From helicopter rides to luxury hotels, some heli goers splurge on experiences race weekend

National

INDIANAPOLIS – This weekend, all eyes are on Indianapolis as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is back for the 105th running.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to racing royalty, but many fans coming in for the big race and festivities leading up to it, like to enjoy high-end experiences themselves.

While many fans will pull up on the streets surrounding IMS and eagerly set up their campers, RVs, lawn chairs and get ready to celebrate the weekend in a more ‘traditional’ way, others may decide to splurge on experiences both before they get to the track, and on race day.

For those who choose to forego the outdoorsy experience, they might decide to stay at a hotel that offers an experience in itself.

On average, travel sites several days before race weekend showed an average nightly cost of between $200 and $600 for a hotel room downtown. If you choose to go for something a bit more luxurious, like a suite on a private floor at the Conrad Hotel, you could be looking at more than $1,000 per night.

The hotel’s commercial director, Zachary Lockett, said, “It’s obviously our favorite weekend of the year. It keeps us busy, every hotel in town is busy.”

“It’s a busy weekend. We’ve always sold out over Indy 500. We can tell that not being at a full capacity for the race has some impact on demand, but it’s still gonna be a full one so we’re preparing for it,” said Lockett.

He said this is a weekend they prepare many weeks in advance for.

“What type of rooms and then at the number of rooms per group really depends on what they’re doing over the course the weekend with other entertaining some customers or family members, or just a group. They come together as a part of the family tradition for the race every year,” he shared.

“We really pride ourselves on our suite product here,” shared Lockett, “It’s on an exclusive floor here on the Conrad kind of a well-kept secret here in town.”

“There’s four of the suites in the building of the private floor I’m very residential feel and look to them,” he said.

The Conrad, a luxury hotel on W. Washington Street in downtown Indy, offers valet parking, in-room dining service, two restaurants, a fitness center, and other amenities Lockett says offer the traveler looking for an entire package, the right place to stay.

“Much like the drivers prepare for a full month here in town we did to staff really cause it’s our big weekend as well,” said Lockett.

“We talk about it for weeks on end in terms of the preparation that goes into the service and who’s coming in and where are they going, what time is there a police escort going out to the track to me and convert an art to coordinate that on the front drive, which is kind of fun.”

When it comes to getting to the big race, he said many of the guests have pre-arranged police escorts, and if he had to guess, about half of those staying the weekend and going to the race make up that group.

“If you can’t get a helicopter, a police escort’s a pretty cool route to go to and obviously shortens your traffic to the stay and really just a coordination of what time that’s gonna happen on our front drive, where we stage those type of things, and the timeliness those guests need to come in and out of the track,” he said.

Did we mention you can take a helicopter to the race?

Starting at $650, you can fly to IMS with Sweet Helicopters and be dropped off on the golf course inside, which might be one of the most hassle-free options when it comes to beating traffic, though not the cheapest if you’re on a budget.

“If you fly with us, you are going to arrive in style. You’re going to be a rockstar for a day,” said Randy Sharkey, director of operations forSweet Helicopters.

“If you want to avoid traffic, if you want to avoid the stress, I can get you directly to the track in about five or six minutes,” he said. “It is very unique. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity where we can take you at 300 feet above the traffic at 150 miles per hour.”

He said seeing the look on the faces of people as they approach IMS, is priceless.

“As you approach the Speedway you can see the thousands of people down there and you know they’re looking at you and as you get off the helicopter, I think a lot of them are thinking, man, I feel like a rockstar.”

Because passengers are already checked by TSA and will have had their tickets checked, not only does flying into IMS beat traffic, but it beats the lines of people waiting to get in.

“Once we land at the track, the golf cart that will pick you up, once we figure out where you’re seated at and that golf cart will take you right to your seat,” said Sharkey.

He said he’s met fans from all areas of the U.S., many who become repeat customers as they travel back for the Indy 500 again.

“It seems like every time I fly somebody their exact words were, ‘wow! You can count on seeing us again next year,’ and typically I have seen the same people over and over because once you’ve done it, why would you want to sit in traffic for a couple of hours and have all of that stress that goes with it?”

The company has been the official race day charter helicopter for IMS for several years now. Sharkey said, “every year we keep seeing more and more people get on board with us.”

The flights depart from three separate airports in the Indianapolis area, including the heliport downtown, the Indianapolis Executive Airport in Zionsville, and the Signature Flight Support terminal at Indianapolis International Airport.

Sharkey said he knows $650 may seem like a lot, but that the experience is worth every penny.

Flight times vary and fans will be picked up after the race and brought back to their departure location.

“It’s a bird-eye view. You can see the hundreds of thousands of people as we land on the driving range of the golf course,” he said.

It’s not too late if you want to book your flight for Sunday. You can visit the company’s website for full information.

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