IndyCar: Do Indy 500 Ticket Prices Hint At Past Glory?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

Indy 500 ticket prices are more suggestive of where things used to be as to where they are now.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, a ticket to the Indy 500 was probably one of, if not the hardest tickets in all of sports to procure.  By this, I mean completing a ticket application and be lucky enough to get one directly from the Speedway at reasonable prices.  As with any major event – sporting, concerts, theater, etc., you could always find a ticket through a broker or from a private party if you were willing to pay for it…sometimes as much as three to four times face value.

I know, because I began applying for tickets in the late 70’s, and it wasn’t until 1985 that I was accepted.  The Speedway processes renewal requests first, then requests for location changes and/or additional tickets and finally new applications.  During that era, renewals sometimes accounted for 100% of ticket sales, and you had to have your ticket application for the following year submitted within one week of the current year’s event.  So, if you were rejected, the Speedway kept that information and granted requests based on how long you had been trying to buy tickets.  Because of the large number of requests, they even recorded the date your application was postmarked, because being just one day earlier than someone else could mean the difference between being accepted and being told to try again next year.  (Online sales didn’t exist back then as they do now.)  It was not uncommon to have thousands of people in line at the ticket office at 8am the day after a race for people to get their request in the system as soon as possible.

Beginning with the formation of the Indy Racing League and the open-wheel split in the early 90’s, attendance began to dwindle and fewer people and corporations renewed their tickets.  This obviously led to more tickets becoming available each year.  Ticket holders who were loyal during this time and didn’t cancel saw upgrade requests processed the first time they were requested.  New applications always were approved.  Sometimes on race day, you could even walk-up, choose your desired location, purchase the ticket and walk in.

Related Story: IndyCar Split - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - Part 1

There were some pretty lean years during this time, and an event that once drew an estimated 400,000+ people sometimes only drew less than 100,000.  That’s still a lot of people, but when your grandstands appear less than half-full, it doesn’t look good. The Speedway never releases official attendance numbers.  In recent years, attendance has begun to rebound somewhat.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the 100th running of the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing.” Things seem to have changed with a vengeance!  Most locations have been sold out for months.

Perhaps it is because of this milestone anniversary.  Perhaps it is because the competition has yielded amazing side-by-side action the last few years with multiple lead changes per lap right to the very end.  Perhaps it is because of new seating options, amenities and facility upgrades.

Listed below are some ticket options for 2016 and two prices – the first one is what the ticket would have cost you if you were a Speedway ticket holder and the second one is the current market rate using StubHub, eBay or brokers.   Understand that these prices can vary, and can be subject to negotiation.

(Note:  Not all locations are listed, just a representative sampling)

  • First Turn – E Stand – $125 / $475
  • First Turn – E Stand Penthouse – $230 / $950
  • Second Turn – Southeast Vista – $109 / $475
  • Third Turn – Northeast Vista – $109 / $350
  • Fourth Turn – Northwest Vista – $109 / $475
  • Main Straightaway Low – H Stand $80 / $350
  • Main Straightaway Middle – C Stand $109 / $280
  • Main Straightaway High – Paddock $120 / $350
  • Main Straightaway Penthouse – $205 / $710
  • Main Straightaway Upper Penthouse – $190 / $600
  • Main Straightaway Elite – A Stand Penthouse – $220 / $600

Even seen single-day reserved parking, which is normally $40, is listed for $250 and a three-day parking pass, normally $120, is listed for $450.  If you’re the happy wanderer type and don’t want a seat, you can still purchase General Admission for $40 on race day and take your chances.

Related Story: 100th Indy 500 Entries Reach Bumping Level

Just based on the current trends seen above, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 appears to be well on its way to being the best-attended 500 in years, and this author will be there for the 39th consecutive time!  If the racing action is as it has been for the last few years, the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” might again be just that.