A Family Tradition

Our Month of May Family Holiday

Kelly preparing for her first two-seater Indy car ride
Kelly preparing for her first Indy car two-seater ride.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Indianapolis, it was hard not to know about the Indianapolis 500, and even harder not to treat the month of May as though it were a holiday. My mom would pick my brother and me up from school early on “Carb Day” and take us to the track. This was a tradition our entire childhood (and not something my dad knew about until years later). People we had known for years and from all around the U.S. would stay with us during the weeks leading up to the race. Every year my dad would set up a badminton net in the front yard and we would have a tournament. Our own race festivities became a family tradition that still means a lot to me.

As a family, we didn’t have enough tickets for everyone to go to the race every year, so we took turns. When it wasn’t my turn to attend, I stayed home and listened to the race on the radio in the backyard, trying to keep up with timing and scoring in the newspaper. This stands out as a great memory—almost as great as going to the race itself. It’s what I remember about trying to make the race special from home. Listening on the radio is a family tradition I carried on many years later with my kids when they were too little to go to the race.

My First Race

Kelly at her first Indianapolis 500 in 1987.
Kelly at her first Indianapolis 500 in 1987.

The first race I attended in person was the 1987 Indianapolis 500. The fanfare and pageantry leading up to the green flag were like nothing I had ever known! It created even more excitement for my next turn to attend. At the time, Danny Ongais was my favorite driver. He had wrecked in an earlier practice and could not compete in the race itself. Al Unser Sr. stepped in for him that year and WON!  I was so excited to be in attendance for that. It may not have been Danny behind the wheel, but his car still won.

Fast forward to my adult years as a fan. My family parks their RV on 25th Street every year, and that is our meeting point for Carb Day, practice days, and of course, race morning. Our seats have always been in Turn 4, the best view in this girl’s opinion.

Long-Standing Traditions

We have long-standing race morning traditions. Regardless of the race—whether it’s INDYCAR, NASCAR, motorcycles, or whatever–we do a toast to those family members who are no longer with us. We toast them individually, each with a specific beverage and story. This reinforces how each person has contributed to our race day family tradition. It keeps us all together on race morning, even when we cannot be together in person. While the “500” will always be my favorite race, my friend and I have traveled to races near Indy; we have stood on the grid at Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, and Kentucky Raceway, to name a few.

Kelly and her family in downtown Speedway
Kelly and her family in downtown Speedway

A Career at the Track

In 2016, I worked for IMS in the credential department. This was such an amazing year to start my IMS career journey, as it was the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 with over 300,000 people in attendance. It was so crazy-busy and exciting, to say the least! I began my career with the Museum in October 2016 and never looked back. Being on the inside when the circus of May starts setting up is amazing. It’s unbelievable what goes into making the race perfect for all in attendance.

Serving Our Members and Fans

Kelly with colleagues from the IMS Museum philanthropy team at Rev in 2018.
Kelly with colleagues from the IMS Museum philanthropy team at Rev in 2018.

The loyalty that our constituents have to this organization is incredible. I thoroughly enjoy working with the Museum’s members and hearing their stories. It is such a thrill to see their faces at our new exhibit previews. I have enjoyed attending our shop tours with them, learning the different ways each team prepares for races. Seeing the different memorabilia our fans bring to our Distinguished Speaker Series events tells their specific story about why they are race fans. Each piece gives us insight into their own family traditions.

Our supporters are the reason the philanthropy team works so hard. We want to serve our constituents with the highest-quality programming and ensure the Museum can be part of their Indianapolis 500 family traditions for years to come.


Kelly Hartman