Watching Your First IndyCar Race? A Newbie Fan And An Expert Tell You Six Things You Need To Know

A Girls Guide To Cars | Watching Your First Indycar Race? A Newbie Fan And An Expert Tell You Six Things You Need To Know - New To Indycar Races A Girls Guide To Cars Feat
Interested in getting into IndyCar? Here's some sage advice from a veteran and first impressions of the sport from a new fan. Photo: Shannon Scott


Bridgestone Guayjule Tires In Action. Photo: Bridgestone

Bridgestone Guayjule Tires in Action. Photo: Bridgestone

It’s never too late to pick up a new favorite sport to watch, but IndyCar does benefit from a little explainer.

I watched my first  IndyCar race in Nashville at the ripe old age of…well, let’s not actually go there. I’ll just say night serum is a pretty important part of my life and leave it there. I was the guest of Bridgestone at the recent Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville. I’d traveled to Arizona with a team of writers to tour Bridgestone’s guayule farms and their processing facility. I learned about how desert shrubs are being turned into rubber for racing tires. 

Related: Bridgestone Introduced me to Guayule Tires, Firestone’s Racing Tires Made from Desert Shrubs.

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Jill getting her first selfie with the Firestone Firehawk. Photo: Jill Robbins

From “Meh” to “Yeah!” After one Race

After spending the day with Bridgestone’s research team, we all hopped on a plane to Nashville to see the Firestone guayule tires in action. I’ll admit to being a little “meh” about attending an IndyCar race at first. Auto racing isn’t something I’ve ever been into. Aside from my dad occasionally taking me to the stock car races on Saturday nights, auto racing and I just never crossed paths.

I came away from the experience as a spectator at my first  IndyCar race as a new fan. From pre-race festivities to the finish, the energy is contagious. It’s a fun sport to watch and the combination of human reflexes, competitive spirit, and engineering make for a really interesting, multi-layer experience. There are a lot of things going on at once but it’s an easy sport to follow and the first-time spectator can understand what’s going on from the get-go. 

I have a whopping one race under my belt and I know it won’t be the last. Although I’m a very long way from being able to call myself an expert on anything race-related, my perspective is fresh, and here’s what I think you need to know before you watch your first race. And also, my fellow A Girls Guide to Cars contributor, Shannon Scott, weighs in on what she thinks a newbie IndyCar  fan needs to know. She’s been in the  IndyCar paddock as a fan, an employee, and part of the media for the last 20 years. 

Related: Five Things You Need to Know About Attending Your First F1 Race

Shannon And Her Husband Myles On The Yard Of Bricks At Ims

Shannon and her husband Myles on the Yard of Bricks at IMS. Photo: Super helpful stranger

1. Know the Difference Between IndyCar and Other Types of Motorsport.


While it isn’t necessary to be a walking encyclopedia about what sets IndyCar apart from NASCAR or F1 racing, it is helpful to know the basic differences between the three. “Oh, aren’t they all the same?” isn’t going to cut it. 

The cliff notes version is that there are differences in how many cars can be on the course, differences in the vehicles, the length of the race season, and the location of the races. The fan bases for each category might differ somewhat, with F1 being popular worldwide and NASCAR having more of an American following. 

Auto racing fans are a friendly bunch who are generally interested in answering questions from newbies but in my experience, making a bit of effort to know the basics makes people more interested in helping you learn the intricacies of the sport.

Related: What Drives Her: Women are Making Waves and Changing the Face of IndyCar

A Girls Guide To Cars | Watching Your First Indycar Race? A Newbie Fan And An Expert Tell You Six Things You Need To Know - Indycar Newbie Expert A Girls Guide To Cars 3

Shannon Scott, enjoying a day at the track. Photo: Shannon Scott


Let me dig a little deeper into the differences between IndyCar vs NASCAR and F1. First, IndyCar races on ovals, street courses, and road courses. F1 only races on street and road courses, while NASCAR sticks to ovals and road courses. NASCAR is, however, racing their first street course in Chicago in 2023. 

