In the Pit at the Indy 500

How they pull off this bucket list event, year after year

100th running of the Indy 500

There are only a few events in the U.S. that can legitimately claim to be the sports world's equivalent of single-name celebrities -- bucket-list events so steeped in tradition that they will attract and excite even people who don't follow that sport to their home city. Excluding championship games like the Super Bowl and World Series, which change cities every year, the list can be counted on one hand: the Kentucky Derby, The Masters, the Rose Bowl, the U.S. Open, and of course the Indianapolis 500.

The 100th running of the granddaddy of all American auto racing took place on Sunday, May 30, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, and as bucket-list events go, it doesn't get much bigger. On race day, the first fully sold-out Indy 500 in a half century attracted an estimated 400,000 people to the track, which Visit Indy, the city's convention and visitors bureau, says makes the two-mile oval track and its quarter-million grandstand seats the 58th largest city in America for a day.

Just being in a crowd that size is a rush, as is the unbelievable roar of the 1,545-pound, open-wheel cars as they go by at speeds in excess of 230 miles per hour. But looking at it from a meetings industry perspective, what impresses the most is how well Indianapolis handles a crowd that size. With the help of reversed roadways, police escorts for VIP buses, and lots of experience coordinating traffic management, and lots of experience, I found leaving the race easier than getting back to New York City from a Jets football game. Which is one way of saying, yes, Indianapolis can handle your convention or event easily.

While the race sold out all 33,000 hotel rooms in the region, planners will mostly be concerned with the 7,100-plus rooms within a six-block radius of the convention center -- 4,700 of them in 12 hotels connected by skywalk. This area also encompasses the city's safe and eminently walkable downtown, with plenty of dining, nightlife, and shopping. Monument Circle, about four blocks away, is a very pleasant spot for a nightcap or coffee. The Indiana Convention Center's neighbor is Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Colts, and past that is Victory Field, home of baseball's Indians. Beyond the stadiums is 250-acre White River State Park, a green space with a variety of museums and the zoo. The city also has 1,100 new hotel rooms in development and the first airport designed and built post-9/11, accounting for its high passenger ratings.

This includes the elegant, 499-room Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, directly connected to the Indiana Convention Center by skywalk. It has 35,000 square feet of meeting space and several restaurants, pre-eminent of which is The Eagle's Nest, a rotating fine-dining eatery atop the hotel, which offers stunning views of the entire city.

For a more unconventional venue, consider Fountain Square Theater Building, maybe the most eccentric business in the Midwest. This restored 1928 building includes a swing-era ballroom, a charming 11-room inn, two floors of duckpin bowling, a BBQ restaurant, pub, and open-air rooftop bar/restaurant.

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.