My First 500: IMS Staff

Published On May 6, 2016 » 2464 Views» By Samantha Gray » Blogs, IMS, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 23 days to go, we look back with IMS employees to their first Indy 500 experience. 

 More “My First 500”: Simon Pagenaud | Josef Newgarden | Dave Calabro | Ed Carpenter David Anspaugh Graham Rahal  | Tony Stewart | Tony Kanaan | Allen Bestwick | More 100 days


The members of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff have many different Indianapolis 500 experiences. From those who have been attending the race for as long as they can remember, to those who get to say the 100th is their first, all employees understand and appreciate the magnitude of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Today we want to highlight a few IMS staff members’ first Indy 500 memories.

Samantha Gray, IMS Social Media Strategist: “I grew up watching my whole family go to the Indy 500 year after year until my dad finally told me I was allowed to go in 2003, when I was 13 years old. I remember being in complete awe by the enormity of the whole spectacle. I will never forget the feeling I had watching Gil de Ferran win his first Indy 500. I was officially hooked!”

Wes Johnson, IMS Public Relations Communications Coordinator: “I am looking forward to seeing the crowds and hearing the roar of the engines. I am also looking forward to all of the pre-race festivities, and hopefully sneaking in time to grab a pork tenderloin. Growing up and living in Indy my whole life, I was not even able to watch the race live until 2013 when I was visiting friends in Fort Wayne, and I was glued to the TV. Being able to take in the whole experience in person, especially for the 100th Running, will be a lifetime memory.”

Alex Damron, IMS Director of Communications: “I went with my college roommate and his family for the first time in 2008. I was a new Hoosier and they told me the Indy 500 was an experience I needed to have. They were right! I will never forget just how big the entire place felt and how fast the cars were going. It was love at first sight.”

Tim Sullivan, Manager of Credentials: “My first Indianapolis 500 was in 1967. I was 15 years old and had been a fan of the Indianapolis 500 since I was about 7 or 8. So it was really a big deal for me to finally get to go to the race. I had been to the first day of qualifications the previous five years, so finally going to the race was fulfilling a dream for me. Even knowing it rained on Race Day and the race was finished on the next day, I was just happy to be there. It also became more special for me as my favorite driver, A.J. Foyt, won.”

Zach Hudson, IMS Webmaster: “My first experience at the Indy 500 was when I was an intern for IMS back in 2012, but I followed a bunch of drivers like Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon, among others. My favorite memory was meeting Helio Castroneves for the first time in Gasoline Alley and I managed to sneak in a picture with him. I was really surprised at how easily it was to meet and interact with the drivers and get a photo with them.”

Jarrod Krisiloff, IMS Senior Director of Marketing: “It’s difficult to remember my first Indy 500 because it was when I was only 1 year old. What I do remember though is sitting in Tower Terrace when I was around 3 years old (1985) with my mother during practice. That’s when Rick Mears’ yellow submarine caught my imagination and Rocket Rick became my favorite driver.”

John Schwarb, Senior Manager of Communications: “My first 500 in person was in 2005, as a reporter in the media center. I had covered a few big events in my career but nothing compared to an Indy 500. I sat one row behind Robin Miller, which was entertaining and educational, and kept very busy in the days leading up to the race as a rookie named Danica Patrick was making a big impression. When she led late in the race, the roar from the grandstands drowned out the engines. She didn’t win, of course, but we still got a great winner’s story to tell with the gracious and talented Dan Wheldon.”

CJ O’Donnell, Chief Marketing Officer: “My first Indy 500 was in 1990. I made the long awaited pilgrimage to Indiana with my father. After years of racing together and closely following INDYCAR, dad and I were finally on our way to ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ Rain dampened most of the Month of May that year but not our spirits. Luyendyk won the race and the memory of that trip remains one of my fondest experiences with my dad.”

Nate Ringenberg, IMS Digital Media Manager: “My first Indy 500 will be an epic one. I was born on the south side of Indianapolis, but never attended the race. My family moved to Central Florida before I was old enough to go watch. Now that I’m an employee, the opportunity of having the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 be my first is unreal. Seeing the all of the hard work that goes in to making this ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ is truly special. I can’t wait to start my own Memorial Day tradition and to be able to tell my kids that I was at the 100th Running of the Indy 500.”

Suzi Elliott, IMS Media Relations Manager: “My first 500 was in 1990, as a high school graduation gift. I remember how in awe I was of the pageantry, the speed and the excitement of the race. To this day, even as an employee, pre-race ceremonies give me goosebumps.”

Lauren Guidotti, IMS Community Outreach Manager: “I believe I came to the 500 when I was REAL young with my parents, so I don’t truly remember it. Once I moved down to Indy for college, it became an annual tradition. My fondest memories from the 500, while I was in college, involved reunions with friends from high school in the Coke lot on Saturday then heading home and getting ready to leave the house at 5 am the next morning. I remember sitting in traffic on 16th street at 6 am, blasting country music and cracking open the first beer the second we were parked in turn 3. When you first hear the engines and watch the cars complete their first few laps around the track, to this day, I get chills. If I wasn’t working here, you’d still find me out in turn 3, beer in hand at 7 am, waiting for that exact moment.”


About The Author

Samantha Gray

I enjoy engaging and informative social content and providing our fans with a great online experience. As the Social Media Strategist for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I would love to hear your feedback on our digital presence. Leave comments and let us know how we're doing. Follow @IMS on Twitter and 'Like' Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Facebook.