Indy 500 Pics: Racing's Big Event Adds Concert, Road Rally, and Fund-Raiser to Packed Lineup of Festivities

By Jenny Berg May 29, 2012, 4:28 PM EDT

Photo: Chris Bucher

Known as the world's largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500 hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, but the celebrating started long before the first engine revved. According to Chris Gahl, spokesperson for the city's convention and visitors association, “Indy 500 is essentially a month-long celebration, kicking off with the nation's largest half-marathon” and goes on to include celebrity-packed galas, a major parade, family-friendly festivals, and more. “From an events perspective, that's more than 100 parties in 30 days.” Collectively, the 30 days of events are referred to as the 500 Festival.

For the first time, the 500 Festival's official kickoff was a concert on Monument Square. Held on April 28, the event was dubbed “Rev Your Engines” and offered performances from Plain White Ts and '70s band The Romantics. In previous years, the start of festivities was marked by the distribution of 500 free sandwiches during a weekday lunch hour downtown, but this year's event—a Saturday affair with acts that appeal to several generations of music fans—was intended to draw a broader range of guests. Although rain resulted in a smaller crowd than the 5,000-10,000 guests organizers had hoped for, they plan to hold the concert again next year and make it an annual tradition going forward. 

Other new events included the Friday-night Indy 500 Soiree, presented by IndyCar and Lucas Oil. The idea for the event came about in February, when IndyCar C.E.O. Randy Bernard attended a Super Bowl party at the Lucas Estate. “He really enjoyed it, and thought, 'IndyCar should do one of these during the Indy 500,'” said Denise Abbot, IndyCar's vice president of public relations. Bernard is also friends with country singer Garth Brooks, and had been wanting to host a fund-raiser for Brooks' charity, Teammates for Kids Foundation, for some time.

With the short February-to-May lead time, “many people have been working many long hours, but we're excited to see what we can do,” Abbot said in the days leading up to the benefit. Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, were among the 700 guests who made it out on Friday night. Activities included silent auctions, wine tasting, billiards tricks, and music from country and mariachi bands; guests could also pose with an Indy 500 trophy. Abbot said that the event will take place each year and raise funds for a different local charity.

The Gumball 3000, an international road rally that takes 120 exotic sports cars on a different route each year, made its first pit stop in Indianapolis over the weekend. Participants had a dinner at Asian-fusion nightclub and restaurant Sensu on Saturday night, then watched the big race on Sunday. This year's coast-to-coast route started in New York on Friday and then headed to Toronto before swinging through Indianapolis. Ensuing stops included Kansas City, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas, and the tour wraps up in Los Angeles on Thursday.

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