Behind the Scenes of the 2017 Indianapolis 500: A Photo Gallery

Watching the race is one thing. Watching from track level is something very different.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: If you really want to watch the Indianapolis 500, you’re better off watching on television.

For the start of the race and the first few laps, there’s nothing like being there. The pagentry before the race starts is worth the price of admission alone, packed with military tributes (the Indy 500 is Memorial Day weekend, after all), cameo appearances from Indy cars and champion drivers of old, the occasional celebrity pop-in, and some of the greatest people watching you’ll ever encounter.

Likewise, it’s impossible not to feel alive when the cars start their engine, take their warm up laps, and floor it for the first time. The choir of turbocharged V6s screaming at 11,000 rpm, the roar of the cars tearing the atmosphere apart at nearly one-third the speed of sound—the sheer energy of it all seems to vibrate at the resonate frequency of the adrenal gland, sending a burst of fire into your heart every time a car screams past.

But once the race gets going, trying to keep track of the battle from any of the 235,000 grandstands seats is largely futile—and indeed, can border on monotonous. You wind up watching the scoreboard more than anything else, constantly yawning to help your ears adjust to the foam plugs jammed into them. Unless a pass or accident happens on the small chunk of track within your field of view, you’ll only find out about it from the booming voice of the announcer, or the distant roar of a far-off crowd shrieking as one. Even if something notable does happen near you, you’d better be looking in the right direction at just the right time; with the cars screaming past at 220 miles per hour, they don’t stay in your eyeline very long. 

Down at track level, though, it’s a different story. Not because you can see the competition any more clearly; if anything, the race is even more opaque from there, the cars visible for less than a second as they flash by at the limits of human perception. But squeezed between stacks of Firestone rubbers awaiting their chance to be mounted and the fireproof suit-clad team members clutching fat fuel hoses, the sheer scale of the race comes into play. On the tube, the drivers’ job often looks as easy as a Sunday drive; from the pits, it’s impossible not to walk away astounded at their talent and resilience.  

So to try and impart a little of the behind-the-scenes experience our press credentials and business cards were able to secure for us, we at The Drive wanted to share some of what we were lucky enough to see—before, during, and after the 2017 Indy 500

Fernando Alonso and Takuma Sato pose with models in rollerskates (don’t ask) at Andretti’s night-before party., Will Sabel Courtney
“One of these drivers will win tomorrow,” Michael Andretti said. He was right. , Will Sabel Courtney
Gasoline Alley, humming with activity a couple hours before the race., Will Sabel Courtney
Preparing for the pre-race parade laps., Will Sabel Courtney
Mario Andretti, being his usual boss self., Will Sabel Courtney
Al Unser Jr. lowers himself into A.J. Foyt’s 1977 Indy winner., Will Sabel Courtney
Vice-president Mike Pence takes the slowest lap in Indy 500 history., Will Sabel Courtney
A soldier hands the checkered flag to a man in a V8-powered Chevy Camaro at the Indy 500. ‘Muricah., Will Sabel Courtney
A B-52H from the 69th Bomb Squadron performs the traditional pre-race flyover during the national anthem., Will Sabel Courtney
The cars during a warm-up lap. This is about as slow as they’ll ever go while you’re watching., Will Sabel Courtney
Gabby Chavez blitzes through the pits. , Will Sabel Courtney
Submitted without comment., Will Sabel Courtney
The bathroom graffiti was decidedly pro-Dixon., Will Sabel Courtney
Jay Howard’s battered car meets the remains of Scott Dixon’s after their collision., Will Sabel Courtney
Fernando Alonso in the midst of one of his charges towards the lead., Will Sabel Courtney
The scene among Takuma Sato’s team in the final laps., Will Sabel Courtney
The moment the race ends, all those rules about staying off pit lane go out the window. , Will Sabel Courtney
Somewhere in there lies 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato., Will Sabel Courtney