I've been to the Indy 500 once, in 1992 -- the closest race ever, when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds -- but it was all a blur of colors streaking by on the brief section of track that I could see.
I was more intrigued by the party.
The day before the race, we drove through Speedway, the town where the track is located, just west of Indianapolis. There, clustered around 16th Street and Georgetown Road and stretching for blocks, was a massive campout, tailgate party and carnival that already had been going on for days.
Trucks and vans were parked helter-skelter on sidewalks, lawns, in church parking lots -- just about everywhere. Tents, lawn chairs, giant coolers and grills were scattered about. Men sat on tailgates, a beer in one hand, a sign begging ''Show us your [rude slang for breasts]'' in the other; women walked by laughing and drinking and sometimes obliging.
There were carnival rides and bungee jumping, vendors in kiosks selling every kind of food and drink, hastily built souvenir stands, and music blaring from every direction. It was bigger and more raccous than any tailgate party I'd seen.
My friend Mark Glover, who will be going to his 48th consecutive Indy 500 next Sunday, said the party continues much as it has since the 1960s. ''Public drunkenness abounds, and all manner of flesh is exposed,'' he said. But, says Mark, ``It rarely gets out of control.''
This is one in a series of postcards by Marjie Lambert, assistant Travel editor, who has been to all 50 states.