...The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is considered one of the three most significant motorsports events in the world. The official attendance is not disclosed by Speedway management, but the permanent seating capacity is more than 257,000 people, and infield seating raises capacity to an approximate 400,000.So in the motorsports world, it's kind of a big deal. It's THE big deal. And in Indianapolis, it has a huge following. In fact, my grandfather went to every race during his lifetime and settled in Speedway to raise his family.
As a result, I grew up steeped in race life. As a teen (from ages 13-17, if I recall correctly) I volunteered at a souvenir stand at the track. I worked the 500, Brickyard, and even the short lived Formula One race. Race culture is fairly divided and I could see a difference between the crowds at each event type. The Europeans brought a relative air of sophistication and worldliness. The Brickyard seemed overall family oriented. And then there was the 500. What the Wikipedia page fails to elaborate upon (especially in the "culture" part of the page) is how very misogynistic and creepy Indy car race fans were to a young teen girl.
For example, you're very, very likely to hear someone shout, "Show me your boobs!" In fact, you'll probably hear it multiple times, and you might be as young as 13 when you hear it...directed at you. Additionally, both my friends and I were hit on and propositioned by multiple older men, including offers to take care of us or take us home. One particularly disturbing situation involved being asked if I was for sale (I worked at a souvenir stand after all.) And the entire time this stuff happened, I was totally underage. I guess I should be thankful that we were relatively stable teens who weren't looking for an escape or a father figure.
At the time we played it off, as teens are apt to do. We laughed and many of the situations turned into inside jokes, but when push came to shove we understood how extremely creepy the whole thing was. Truth is, it set a pretty scary environment for us whether we verbalized it or not. One of those gut feelings you just have.
Now, I'll put a disclaimer on it. These are, of course, just the observations and experiences of me reflecting upon what happened to my friends and I. However, I'd bet that the things we encountered were not limited to us. Besides, it's fairly well known in Indy that race day gets rowdy, especially in the infield, and historically in the "snake pit." (That part of the Wikipedia entry allllmost mentions these problems, but doesn't actually call out the gendered nature of the "revelry" and alludes to things being much more calm by the 1990s.)
Anyway, I haven't been since the early 2000s, so perhaps things have changed, but I highly doubt it. Either way, I'm always going to have a creepy association with the whole thing.