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In its first year, Indy 500 'glamping' shows potential

Wed, 28 May 2014

For the first time, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway offered “glamorous camping” or “glamping,” on the track's infield during the Indy 500. Across a small lake from the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course's eight hole, IMS settled “Glamptown,” a village of 70 10-foot x 15-foot canvas tents. The tents were available with the choice of a comfortable queen bed, double beds, or two to four military-style cots.

Glamptown was also home to a fairground-style food trailer and nice, clean portable bathroom and shower facilities. Overheard in the men's room: “This is a lot nicer than the bathroom in my house.” It was a really nice bathroom.

There was a huge outdoor TV that showed car movies like “Fast Five,” and game four of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the hometown Indiana Pacers and the almost universally reviled Miami Heat. Around the TV sat a number of comfortable outdoor sofas, hammocks and propane heaters. If there was one aspect of Glamptown that was just about perfect, the common TV area was it. There was room for everyone to get comfortable, and the atmosphere was not unlike that of an upscale bar with an outdoor patio.

Compared with the other lodging options in the Indianapolis area, Glamping was a relative value. A two-cot tent could be had for $650 and the most expensive queen-bed tent rented for $1,100. The four-cot tent could be as cheap as $56.35 per person, per night. Even at the highest end, the queen-bed equipped-tent works out to $275 per night.

While there were a few older folks among the residents of Glamptown, a big percentage of the residents were shirtless, tribal-tatted bros in their 20s and 30s. Those guys were there to pound beers, drink flavored whiskey from the bottle, play games and wrestle each other. Some of them were accompanied by women.

Many of these glampers displayed superhuman stamina, staying up into the early morning talking loudly and blaring music on portable PA systems they'd dragged along, then rising as early as 5:30 a.m to continue the party. Playing cornhole, getting hammered and rocking out to loud music are, for many, a big part of the Indy 500 experience. But waking up before the sun on consecutive days, after just a couple hours passed-out in a steamy tent packed with dudes to cue up “We're not gonna take it!” is dedication to craft that brings to mind Hoosier Larry Bird's legendary hustle. If our culture valued partying like we value athletic achievement, there'd be statues of these guys.

Which brings us to the constructive criticism end of this post. Since we believe that glamping has huge potential, we feel compelled to mention a few things that IMS could change that would go a long way toward making glamping our preferred way to do the Indy 500 weekend:

1. Designate a late-night/early morning area away from the tents.

IMS specified a midnight curfew in the rules of Glamptown, but it wasn't observed. A curfew probably isn't enforceable, but allowing campers to set up chairs, tables and stereos directly in front of their tents creates a situation where those who want to stay up all night keep everyone else wide awake along with them. The parking lot adjacent to the camping area might be a good spot for this.

2. Ban PA systems and stereos during sleeping hours.

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

3. Locate tents based on sleeping configuration.

The tents in Glamptown seemed to have been arranged so that the varying configurations of tents were interspersed. The four-cot tents were next to the queen-bed tents and so on. Next year, it might be worth looking into a tiered system in which the high-occupancy tents, which tended to house drunken revelers, are on the opposite end of the campground from the queen-bed tents which tended to house other people.

4. Include more information on the Glamping website.

Beyond the basics, we didn't know what to bring to our glampsite. It would have been good to know that we'd need to supply a light or lantern and that we'd need to bring our own towels for the shower.

We also wouldn't have minded having a little more space between tents, but if the changes above were made, the desire for more space wouldn't have been as strong.

The issues we mentioned are minor, especially compared to the benefits enjoyed by the glampers. It's also worth noting that most of the glampers seemed to be having a great time. If the "all-out party" thing is something that Indy wants to maintain, it shouldn't be a problem. But, if Indy wanted to attract more no-fun types like us, they're just a couple of adjustments away from making that happen. We're of the opinion that both groups could enjoy the glamping experience.

Even if we were a little tired out from the all-night noise, walking a quiet, crowdless IMS after hours isn't an experience we're likely to forget. And, having walked miles to the track from off-site parking as a fan, and even after having been shuttled to the track with a police escort by a sponsor as a member of the media, I have to say that waking up at the track is by far the best way to start your race day. That alone makes it worth considering glamping for the 2015 Indy 500.

By Rory Carroll