6 Tips to Put Your Indy 500 Porch Party in Pole Position

Men posing for a picture in a parking lot at a porch party
Photo courtesy of Alex Miser

Here in Indy, you can say “the track” or “the race,” and everyone will know what you’re talking about! Those words are shorthand for the Indianapolis 500, the legendary automobile race that’s run 104 times. But more importantly, those words are associated with the experience around the famous race.

For non-Hoosiers and non-race fans, that’s an important distinction. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time someone told me they “don’t like watching cars go in circles,” I could fill my cooler with free, cold brewskis for the rest of my life. 

As I tell them, the Indy 500 is much more than just a car race. It’s a citywide celebration! It’s years’ worth of family traditions and memories. And for over a century, it’s been a critical part of Indy’s culture and identity. Racing may not be for everyone, but the Indy 500 is an experience that assaults your senses in the best way possible. Because you don’t have to be a race fan to enjoy the festivities around “the race.” 

Over the years, I’ve introduced countless friends from near and far to the spectacle that is the Indianapolis 500. After all, it’s hard not to be impressed by something so large, so loud, and so loved by our community. For the entire month of May, Indianapolis celebrates with concerts, community events, a mini-marathon, and the 500 Festival. The festival also includes one of the nation’s largest parades, marching floats, balloons, and bands through the city streets. 

But one of our most iconic Indy 500 traditions hits closer to home. Every year, families across the city decorate their yards and host their own neighborhood porch parties!

Celebrate the Indianapolis 500 like a local Hoosier. 

When people visit a new place or move to a new city, they want to do as the locals do! They want to eat lobster in Maine, have BBQ in Kansas City, and watch baseball while they’re in Chicago. For us, celebrating the Indy 500 is the best stamp of approval to show you’ve experienced the true Indianapolis. 

After all, they say only boring people get bored. And if that’s true, then only boring people can’t find something to celebrate about the race! It’s the largest single-day sporting event, with 33 of the world’s best drivers racing around the oldest continually operating racetrack. Being a part of that is unforgettable, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy. It’s also one of the few places that Hoosier hospitality intersects with Hoosier horseplay—which is always a good time! 

For families like mine, we organize our entire month around visits to the track and Indy 500 events. One tradition that’s brought people together for years is the idea of a “race party,” a gathering to celebrate the Indy 500 and our fair city. They’ve only recently started calling these “porch parties” because, naturally, they’re often held on porches. After all, spring is in the air! Birds are chirping, and the sounds of 800-horsepower engines are radiating off the grandstands! It doesn’t get any better than that. 

Now, hosting an Indy 500 porch party isn’t all that different from hosting a regular party. But if you want to do it like the pros, then here are some tips from a life-long Hoosier and a die-hard race fan. 

Man drinks a bottle of milk like Indy 500 race winners

Photo courtesy of Alex Miser

Families gather around an Indy 500 pace car at a porch party
Photo courtesy of Alex Miser

Tip #1: Timing is everything.

The first challenge to a porch party is deciding when to host it. And you can learn a lot about people by what day they choose to celebrate! After all, this time trial can make or break your porch party.

The Friday of Memorial Day Weekend is Carb Day at the track—a.k.a. party day! The throngs of people have descended onto Central Indiana, and they’re ready to get crisp. Carb Day is the last day of on-track activity before the race, with concerts and more. But most importantly for you party planners, it’s also the first opportunity for people to cut loose during race weekend. 

If you plan your party on Friday, then you risk a wave of MIA—or worse, KIA—guests. It’s fairly common for people to miss out on your party because of all the Carb Day debauchery. But if you plan it for Saturday, that’s the night before the race. You don’t want to party rock too hard and impact your ability to enjoy the race (and party more) on Sunday. 

My advice? If you have an invite list filled with wine-and-cheese types, then plan your shindig for Friday night. Your guests will be less likely to partake in the craziness of Carb Day. But if anyone on your invite list has a beer gut and more than three cut-off shirts, then you’d best host your soirée on Saturday.  

Tip #2: Prepare the betting pool for a Race Day swim. 

No porch party is worth its weight in ethanol if people aren’t encouraged to gamble in some fashion! A friendly wager and some race-themed activities are also a great way to help non-race fans get into the spirit. If any of your guests think Fittipaldi is Brazilian for throwing a fit, then I’d recommend organizing a betting pool.

For the perfect porch party betting pool, the rules are simple. Everyone puts $5 into the pot, and then they each pull a driver’s name out of an old, racing-themed hat. (The details matter.) If your driver wins, congratulations! You’re rich! And even better, your non-race fans now have a horse in the race.

Looking to up the gambling stakes with something more high-speed? Then, let me introduce you to a little game that the Miser family calls “Quals.” It’s become a fan favorite for all the speed demons who attend our annual porch party. 

Play a game of Quals at your porch party.

Step 1: Get an old bicycle. The smaller and less comfortable it’d be for a grown adult, the better.