NASCAR cars have a roof while IndyCar and F1 have aero screens and halos, respectively. IndyCar is the fastest car of the 3 with a top speed coming in at 243 mph as of May of 2022. That top speed was posted by Ed Carpenter Racing driver Conor Daly. Next up is the F1 car coming in at 231 mph. This speed was posted in 2016 by Valteri Bottas in the Mexican GP.  Rounding out those speeds are the NASCAR Cup Cars at 200 mph. All 3 series will drive in the rain on road and street courses, but there is no racing in the rain on ovals.  

Pretty Clouds In The Paddock

It was a beautiful morning at the race track. Photo: Shannon Scott

2. You CAN Enjoy Watching this Sport on TV and you Might Prefer it…or Not


While nothing beats the energy of live racing, there are advantages to watching IndyCar on television. If you’re watching a race live, you’re only seeing one portion of the track. Big screens may provide other views of the cars when they’re out of your physical line of sight. I watched the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix from a suite atop Nissan Stadium in Nasvhille and had a great view of pit row and several points along the race course, although not all of it. 

I had the advantage of going into an indoor lounge and seeing the race on a big-screen TV. In addition to enjoying the air conditioning (Nashville summer heat is no joke), watching the race on TV allowed me the benefit of hearing the commentary, which gave me more insight into racing in general and introduced me to some of the jargon. There were also stats displayed on the screen so I could see the names of the drivers, who was leading, how far behind the leader the other cars were, and more. The cameras panned to different areas of the track and provided replays of key moments in the race. These are things I probably wouldn’t have been able to see from any one spectator spot out on the course.

Related: What Drives Her: Beth Paretta and the Female-Forward Team Conquering the Legendary Indy 500

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There’s nothing like live racing. Photo: Jill Robbins


While I agree with Jill that watching races at home gives you access to commentary that may help you to follow along with what’s going on, nothing beats the sights, sounds, and smells of IndyCars on track. I always tell anyone who asks “Go to one race. That’s all it will take and you will be hooked.” 

One of the greatest things to happen to IndyCar is its integration with the NTT Data IndyCar App. I use this for every race I attend.  The app allows you access to individual driver radios, in-car cameras, and telemetry. You can also listen to IndyCar Radio through the app. IndyCar Radio is a great source for all of the racing information. They are excellent at what they do and it is perfect for a newbie trying to learn the ropes.  

Last year, IndyCar began partnering with Peacock TV to stream all of the races, which means you can attend a race and then go home and watch the replay to see if there is anything you missed! It is only a $5 a month subscription and it allows you access to all of the practice sessions, qualifying, and races the whole season. 

Related: 6 Surprising Reasons You Might Love NASCAR Racing

Pato O'Ward In #Indycar // #Hyveedeals250 // #Hyveesalutetofarmers300

Pato is all smiles after his qualifying run. Photo: Shannon Scott


3. Things you’ll need to bring with you if you’re watching a race live


For a day at the track, you’ll want to bring the following items:

  • Ear plugs
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Seat cushion (those bleachers can be hard on the bum)
  • Proper ID
  • Clear bag/backpack (check venue rules)
  • Cash + credit cards for concessions*
  • Check venue policy on outside food and drinks

*I know we’re almost a cashless society but I always carry a couple of twenties in case card readers go down.


  • Spotters Guide
  • Headphones to listen to the NTT Data IndyCar App
  • Most tracks these days are card only, so be sure you are aware of that before attending.
  • As Jill said, check venue policy on outside food and drinks but most of the road course and ovals allow for some form of tailgating and or letting you bring in coolers to the stand. It’s one of the great values of IndyCar. 

Related: Car buying and maintenance tips from a race track star

Spotters Guide For The St. Pete Gp

An example of a spotters guide! Helpful for all levels of fandom. Photo: reddit

4. It’s Good to Know Some Race Basics

Here are some common things to read up on before you head to the track or watch your first race:


  • IndyCars can go up to 236 miles per hour
  • Drivers are issued the same type and number of tires: regular slicks, alternate tires (designated by a red sidewall, green if the driver is using guayule tires), and rain tires.
  • The average pit stop takes eight seconds – this includes changing all four tires and refueling. See also, it’s really something to watch. 
  • Various flags used at the races indicate different things, such as start, stop, disqualification, car attempting to pass, and of course, the checkered flag indicating the end of the race.


