We found some other folks in our graduate program interested in going and met up for breakfast at a diner as the race starts around noon and we wanted to drive in together and had concerns about traffic. The Indianapolis 500 brings in more than 300,000 people to the largest sporting venue in the world, according to Wikipedia, so you can see where traffic concerns originated. However, it turns out that the police simply make all the roads going towards the 500 one way and by using all the lanes the traffic moved pretty well going in. It probably only took us 45 minutes to go the 5-6 miles from the highway to our parking spot (we paid up ahead of time for one within easy walking distance of our seats).
We also paid up for good seats along the stretch leading to the start/finish line, with real seat backs and shade from an awning (this was a really good idea as the weather was quite sunny). The 500 lets you bring in all the food and drink you want as long as it isn't in glass containers, so we were well supplied and didn't need to leave our seats to have everything we wanted at hand. A member of our party with prior experience had reported on the low quality of the food available from the track, and that was apparently before they switched vendors and the internet reported that the food took a sharp downturn on top of that.
View from the seats looking left
View from the seats looking right - the finish line is down by the famous 'Pagoda'
We got to our seats close to two hours before the main event, anticipating something they had billed as 'the race of champions' where classic and/or historic Indy cars would be unleashed around the track for our enjoyment. Now I know that it wouldn't make sense for these cars to actually be raced, as cars from different eras wouldn't be competitive with each other, and the safety equipment would definitely not be up to scratch. However, I was hoping for a little more than a low-speed parade in single file around the track - and you could at least open them up on the straights in front of the stands so we could hear them better. And maybe do more than one lap. So while it was interesting to see the historic cars on the track, this was not worth arriving early for. The pre-race entertainment also featured numerous z-grade celebrities arriving and being interviewed about the race, which was kind of hilarious in terms of what passes for entertainment these days.
A classic Indycar
Another classic Indycar
When the race finally did start, two crashes in quick succession (the first two of about five or six throughout) made for a slow start as they had to clean up the track and drag away the damaged vehicles. Fortunately, as far as we can tell there were no life-threatening injuries during the race, with the worst crashes topping out at a few broken bones with full recoveries expected (which I consider extremely impressive considering they're often going in excess of 200MPH).
Driver getting out of a car he just crashed at ~200MPH
The sound of the cars was pretty special - even through the earplugs the sound of giant angry bees vibrated through the air and when a large number of them went by together it would be hard not to get excited.
Video with sound of cars
The race got more exciting as we figured out who the drivers were and started rooting for and against various people (I admit I rooted against specific cars that were sponsored by companies who are jerks) and the drivers got more aggressive as the distance to the finish decreased, leading to more close calls and more passes. The last fifteen laps or so were done after a crash, which basically resets the field so that they start close together and in a single-file line, so nobody was holding anything back at that point. I think the lead changed at least 5 times in the last few laps, with people I was both rooting for and against in the leaders, which was fun to watch.
A pit stop
Lead cars on the final lap
The winner was pretty excited and rightfully so - he'd won this race 15 years ago but not since and fought his way up from 30th place earlier in the race after screwing up a pit stop.
Once the race was over, 300,000 people wanted to leave, and getting out was not as easy as getting in. Once you were on a road the police kept things in line but the parking lots were complete chaos as absolutely everyone tried to cut the line to get to one of the exits, leading to spiraling conglomerations of dozens of mini-lines trying to get into the one exit. We did some sitting around at that point before things started moving again. While I think there's room for improvement in managing traffic and pedestrians leaving the race, given the number of people present it wasn't that bad. Were we doing it again, we'd probably tailgate after the race until things cleared up, an option exercised by many.
That is people to the horizon.
Overall, we felt it was certainly worth going to once and would go again with a group to hang out with during some of the slower parts of the experience.