Step 2: Find objects in your garage to create a homemade racing course. These objects can be arranged around the driveway to create boundaries and obstacles on your “track.” Imagine things like riding your bike between trash cans, slaloming around lawn chairs, and bunny hopping over an old board.  

Step 3: Chart your driveway course. To a lay person, it may look like you just dumped a bunch of random stuff on your driveway. So, take the time to walk your contestants through the route they’ll be racing.

Step 4: Race, baby! Each person gets a turn on the bike to run their fastest lap possible around your homemade course. Whoever is fastest takes home the pot!

Tip #3: Cook up a tasty porch party menu. 

At the track, you can taste tried-and-true Hoosier delicacies that any aspiring race fan must consume. There’s cold fried chicken, the Kroger boxed lunch, and Indy Dogs—just to name a few. However, for your jamboree, I’d recommend upgrading your fare to a menu that won’t give your guests Indy-gestion. 

If you need some inspiration for where to start, these are the main staples at our family porch party:

  • Pepper Burgers (see recipe below)
  • Potato Salad
  • Ruffles Potato Chips
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Milkshakes (use buttermilk if you’re a big racing guy)

The featured dish at the Miser Porch Party is the Pepper Burger, grilled to perfection. Here’s a recipe you can follow, but feel free to spice it up yourself!

Step 1: Make the patties. You’ll need 1 lb. of ground beef, 1 ½ tablespoon of creole seasoning, 1 chopped jalapeño, and ⅓ cup of chopped onion. Mix all the ingredients loosely and shape into 4 patties.

Step 2: Make the Pepper Mayo. Mix 2 tablespoons of chopped chipotle chiles with ¾ cup of mayonnaise. 

Step 3: Grill burgers until done. Once cooked, top with pepper jack cheese and serve on a toasted onion bun with the Pepper Mayo and toppings of choice. 

The deviled eggs and potato salad are also key to a good porch party. I mean, this is the Midwest. So, all salads or healthy foods need to be mixed with mayonnaise or ranch dressing to pass as edible. And most Hoosiers I know have an aunt that can make great deviled eggs. Make sure that aunt is invited or risk having your party get black flagged.

Tip #4: Keep lots of alcoholic fuel on ice.

There’s a lot happening on race weekend, so you’ll need to pace yourself. That’s why fuel injection is key! Every good porch party has plenty of light beer on ice, ready to pop open and start drinking. 

Because when you’re at the track, there are only two types of beer: fast beers and slow beers. Slow beers refer to craft brews, and there’s a time and place for fancy drinks like that. But the Indy 500 ain’t one of ‘em. I’ve found that enjoying high-quality light beer is the best way to thrive and survive during the race weekend chaos. 

So, for your porch party, prepare ahead of time with all the fast beer you’ll need. If you’re doing it right, then one of your largest expenses should be on ice to keep those cold ones cool!

Tip #5: Practice your Indianapolis 500 conversation starters (and puns).

Racing is a sport with lots of technical jargon, insider know-how, and “who’s who” names. So, if you want to talk IndyCar, you may need to do your research ahead of time. 

Not a race fan? You can still convince your guests that you’re insanely funny and know a lot about the old Speedway with these conversation starters. 

  • Is that a Dario Speedwagon song on the radio? Wait… No, maybe it’s “Dark Side of the Harroun?”
  • Hey gang, check out my new sunglasses! They’re Hunter-Reay Bans.
  • Oh, you like your steak rare? I like mine Wheldon.
  • I brought a salad with lettuce from the Newgarden I planted at home!
  • Whew doggie, I am hungry Andretti for this meal to be served.

Tip #6: Checkered flags are the height of fashion and decor. 

I’m not usually one to provide fashion advice. But it’s hard to make checkered patterns look bad during the month of May! You’ll see the black-and-white flag all around town, decorating shops, homes, and—of course—patios. With the checkered print in season, you might as well go all out and wear it, too. Dress it up by wearing jean shorts and achieve immediate track-cred.

Amazingly, it seems like racing-themed clothing from the 90s is actually considered fashionable right now. Hopefully, just by reading this article, Instagram will start sending you related clothing ads. Then, you can buy appropriate, 90s-themed racing clothes that will make a statement during your porch party! 

A group of people sits around the table talking at a porch party

Photo courtesy of Joanna Taft

Women sitting at a porch party smile at the camera

Photo courtesy of Angela Middleton

Celebrate this year’s Indianapolis 500 your way. 

Whether this is your first 500 or your 25th, I hope these tips give you some inspiration for your own porch parties! As I said, the Indianapolis 500 is far more than just “the race” here in Indy. It’s a celebration that’s become part of our culture. Because even if you’re not a racing fan, you can enjoy creating your own family traditions around the 500. 

The bottom-line is that there’s no wrong way to celebrate Indy in the month of May. These tips are just based on the traditions that my family of race fans has come to love over the years. Whether you plan a porch party or not, I hope you can at least stop and appreciate the spectacle—and be proud of an event that makes Indianapolis so unique!