Race Weekend Central

Five Non-Indy 500 Races to Attend This Week in the Hoosier State

The Month of May is a busy month of racing for the state of Indiana, and I’m not just talking about the Brickyard.

While most race fans associate May with Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Hoosier state, the week of the Indianapolis 500 features other incredible races, many of which are deeply ingrained in the history of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing’s history.

With 300,000+ fans expected to venture to IMS on May 29 for the 100th edition of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ biggest race, there’s going to be a wealth of racing fans in the area.

If you’re going to be among them, you might consider attending one of these five other great races that will fill the week leading up to the Indy 500. You might just find them to be a spectacle in their own right.

A quick note before you proceed: If you’re interested in attending the three USAC events listed below, you can save a bit of money with a special three-day SUPERTICKET. It can be purchased at https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/the-week-of-indy.

1) The Tony Hulman Classic
When: Wednesday, May 25
Where: Terre Haute (In.) Action Track (Terre Haute, IN)

Fans wanting to celebrate the rich history of racing in Indiana should look no further than Terre Haute to begin their week.

Located on the south side of the town famous for the Indiana State Sycamores, a mid-major university that famously rode future NBA star Larry Bird to the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, Terre Haute’s famous track has hosted “The Tony Hulman Classic” sprint car race since 1971.

If the race’s namesake doesn’t sound familiar, he should. Born in 1901, Anton “Tony” Hulman, Jr., was a business man who in his youth earned a great deal of wealth courtesy of successful ad campaigns for the baking powder brand Clabber Girl.

In 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, Hulman bought out the dilapidated Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was abandoned after the 1941 Indy 500 due to the war. Human made substantial improvements to the track, and resumed the annual 500-mile race in 1946. It has run every year since.

What some may not know about Hulman is that he was a native of Terre Haute. The promoters at the Action Track, however, knew this all too well, and created the race in his name in 1971. The event has continued on to this day, maintaining the same name even after Hulman’s death in 1977.

This year’s event brings the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars and Scott’s Custom Colors UMP Modifieds to the dirt track. Many of USAC’s biggest names, including Dave Darland, Jerry Coons, Jr., and Brady Bacon will attempt to take the checkered flag on Wednesday.

The Terre Haute Action Track is a special place among short track fans. If you want to see why it got the nickname “The Action Track”, general admission tickets can be had for just $25, with infield passes costing an extra $15. Children 10 and under get in free. Gates open at 5:00 p.m. ET.

2) The Hoosier Hundred
When: Thursday, May 26
Where: Indiana State Fairgrounds (Indianapolis, IN)

The history of the Indy 500 can’t be told without discussing the Hoosier Hundred.

Held at one of only three remaining one-mile dirt tracks in the United States, the 100-mile USAC Silver Crown Championship Series race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds has played host to some of the biggest names in racing.

Seven winners of the Hoosier Hundred have also won the Indy 500. A.J. Foyt won the race a record six times from 1960-1969. Mario Andretti earned two wins of his own in 1966 & 1967, and Parnelli Jones won the event in 1962.

The most consecutive wins in the race’s history goes to Al Unser, Sr. The four-time Indy 500 winner claimed four-consecutive victories in the Hoosier Hundred from 1970-1973.

At one point, success in the Hoosier Hundred was expected to lead to success in the Indy 500. While that concept changed over the late stages of the 1900s, the race is still held in high regard among hardcore racing fans.

Short track ace “Do It” Jack Hewitt won the event three times (1986, 88-89). He also won two times at the track’s sister event, the Hulman Hundred, in 1986 and 1990. Other winners of the Hulman Hundred include World of Outlaws legend Steve Kinser in 1981 and four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon in 1991.

In recent years, the race has given way to some of dirt-track racing’s biggest names, with some of them transitioning to future careers in NASCAR. Future Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Jason Leffler and JJ Yeley won the event in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and Josh Wise claimed the feature in 2006.

