Who We Are

Spring into May

No other singular sporting event in the world has a legacy like the Indianapolis 500. No other event has shaped and defined a city and state and their people like the Indianapolis 500. 

The 500 Festival, a not-for-profit volunteer organization, was created in 1957 to organize civic events celebrating the greatest race in the world. Over the past 50+ years, the 500 Festival has grown to become one of the largest festivals in the nation.

Last year, nearly 500,000 Hoosiers and visitors participated in festival activities throughout the month of May. Whether they were athletes running the Mini, fourth grade students participating in the Education Program, families enjoying the state's largest festival for kids, or spectators being dazzled by one of the nation's premier parades, they were there, celebrating the legacy.

Click below to watch a video about the 500 Festival:

 

Past 500 Festival Themes

Click here to view a complete list of past 500 Festival themes, Festival Chairman, Queens and Grand Marshals. 

Festival History

For more than five decades, the 500 Festival has shown commitment and excellence by producing a month-long series of programs and events celebrating the Indianapolis 500. In 1957, four Indianapolis businessmen got together and organized a parade and square dance gala, celebrating the Indianapolis 500.  The men who set the framework for what is now one of the largest festivals in the nation are former Indianapolis Mayor Alex Clark; Joe Quinn, Safety Director for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; J. Worth Baker, Shrine Potentate in 1957 and Howard Wilcox, promotions director for the Indianapolis Star.

The parade was the 500 Festival’s first event back in 1957.  More than 150,000 spectators lined the parade route. All 9,000 reserved chair seats were full. Just as today, the Boy Scouts handled seating. Indiana Power and Light had a float in that parade, and it has continued to participate in the parade ever since then. 

Later that evening, over 500 people danced to Woody Herman’s Orchestra on the fifth floor of the Indiana Roof Ballroom for the Governor’s Ball.  Tickets to the gala were $5 a couple. Fifty years later this event continues on under the name Snakepit Ball.

By the end of June 1957, Festival organizers met to debrief and began planning for the next year’s festival. Their mission was to create a bigger and better festival in 1958. This devotion and diligence set the spirit and speed for every 500 Festival since. 

Past 500 Festival Leadership

During the 500 Festival’s 50 years, three people have had an instrumental role in shaping it into the organization is it today.

In 1963, the Festival named Josephine Hauck as Executive Secretary.  Hauck was later named Executive Director.  In three decades Hauck transformed the organization into one of the greatest festivals in the nation.  In 1992, Josephine retired after stewarding the many traditions of the 500 Festival for 30 years. 

Elizabeth Kraft (Meek) was named President of the 500 Festival in 1992, to succeed Hauck.  Her 10 year tenure at the Festival yielded much change and progress.  She worked to modernize the staff’s infrastructure and provided the necessary tools and resources for the event business.

In 2003, the 500 Festival Board of Directors named Kirk Hendrix as its President and CEO.  Hendrix brought over 25 years of marketing and events experience. Some of his career stops were at the following: Fiesta Bowl, Pac-10 Conference, Parade Company in Detroit (America’s Thanksgiving Parade), and Las Vegas Events. Hendrix worked to increase sponsorship and attendance, as well as further develop programming within current events.  He has also worked to activate and engage the 500 Festival Foundation, enlisting support of past chairmen and board members.

In 2013, the 500 Festival hired Bob Bryant as its 4th President and CEO. Bryant brings 20 years of experience creating brand-defining successes and significant revenue growth in categories including events, sports, broadcast, motorsports, entertainment, consumer products, retail and online.