SPEEDWAY, Ind. — For more than 100 years, the Indy 500 has driven racing fans to the Hoosier State and for the first time since 2019, it was back in its true form, with no restrictions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It was the most – the most incredible sports event I’ve ever seen,” said Kent Bulifant, who traveled from Oregon to meet up with his dad and brother for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“We had the opportunity to come last year and I was like, no I want to come with a packed house, and it was absolutely perfect,” Kent added.
As the remaining tourists, like the Bulifant family, are winding down their trips, the Town of Speedway and its businesses are getting a glimpse of the impact this year’s race had. It’s fair to say that Marcus Ericsson isn’t the only one celebrating a successful May.
“Several of us have described, we have five months, and the month of May is our fifth season,” said Gary Raikes, Vice President of the Speedway Town Council.
Not only did the Indy 500 bring together an estimated 325,000 people for the biggest race since 2016, and what IMS officials believe to be the second biggest in the last two decades, but it also drew in people throughout the month for other events leading up to the race.
“We had nearly a million people here in the month of May just here in Indy, and of course race weekend, probably half a million between Carb Friday and the Sunday race,” said Raikes.
While many mom and pop shops depend on the race, Raikes said, they also depend on the entire month of May for a large part of their profits.
“We’ve been preparing for a while now to have a great weekend, and of course, we did,” said Raikes.
With hundreds of thousands of people coming to Central Indiana for the race, they needed places to eat, sleep and perhaps buy some checkered apparel. Many looked to local as their go-to, and businesses said, they felt the support and positive impacts this year’s race brought with it.
“I’ve lived it, I’m from here, I’ve seen large crowds,” said Founders Grounds Coffee Company co-owner, Jeff Matthews. “I’ve seen the 100th running, never would I have thought that it would have been this busy, this crazy, this friendly.”
Matthews said last week was when their team saw the fan growth begin to gradually pick up. By race weekend it had exploded, especially for his business, which had a shop setup at the track.
“I think everyone on Main Street felt that they were back in full capacity,” said Matthews. “Seeing people over at the track with our cups of coffee and our panini sandwiches, it was really cool. It was cool to see it up on the big screen a couple times when they did a little advertisement for it. We definitely saw an uptick in business after those things happened.”
While many businesses have a point of comparison, for Matthews, this is his company’s first year being open during an Indy 500 race and month of May in general. Founders Grounds Coffee Company opened its doors in July 2021 and was fully immersed in this year’s race experience.
“It says a lot about IMS and their partners about really supporting local. We saw a lot of local businesses over in IMS during the month of May,” said Matthews.
Some businesses tell CBS4 they saw such a boom in business over the last week, that they ran low on inventory.
Dawson’s on Main was one of those businesses, sharing a message of gratitude to its patrons on Facebook Tuesday.
“Thank you from all of us at Dawson’s on Main for making this one of the most memorable months on record. With that being said, you cleaned us out of many things,” the post read.
Still — fans like the Kent and Bob Bulifant couldn’t leave without trying the restaurant they heard rave reviews about — just another example of the impact this weekend has on local small businesses.
“We went to the banquet last night and now we’re gonna go to Dawson’s because I heard there’s some staple dishes we have to try before we leave,” said Kent.
A business, who Raikes did not name, had a spectacular Thursday night in sales, which marked an exciting start to the big weekend.
“They told us on Friday morning that Thursday night, they had a $20,000 night,” said Raikes. “If they had three or four of those over the weekend, they did really well.”
While many small businesses saw success this weekend, Raikes said, the Town of Speedway also saw its own successes.
The civic groups that run parking in places like the Coke Lot and high school parking lot, among other places, saw a banner year in their sales.
“Of course, those monies get invested completely back in the community which really helps,” Raikes said.
The Town of Speedway doesn’t directly get taxes from sales of food, beverages or hotel sales, so it’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure of economic impact. Still, it’s significant.
“It’s difficult to estimate that exactly. The impact to the state is great because the tax dollars go to the state and get filtered down to the county and then our town,” said Raikes. “It’s enormous, the impact and of course we’ve been working at that really hot and heavy for 15 years. Our main street, 15 years ago, were buildings that were falling apart. You could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anything.”
One by one, he said buildings have been built over the years, including dozens of racing-related infrastructure, small businesses, retailers and restaurants that have popped up and done well.
Raikes said the preparation to the biggest month in Speedway is already beginning, but he hopes people will look to the town year-round for all it has to offer.
“We’re already, literally today, talking about what went well, what we can improve on and what can we do to prepare for next year. We know the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is doing that, IndyCar is doing that, other businesses here are already doing that, said Raikes.
With events spilling over in the month of May to the Circle City, Downtown Indy Inc. said it also reported a wildly successful week and month.
A spokesperson for the organization shared the following with CBS4:
“This was an epic weekend for Downtown Indianapolis as we welcomed tens of thousands to our urban core to enjoy it for how it was deliberately designed – with big time events in mind. On weekends such as this past one, Downtown knows how to flex its event muscle by celebrating our beautiful balance of economic energy with street-level retail and restaurants, residential attractiveness, and diverse experiences from the world-class parade to an Indy Eleven game to passive entertainment along the canal and at White River State Park and elsewhere. Downtown is back.”Spokesperson, Downtown Indy, Inc.