This season, Kody Swanson is looking to claim his third-straight win in the race after convincing victories in 2014 and 2015. He’ll have a tall task ahead of him, though, as the entry list includes an impressive 35 drivers, including Indy 500 qualifier Bryan Clauson.

There will also be a UMP Modified feature before the event. Last season, the feature included former NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace.

Tickets will be on-sale at the gates for $30 for adults, or $10 for kids 11 and under. Infield tickets are available for $15 and $5 for adults and kids, respectively. Hot laps will begin at 5:00 p.m. ET.

3) Freedom 100
When: Friday, May 27
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis, IN)

OK, this one’s cheating a little bit, but this race deserves to be seen.

Friday at the Brickyard is typically a day for partiers and casual fans interested in getting a taste of the Month of May without the commitment – financially and physically – of the Indy 500.

However, while Carb Day may be known more for downed beers and big concerts, there is a great race to be had at the 2.5-mile oval.

Started in 2003 as a way to give drivers at the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy a taste of the biggest track on the tour, the Freedom 100 has quickly gone on to hold some of the best finishes in IMS’ 107-year history.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than 2013. Seriously, watch it. Then rewind the video and watch it again. It’s bonkers.

Interestingly enough, three of the four drivers involved in that classic finish are competing in Sunday’s Indy 500. The one who isn’t? The winner, Peter Dempsey.

Oh, and 2014’s finish was pretty close, too.

Seriously, two of the last three Freedom 100’s have been decided by less distance than one of the Firestone tires used to create them occupies.

This race is fairly new, and is accordingly missing most of the pomp and circumstance of the other races on this list. But with racing like that shown above, it’s worth the trip.

If you’re interested in getting a taste of the future IndyCar stars, you can attend this year’s Miller Lite Carb Day at IMS for just $30. The race starts at 12:30 p.m. ET, with the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge and a special concert from classic rock legend Journey following. Talk about “Any Way You Want It.”

4) Carb Night Classic… The Race Before the 500
When: Friday, May 27
Where: Lucas Oil Raceway (Brownsburg, IN)

If you can fend off the allure of overindulging on adult beverages at Carb Day (or find a DD), you might as well make the trip just outside of Naptown after the Freedom 100 to catch some more great racing at a fan-favorite track.

Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly known as Indiana Raceway Park) earned its share of fame in the late 20th century and early 21st courtesy of classes NASCAR racing during the weekend of the Brickyard 400. However, while NASCAR doesn’t race there anymore, the facility’s oval – they also have a world-renowned dragstrip – still holds a few races each season. More often than not, they’re can’t-miss events.

Such is the case on Friday night of Indy 500 week, when the USAC Silver Crown Series and the lower levels of the Mazda Road to Indy head to the unique .686-mile circuit.

The classic event began way back in 1946, making it the earliest event on this list. Starting as the Night Before the 500, the inaugural event was held at the now-defunct 16th Street Speedway as a double-feature race among USAC midget cars.

Over the years, the event has seen a myriad of changes. For a few years it held three features, with Shorty Templeman incredibly winning all three races in 1956.

The location of the race varied, too. Eventually USAC moved away from 16th Street Speedway to Kokomo Speedway, then the Indianapolis Speedrome, LOR and even the Indiana State Fairgrounds. LOR finally took over the event for good in 1980, and has hosted it annually every season since.

The cars used in the event changed over time, too. While midgets alone dominated the early years, Formula Super Vee made a brief five-year stint of appearances from 1985-1989. USF2000 joined the night in 1992, and Pro Mazda held one event in 1998 before being added annually in 2010.

The last change seen in the event came just last season, when USAC ceased sanctioning of paved midget cars. Due to the switch, the Silver Crown Series was moved over to USAC’s slot on the night, giving it the night it’s current lineup of Silver Crown, USF2000 and Pro Mazda.

