Coke Lot. Longtime attendees of the Indianapolis 500 know the name and shudder. The campground, named for its proximity to a nearby Coca-Cola factory, is one of the easiest places to pitch a tent during the weekend of the 500 — and often the scene of Indy’s most wanton chaos. If you happen to have tickets for this particular lot, godspeed. It’s time to start preparing.
What Is the Coke Lot?
The Coke Lot’s formal name is Lot 1C. In theory, the Coke Lot is merely a place for Indy 500 racegoers (or Snake Pit partiers) to relax for the night. In reality, the campground — which is not named for the illicit drug (though you may see reason to think otherwise) — is headquarters for a days-long party that’s not for the faint of heart. And as far as Indy 500 weekend accommodations go, it’s cheap: around $120 for as many as five nights.
Years ago, my friend Remy and I booked our camping space in the Coke Lot before we knew what that experience would entail, and I very distinctly remember where I was when I found out. A freshman in college, I was sitting in my Intro to Psychology class, passing some time before the lecture began, when I clicked on some links Remy sent. In them, we were warned that the Coke Lot is the home of hedonism and debauchery; in addition to drinking and partying, you could find violence, sometimes murder. Even as someone who had camped at race tracks around the world, I was a little apprehensive.
The Coke Lot is simultaneously worse than one would believe and far better than you’d ever expect. It’s a little rowdier than camping at other races, if only because the age demographic skews young, but it’s not that different from a big college party. You’ll probably see, and maybe do, some weird shit, but if that sounds like your jam, it’s a can’t-miss part of the Indy 500 experience. You’re just going to want to show up prepared — and that’s why I’m here to help.
Get There “Early”
Listen. I had a friend who told me I needed to be at the Coke Lot early. Like, 4:00 in the morning, I needed to be lined up at the front gate, ready to claim my spot. When we rolled up, we were the only people there.
However, the earlier in the weekend you arrive, the better your camping space will be. I recommend finding a spot near the creek. Do not set up shop by the toilets. Otherwise, just about any spot is fine.
Bring Toilet Paper
The bathroom situation in the Coke Lot is abysmal. Your only official toilet option is a row of Port-a-Potties, and believe me when I tell you no one is maintaining those filthy beasts. I learned the hard way that, by Thursday night, there was simply no toilet paper left. Yes, you will have to bring your own.
Honestly, Bring Your Own Toilet
The worst part about staying in the Coke Lot was, simply, the Port-a-Potties. No sane human enjoys the chemical-and-stale-pee odor of a portable toilet on the best of days, but the year I camped in the Coke Lot, a brief rainstorm saw the area around the toilets turn into a fetid swamp of mud, pee, and worse by Friday morning.
If I had use the bathroom outside of the track, I’d go to a bar just to use a real toilet. I am not a person who’s comfortable with popping a squat next to a creek — I really would have loved one of those handy portable car toilets.
Bring Washing Water
There is nowhere to shower in the Coke Lot. There is nowhere to brush your teeth or wash your hands. If you don’t bring some water to clean yourself, you will be left in my shoes: Washing up and doing your makeup in the bathrooms of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you use a men’s room, this means brushing your teeth next to the urinal troughs, their own affront to God.
Body wipes, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, and water for brushing your teeth will go a long way.
Don’t Sleep (Or if You Must, Bring Earplugs)
Most folks in the Coke Lot don’t intend to sleep. They are here to party, and the party never stops. If you’ll need a little rest, I advise coming prepared with earplugs.
While most of the people you come across in the Coke Lot are also there to have fun and chill, packing large amounts of drunk, over-caffeinated people into one small place can be a recipe for disaster. There have been deaths in the Coke Lot.
Keep your wits about you, especially if you’re alone or in a smaller group. It’ll help prevent you from stumbling into an unwelcome situation, getting yourself into trouble, or being taken advantage of.
My fellow ladies may benefit from knowing that the vibe is pretty similar to a college frat party. Most people are just there to have fun, but there will likely be someone out there looking for a fight or a lone woman.
Scope the Place Out
On a similar note, doing a sober exploratory walk of the campground each day is a great help. In addition to locating necessities like the medical tent and the bathrooms, you’ll also be able to get a sense of the other campers you’d like to talk to or avoid. Don’t wait until you’re three sheets to the wind before you decide you should locate the medic to get some sunscreen!
Don’t Buy Drugs, And Don’t Get Drugged
This should be self-explanatory, but for the love of all that is holy, don’t buy drugs or accept open drinks offered by strangers.
At the same time, reporting every whiff of marijuana smoke to the police will not endear you to anyone. Absolutely take initiative to seek help in an emergency, but also be aware that people around you are going to be engaging in some hedonism that you may or may not agree with.
Make Friends With the People Keeping You Safe
In and among the chaos, the Coke Lot has lots of paramedics, firefighters, police, and other volunteers. A brief exchange of a few kind words with the people manning the gate, patrolling the area, or staffing a medical tent can go a long way. They’ll be more likely to keep an eye out for you, and you’ll know where to go if you need help. There will be plenty of people purposely antagonizing the folks there to help. Don’t be one of those partiers.
Be Nice to Your Neighbors
The easiest way to have a very bad time in the Coke Lot is by being an asshole. There’s no point in getting upset by the college kids that play loud music all night, fighting over space, or confronting a parent who brought their child. You’re inevitably going to get annoyed or see something you don’t agree with, but you’ll gain nothing by being antagonistic.
Bring Your Own Essentials
As the weekend picks up intensity, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to just drive in and out of the lot if you want to pick up a snack or realize you forgot something. You’ll want to have everything you need at hand.
Even if you aren’t drinking yourself into blissful oblivion, I still recommend having some form of recovery supplies on hand. Whether you’re dehydrated, hung over, or sunburned, you’ll thank your former self for having the foresight to pack things like:
- Sunscreen and aloe vera
- Plenty of water
- Gatorade, Pedialyte, or any other electrolyte-heavy beverage of choice
- A little first aid kit, or at least a few band-aids
- Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and/or a pack of joyously caffeinated Goody’s powder
- Caffeine in general
- Snacks, especially anything with a good blend of protein and carbs
You Will See Some Shit
Have you ever seen a college kid concocting the alcoholic equivalent of Frankenstein? What about a mountain of discarded beer cans so tall it has its own weather pattern? A couch fire burning all night long? Two bros tossing a football between the beds of two moving trucks? A mop bucket filled with some sort of gin-soaked atrocity being deposited into people’s mouths via turkey baster?
You will see it in the Coke Lot.
Please Don’t Bring Children
You will inevitably see children in the Coke Lot, but I don’t advise bringing your own, if only so you don’t have to explain the abominations they will inevitably witness.
Come With an Open Mind
Honestly, my best advice to anyone prepping for a weekend in the Coke Lot is to just show up with an open mind. I would absolutely never camp in the Coke Lot again, but I’m glad I did it once — it was an absolutely ridiculous experience that taught me a lot about the people who show up for the Indy 500. Come with few expectations, and you’ll leave with plenty of stories to regale your tamer friends with for years to come.