say it will probably return for a third season next year. For more information, click here.

I’ll close with a random assortment of photos that we took. Some are better than others, as it’s hard to photograph light displays on a phone inside a moving car. I’ll stress again that seeing a collection of photos is nothing like taking in the whole thing in person. If you live nearby, gather some friends and make an evening out of it. Or if you live four and a half hours away like we do, make a weekend winter trip for it. We’re certainly glad we did.
















10 Responses to “Lights At The Brickyard”

  1. One thing that I was really cool was listing to the the radio station that they set up to browadcast throughout the display. Did you tune to the frequency that they had posted at the turn two guardhouse? As you drive through the display, it plays the usual selection of Christmas songs, but in between the songs there are recorded messages from Indycar drivers and Doug Boles wishing you a Merry Christmas and inivting you to come back in May for the 500.

  2. We’re there any displays from a specific racing team? As many are headquartered in the Speedway area they may be missing a chance to participate in a unique event. I would not like to see any sponsor advertising but something like ” Team Penske wishes you a merry Christmas ” with a light display of their car? Maybe an idea for year 3

  3. billytheskink Says:

    “After all, nothing says Christmas like a hammerhead shark in lights.”

    Truer words were never spoken.

  4. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a winged dirt-trackerr. Cool.

  5. James T Suel Says:

    To all of us that love the speedway, it’s no surprise that even this is done well. There is just nothing else in this world like IMS.

  6. You light up my life George and Susan. Thanks.

  7. That was pretty darn cool.

  8. Wow, this was more than I expected. What fun! Too bad I live so far away or I would go too. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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