INDIANAPOLIS — Some Indianapolis 500 race fans didn’t need to worry about waking up early Sunday morning and joining lines of traffic to get into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — they were already in place after spending the night “glamping” within the track’s vast infield.
Speedway officials said all 70 of the upscale tents offered for the first time this year sold out. The tents, for use for four nights, came with cots or a bed, a table and chairs, race day tickets and a place to shower and use the bathroom.
Indianapolis residents Crystal Swartz, 29, and her 43-year-old boyfriend, Rock Frese, spent $1,100 on the “Queen” tent package featuring a queen bed nestled within their tent.
Frese, who was frying up bacon and eggs for the pair on a small propane grill Sunday morning, said it was fun Saturday night in the encampment next to the speedway’s golf course because everyone was there to have a good time. He said the bed was comfortable but loud fireworks one fan set off at 5:30 a.m., when the gates opened to the track, was a bit much.
Swartz said there was plenty of hot water in the showers, but complained that the camp site needed bathrooms at both of its ends.
“It’s kind of a long walk when you’re drunk and you have to go. I made that long walk a couple times last night,” she said.
Hours before Sunday’s race, violence struck a parking lot just outside of the track for a second consecutive night when two men were injured in a shooting during a robbery. Just 24 hours earlier, an Indiana man was shot to death in the same parking lot, one of several where thousands of fans camp during race weekend.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Brian Olehy said the fatal shooting was unusual. In 2012, a fan was hospitalized after he was shot in the chest after an apparent altercation across from the speedway.
The race was the swan song for Jim Nabors, who sang “Back Home Again In Indiana,” for the final time and received a roaring appreciation from the crowd. Nabors, who first performed the song in 1972 and missed some intervening years, then stood by Mari Hulman George’s side as they spoke in unison, “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines!”
Bob Curtner, an 82-year-old from Sidney, Ohio, who attended his first Indy 500 in the late 1940s, said he’ll miss Nabors’ performance. He said Nabors’ distinctive baritone rendition of the ode to Indiana is a true part of the race’s tradition.
“That’s going to be very sad when he’s not here anymore to sing that because everybody waits for that to happen, it’s just before the race starts. I just like to hear him sing. I don’t know who they’re going to find to replace him,” said Curtner, who was attending the race with his 47-year-old son, Max.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was tapped to wave the green flag starting the race and took time to meet with drivers and rapper/actor Ice-T. He declined to answer any questions Sunday about the NBA owners’ upcoming vote to oust Donald Sterling as the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner over his racist comments.
Cuban, who also apologized last week over his own comments addressing bigotry and prejudice, said during the pre-race red carpet walk that he just wanted to talk about Sunday’s race. Cuban said he’d been asked twice before to wave the green flag, and was able to take part this year only because the Mavericks are out of the NBA playoffs.
“I told them this case hinged on Dallas not making it any further in the playoffs,” he said. “So it’s unfortunate that I’m here, but I’m also really excited to wave the flag.”
Ice-T and his wife Coco Austin said during their red carpet walk that they were both pulling for Marco Andretti to win Sunday, in part because their English bulldog, King Maximus, is the father of Marco’s bulldog, Moody. Coco excitedly told reporters that King Maximus and his father, Spartacus, have a twitter page.
“He has more than 50,000 followers!” she said with a laugh.
Ice-T said he’s been to the Indy 500 before, but it is still amazed by the size of the track and roar of the cars once the race begins.
“Until you actually see the cars live, you don’t realize how vast this place is. And I love the sound of the cars,” he said.