The Beatles at the Speedway (sort of)

Published On March 14, 2016 » 4768 Views» By Jeff Vrabel » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 76 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.

More Vrabel: David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600On “Jeopardy!” | The ultimate “500” playlist | Snake Pit rebirth | Pace Car driversMore 100 days blogs

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted dozens of big rock shows in recent years, including last summer’s July 4 blowout with a promising British outfit calling themselves (shuffles papers) “The Rolling Stones.” And that got us thinking about another reasonably famous British band that got its start in the ‘60s and made a Speedway stop. Well, sort of.

The Beatles played two shows on Sept. 3, 1964, at the Indiana State Fair, the first at 6 p.m. in a scorching-hot Coliseum for 12,000 fans, then in a hastily arranged 9:30 follow-up on the dirt racetrack in front of the grandstand for another 17,000. The 1964 tour would take them to 23 cities in 33 days, so they probably weren’t in town much more than 24 hours. But their Indianapolis time has been surprisingly well-documented. They arrived in the early morning at Weir Cook Municipal Airport on Sept. 2, 1964, and interest was such that, according to legend anyway, fans discovered that the band was booked at the fancy Essex House Hotel downtown and forced the band’s manager to relocate them to the slightly less fancy Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel (possibly all in one room, which seems mean).


Using irons on a green may have been a clue that The Beatles weren’t golfers.

The accommodations for the band were less a problem than the way Ringo vanished. As Starr said on his 1982 radio program, “Ringo’s Yellow Submarine,” the drummer somehow found himself unable to sleep in a room with three other dudes, so he went on walkabout and ran into some of the policemen assigned to guard the scene. “They said, ‘Well, let’s go for a ride,’” Starr said on his show. “So they let me drive the car. We went screaming all over the city and it got so crazy that we were being chased by another cop car (laughs). We had to pull into this alley, turn the lights off and hide in this police car — me and two big cops. And this other cop car goes past us. It was fun … in a police car hiding from the police.”

McCartney corroborated the story before a 1990 Market Square Arena show, sort of: “I remember a couple of the guys went out with a couple of policemen and stayed up all night drinking,” he laughed. “That’s my memory.” (In separate video interviews, the cops said they actually gave Ringo a ride around town and took him to breakfast in Carmel before returning him safely to the hotel around sunrise.) In any event, good story. What is known is the Beatles apparently played a round of golf at the Speedway, ostensibly after a very stern talk to Ringo about being responsible, before heading to their shows at the State Fair. It would be the band’s only Indianapolis appearance — but they didn’t leave without one last ride.

“Indianapolis was good,” said George Harrison in the massive “Beatles Anthology” book. “As we were leaving, on the way to the airport, they took us round the Indy circuit, the 500 oval, in a Cadillac. It was fantastic. I couldn’t believe how long the straightway was; and to be on the banking and see all the grandstands was great.”


John Lennon holds onto a checkered-flag canopy in order to avoid falling off a golf cart. That says “Indy,” right?


About The Author

Jeff Vrabel

I’m an Indiana native and former resident of Chicago and Hilton Head Island who’s written for for such outlets as GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post and my hometown Indianapolis Monthly. I spent decades listening to the 500 on the radio and have run two Mini-Marathons around the IMS track, but only dropped a packet of energy beans on Turn 3 during one of them. And I live near Indianapolis with my family; my oldest son just stole bacon off your plate and the youngest was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). Find me at the cleverly named or

Two facts not mentioned: 1. The MC who introduced the band was Jerry Baker, later a member of the IMS Radio Network. 2. Noted Indy car writer Robin Miller attended the concert.


So, did Ringo really drive the police car on the track at night?  That's what some of the Beatle history books say.  Can Donald or anyone positively confirm this?  Yes or No?