Given that the newly-renamed Carb Night Classic hosts only lower-tier series on the open wheel tour, it doesn’t get a lot of attention. But some of racing’s biggest names, and even a few drivers in this year’s Indy 500, have parked it on the frontstretch at LOR.

NASCAR fans need look no farther than 1983-2002 to find some familiar names that have won the USAC event. Ken Schrader took the race in 1983. Jeff Gordon won in 1989 and 1990. Mike Bliss claimed 1993, and Ryan Newman triumphed in 1997 and 1999. Kasey Kahne earned repeat wins in 2000 and 2001, and Jason Leffler earned a USAC victory at the track in 2002 before following with a NASCAR Busch (now XFINITY) Series win in 2007 – the first on the tour for Toyota.

On the IndyCar side of things, three winners on the Road to Indy side of the evening since 2010 should sound familiar. The first is Conor Daly, who won in Pro Mazda’s 2010 return. The second is Spencer Pigot, who took the USF2000 victory in 2012. The last? Matthew Brabham, who claimed the 2013 Pro Mazda feature.

Fans interested in attending the event can do so for cheap. General admission tickets for the night at just $25, with children 11 and under getting in for $10.

That the race has been moved to Friday is also convenient, because it also gives fans an option to attend the final event on this list…

5) Payless Little 500
When: Saturday, May 28
Where: Anderson Speedway (Anderson, IN)

Located roughly an hour northeast of Indianapolis on Interstate 69, Anderson, Ind., isn’t the first city to stand out on a map when outsiders look at the state of Indiana. It’s a fairly average city, both in amenities and income, and its main association to the average Hoosier comes from the city’s casino.

However, on the outskirts of town, a small quarter-mile oval holds some of the most ridiculous races in the entire world, crazy enough that short-track legend Dick Trickle likened racing late models at the track to “racing jet fighters in a gym.”

Anderson Speedway, located on the south-eastern fringes of the city, hosts racing on Saturday nights throughout the majority of the year, including Figure-8 races for the edgier racing fan. However, one race at the speedway stands out above all others: the Payless Little 500.

Not be confused with Indiana University’s bike race of the same name, the Little 500 began as an idea in track founder Joe Helpling’s mind.

After creating the quarter-mile, then called Sun Valley Speedway, following visits to two now-defunct tracks across the state, Helping came to the Mutual Racing Association with an idea. It might just sound familiar.

Helpling’s idea was simple. Mirror the format of the Indy 500. Put 33 sprint cars (then with the Roaring Roadsters) on the track for a 500-lap event. That seems simple enough, right?

There was only one issue: Helpling’s track was a full 2.25-miles shorter than the Brickyard, and he couldn’t afford the purse of the Indy 500.

33 cars on a quarter-mile track for 500 laps? Blasphemy. Promoters scoffed. 33 cars? They’ll all crash. 500 laps? Teams won’t be able to make it to the finish.

People began to pressure Helpling, begging him to reduce the race to 200 or 300 laps. If the race was 500 laps, they said, it would probably cost upwards of $800 for tires, and no car would finish.

Helpling’s response? Well, per Anderson Speedway’s site, it was as follows.

“Then we’ll run bicycles,” Helpling said. “Because we’re gonna have a Little 500 and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

Sure enough, the first Little 500 was held in 1949. Shockingly, 18 cars finished, with five drivers never making a pit stop.

The rest, so they say, is history.

The Little 500 has been held every year since that first race, and while the list of winners might not match up with those of the other events on this article, the race itself is enough to bring fans back in bunches year after year.

The Indy 500 might be the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and rightfully so, but to any fan that thinks the three-wide start to that race is crazy, I laugh.

“Just wait until you see 33 cars going into Turn 1 three-wide at Anderson,” I joke. “That’ll make this start look tame.”

Tickets for the Little 500 are $35, which makes this the most expensive race on the week short of the Indy 500 itself. But trust me, you’ll get your money’s worth.

About the author

A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

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