Blink and you might miss the finish of the Indy 500 -- the fastest, longest, oldest, and largest single-day motor sporting event in the world. For 500 miles, open-wheel cars grow wings, flying 200 times around a 2-1/2-mile oval at more than 200 miles per hour, gobbling some fifty feet of track a second. Tickets are also flying, and hotel rooms are filling up even faster, for the 89th annual race, on May 29, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Attendance usually exceeds 300,000, so act now if you want to get in on this event -- or the tony Grand Prix, from June 17 to 19, when some 120,000 fans from around the world descend upon the city for the only stateside Formula One event, racing's most glamorous league. NASCAR fans have a little more time to plan for the Brickyard 400, August 5 to 7, but that event also draws 250,000 spectators, so it's best to make reservations as soon as possible.
For any of this year's blockbuster races at the speedway, you'll be competing for lodgings with culture buffs as well as motor heads. A booming year for this thriving, clean, eminently livable Midwestern capital, 2005 will see the grand opening (May 6 to May 8) of the newly expanded Indianapolis Art Museum (www.ima-art.org), with double the amount of its previous exhibition space and a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant on the premises. On Memorial Day weekend, the Indianapolis Zoo (www.indyzoo.com) is opening the world's first fully submerged, interactive dolphin exhibition. "Tom Otterness on Broadway" (www.tomotterness.net), bronze sculptures designed for public exhibition throughout the city, is making its next stop in Indianapolis, from April 15 until July 31. And August 21 is the opening date for the new Indianapolis Art Center ArtsPark (www.indplsartcenter.org), designed by renowned architect and Indy native son Michael Graves.
Once you're in Indianapolis, getting around is a cinch, with lots of free parking and a mandate for ease of use ("so easy to do so much" is the city's marketing mantra). Finding a room for Memorial Day, however, will be the challenge, though not an impossible one. Downtown rooms are already scarce, but lodging is still to be had in the outlying suburbs, and several sporting events packagers still have downtown accommodations to sell in conjunction with speedway tickets. Tickets for the event itself, which run from $40 to $140, usually don't sell out until the day of the race; even passes for the Yard of Bricks, near the start and finish lines, can still be had directly from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (tel. 800/822-4639; www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com).
Sports Travel (tel. 800/924-9993; www.sportstravel.com) offers the best land-only rates. The lead hotels are optimal, and the package price includes tickets for the races. Their "Indy 500 Deluxe" package includes three nights at the Radisson Downtown City Centre (from May 27 to May 28), paddock grandstand tickets to the Indy 500, and a host of extras, for $895 a person based on double occupancy. Extras include airport transfers, round-trip transport to the track, a program, a drivers meeting pass, a Hall of Fame Museum pass, and all taxes and fees. The Radisson is one of several downtown hotels linked by a skywalk to the mall, where you can park for $3 and walk to White River State Park, the city's museums (many of which are free), and an attractive canal lined with shops and restaurants.
For the Grand Prix, Sports Travel is offering two nights at the Radisson (June 18 to 19), section H grandstand tickets, and similar extras for $875. For a hotel outside of downtown (the Hampton Inn Southport), the same package rate drops to $535. See the website for packages with better seating and additional nights for higher rates and packages for the NASCAR Brickyard 400.
INDYHosts (tel. 800/326-8122), run by a local family of diehard racing buffs, specializes in packages to the Indy speedway's top three events. They offer accommodations packages to downtown hotels, with race-oriented perks such as seat cushions and earplugs, plus the option to buy reserved tickets for the races and preliminaries. For the Indianapolis 500, they're offering three nights, daily breakfast, and tax for $725 at the Comfort Inn City Centre, and $845 at the Radisson City Centre. Race tickets are optional, for $70 to $150. Extras covered by the package price include daily breakfast, round-trip transfers to the racetrack, two lunches, and tickets to meet the drivers and enter the Hall of Fame museum.
For the more cosmopolitan Grand Prix (June 17 to 20), INDYHosts is offering three nights at the Comfort Inn City Centre with similar race-oriented perks, and the option to purchase reserved race tickets, for $750. The price includes a seat cushion, earplugs, the official program, continental breakfast, two days' worth of round-trip transfers to the stadium, and the option to purchase tickets for the race. Two lunches come with the package as well. The same package at the Radisson Hotel City Centre is $965. Race tickets are $105 to $150. Later this summer, for the 2005 NASCAR Brickyard 400 (August 6 to 8), two nights at the Comfort Inn City Centre are $480, with the same extras afforded by the Grand Prix package. Tickets are additional from $75 to $85. Taxes are included.
If you're flying from Chicago or Kansas City, look into Southwest Airlines' (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) "Midwest for Less" rates. With an advance, 14-day purchase, one-way fares to Indianapolis are $39. You must purchase tickets by April 21. Airtran (tel. 800/247-8726; www.airtran.com) has a series of what's on sale to Indy - the newest gateway in the carriers bag. Purchase by April 19 for travel (with some black out dates) through October, 2005. We also found some decent air-hotel package rates from on Orbitz (www.orbitz.com). From Newark, round-trip air and four nights at the three-star Staybridge Suites are $815 on United. (Prices are based on May 26 departure and May 30 return. From Chicago, round-trip air and four nights at the Staybridge are $587. From Los Angeles, the same package is $764.
For additional information about room availability in Indianapolis, contact Ron Gilbert and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 317/639-5386; www.indy.org) Their extremely helpful, friendly (often funny) information specialists are a fitting entrée to this most pleasant of cities.
Do you have suggestions for enjoying a trip to Indianapolis? Tell us about it on our Indiana Message Boards today.