Before you watch the racers set their marks, festivities start with a tradition that’s been held since 1957: the 500 Festival Parade, where auto patrons across the world line up to watch floats of their favorite cars and drivers who serve as grand marshals to the event. So, how can you incorporate this tradition into your 500 party? Get the kids involved.
"If it’s a neighborhood 500 party, have the kids bring over their bikes decorated, and create your own neighborhood parade," suggests Greenlee. Or if you operate on a smaller scale, allow the little ones to build their own floats in the backyard made out of old boxes, while you prep for the party with parade-perfect snacks like homemade soft pretzels and gourmet popcorn.
As the final notes of the famous "Back Home Again in Indiana" song are performed before the call to start your engines on race day, a platoon of balloons is released into the Indiana sky. According to Greenlee, this is because the first race ever held on the speedway was actually a balloon race. Why not send guests a balloon invitationto the big party? Tell your guests to bring their invite and recreate this fun tradition yourselves. Of course, your party should have tons of checkered balloon décor, and fun balloon-shaped snacks to keep the theme strong throughout your party.
If you do informal gambling and happen to pick the winning car, you ought to be treated like the champion you are... and for that, you’ll need some milk. "Once the winner crosses the finish line, he’s escorted to Victory Podium where he chugs milk," Greenlee explains. "All in the name of a tradition, party-goers must chug milk." And that they can, if you include a milk bar as part of your 500 festivities. A few racecar cookies and cereal-inspired snacks will complete your bar and get party-goers revved up for more.
"The winner of the Indy 500 always 'kisses the bricks,' which is the finish line of the track," Greenlee says. "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is affectionately referred to as 'The Brickyard,' hence the yard of bricks. In 1909, the track’s surface was 3.2 million bricks for the entire 2.5 mile oval. By 1961 the entire track was covered in asphalt, but left the famous 'Yard of Bricks' exposed." While we don’t necessarily want your guests smooching the brick walls of your home, we do want them to keep it as authentic as possible. Simply have snacks displayed on brick holders to bring a little history to the table, or have kids build black, white, and red LEGOs for festive accents.
One of the most iconic awards in all of sports is the Indy 500’s Borg-Warner Trophy, which has been awarded to every race winner since 1936. You can make your Indy party an iconic one by creatively incorporating this piece of history into elements like food, décor and even activities. "Have kids take out their set of Hot Wheels and create the starting lineup by adding cutout faces of the drivers taped to the front of cars," suggests Greenlee (and award the winner a homemade trophy). Put snacks in trophies and set up your serving area to look like a winners’ circle, so everyone can feel like a champion.
If you've had enough of the family-friendly Indy feel, Greenlee suggests you take a look at a snakepit-inspired party. "While mildly inappropriate, there’s a saying that if you were born in Indiana before 1985, you have a better average than most that your birthday was in February," says Greenlee. "That’s because the Snakepit section of the infield was considered the largest party north of Mardi Gras in its early years — think no rules, booze, couches and cars on fire, and revelry on an incredible scale. Now, it has tamed down a bit, but thousands still flock to the biggest party zone (with still very few rules) in the infield," she says. Get sinful with these King of Snake cocktails that only adults can enjoy. Don’t be scared to let your "freak flag" fly by having guests show up as "racy race car drivers."