The racing distance can and will vary by track.  You will generally hear the ovals be named by the number of miles they will drive. For instance – the Indianapolis 500 is indeed – 500 miles. On the flip side of that, street and road courses are determined by laps.  They are usually in the 75-85 range. You will see faster speeds at an oval but given the current aero package, you can potentially see more passing on the street and road courses (currently anyway. Supposedly we are getting new packages when the new chassis comes out in 2024).

You can expect about 20-30 laps before you see a pit stop on any of the course types. Pit stops range from 6-8 seconds and can make or break your position. A lot of teams will use pit stops as strategy, so you may see them pit earlier than the leaders.  What teams have to look out for here is the undercut. The undercut is when leaders pit but their stops aren’t fast enough that they still come out in front.  This sometimes leads to the driver in the 2nd position taking the lead in the race. 

The flags you will see the most: 

  • Green = GO GO GO! 
  • Yellow = Caution
  • Red = Stop.  This flag is usually waved if there is weather on the track or an accident that needs cleaning up that will take longer than the laps we have left.  IndyCar officials like to give fans a finish.  They will call for the red flag if there is enough time left in the race to do so. 
  • Checkered = Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

5. Pick Someone to Root For


You don’t have to put a lot of thought behind who. Pick based on the color of the car or because the driver’s name matches someone you had a crush on in high school. Targeting someone’s race progress will make it more meaningful for you as a spectator and keep you engaged in the outcome.

I chose to root for Colton Herta from the Andretti Autosport Team. The Big Machine race was rain delayed so ESPN filled the time by interviewing the drivers as they sat in their trailers and I happened to catch Herta’s interview. He seemed like a nice guy so I decided to cheer for him. He ended up coming in fifth. 

Colton Herta In #Indycar // #Hyveedeals250 // #Hyveesalutetofarmers300

Colton Herta and his 26 Andretti Autosport Gainbridge Honda waiting for the start of the race. Photo: Shannon Scott


This is what makes IndyCar great. We have the greatest fan experience that will make choosing a driver the hardest thing you do on race weekend. There are several races on the schedule that allow for open paddock – which means you can see behind the scenes, get autographs, and take pictures with just about any driver for free. If your race venue doesn’t offer that, you can still purchase paddock and pit passes at a reasonable price with your tickets which will allow you that access all weekend.

IndyCar drivers are some of the most friendly and fan-loving drivers I have ever come across. The IndyCar community is a great big family and everyone truly enjoys meeting new people and sharing this great experience. If you follow the drivers on social media it will help you learn who they are and what kind of personalities they have. Once you do that, you will have a hard time picking just one. 

Alexander Rossi With Young Fans.

The fan access is incredible in the Indycar paddock. Alexander Rossi is great with the kids. Photo: Shannon Scott


6. Don’t be Afraid of not Knowing Something


Generally speaking, you’ll get maximum enjoyment out of watching a sport if you know the rules and take some time to learn about the sport’s history. You’ll get more out of watching your first IndyCar race if you prepare a little but that doesn’t mean you have to be an IndyCar expert the first time you show up. Most motorsport enthusiasts will enjoy your interest and be happy to talk about something they love and know a lot about, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Maybe just don’t refer to it as NASCAR. 

Indycar Races Are Fun For The Whole Family. Photo: Shannon Scott

IndyCar races are fun for the whole family. Photo: Shannon Scott


As a self-proclaimed IndyCar know-it-all this is the one thing I can tell you – the rest of us know-it-alls love to bring new fans to our sport.  We love talking about the race we adore.  For most of us, our fandom came out of tradition. For me, my aunt took me to my first race 22 years ago, and now it’s something that I enjoy with my husband and family every year. My husband and I even started our own podcast talking about IndyCar! Twitter is a wonderful community full of lovely people who want nothing more than to share their IndyCar passions with other people.

But Jill is right.  Don’t refer to it as NASCAR. 

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Jill is the oldest mom with the youngest kids pretty much everywhere she goes. She has a 29-year-old daughter... More about Jill Robbins