Indianapolis Royalty: the 500 Festival Princesses

When May rolls around in Indianapolis, the city gears up to celebrate the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (Indy 500) with a little help from the 33 500 Festival Princesses, who are chosen each year to represent the 500 Festival. The festival is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to produce a series of events in Indy that brings together Indianapolis citizens and their guests in a celebration of one of the city’s most prized sporting events. In addition to the many fun-filled activities surrounding the race, including the largest half-marathon in the world, the 500 Festival Princesses are an important part of the festivities.

Each year, close to 300 college-age women apply for one of the prestigious positions as one of the 33 ambassadors of the festival (the number is representative of the 33 drivers who will line the track on race day). The criteria are stiff, including GPA, communication skills, poise, and community and civic involvement. The women undergo several sets of interviews before they can ultimately make the final cut. Generally, over ten Indiana colleges and universities and more than 25 cities and towns are represented in the program. Once chosen in January and presented with matching tiaras, the group becomes the collective face of the festival, and the princesses are introduced to a whirlwind few months of volunteering and public speaking as representatives of their hometowns and of the festival.

One of the main duties the women look forward to is riding on a float on the day of the 500 Festival Parade, an eagerly anticipated event featuring the Indy 500 drivers, costumed characters, helium balloons, and various celebrities and Indianapolis public figures. In addition, the princesses attend the glamorous Snakepit Ball at the Indiana Roof Ballroom the night before the race, which comes complete with a red carpet and more celebrities.

The 500 Festival Princesses’ responsibilities continue throughout the month of May. A few weeks before the race, they grace the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to nervously await the crowning of their queen, chosen from the group of 33 in a public spectacle. They all return on race day, each atop her own car and led by the queen, to circle the track and wave to the crowd before the checkered flag flies. And in her final act before the Indy 500 officially concludes for another year, the queen enters the race circle among the wild cheering that signals the crossing of the finish line to give the winner his (or her!) coveted sip of milk. So if you’re planning to attend the race this year, be on the lookout for this group of Indianapolis royalty!