Race Cars and Designer Sports Watches—Inside My Weekend at the Indy 500

Indy 500 racing fashion
(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

A few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane to Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend my first Indy 500 race. There's a rising tide of sports and fashion, and this is yet another example where we're seeing that grow. Part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport—alongside the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans—the Indianapolis 500 is among the most prestigious and most well-known motor races in the world. It is also the largest single-day sporting event in the entire world, a fact that became immediately clear when I walked into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to find over 300,000 attendees accompanied by the booming cheers of racing fans and the buzz of tires whipping around the track at over 200 miles per hour. The experience is hard to put into words, and it is such a special event, especially for a racing fan like myself.

I headed to the race with TAG Heuer, a watchmaking house with a long history of crafting timing devices used for sporting events and a rich heritage in the world of motorsports. The brand has been designing chronographs since the 1880s and joined the Indy 500 in 2004 as the official timekeeper and scorer. Its iconic, limited-edition timepieces are also presented to the winners. Ahead, see inside my weekend at the Indy 500 that included chatting about watches with race driver Alexander Rossi, taking an IndyCar for 190-mph hot laps around the iconic track, and testing out a timepiece for the weekend.

Timepiece Test-Drive

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph watch on a woman's wrist.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

I tested out the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph over the racing weekend in a style finished with an 18-karat gold case and leather band. The timepiece was originally launched in the 1960s and is designed with a chronograph for precise timekeeping, which makes it a key tool in the world of motor racing. I put the built-in stopwatch to the test during the race to track lap times.

A Driver's Meeting, Hot Laps, and Garage Tour

Woman standing in front of a race car at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

Our first day of the visit consisted of a driver's meeting, where each of the racers was introduced in front of a crowd of spectators ahead of the Indy 500 race.

Woman wearing an IndyCar jumpsuit at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

After the driver's meeting, we headed to do outfit changes into fire suits for hot laps around the Indianapolis Speedway racetrack—arguably one of the most exhilarating moments of the weekend.

Women wearing IndyCar jumpsuits at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC)

Alongside NASCAR race driver Toni Breidinger and driver and automotive artist Rae Roberts, I was suited up and headed trackside. I stepped into the back of a two-seater IndyCar, where I was immediately taken round the track at 190 miles per hour. There are truly no words to explain the feeling of driving at the speed and the intimate feeling of driving around the same track as so many of the greats.

IndyCars at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

The exact cars we drove around the Indianapolis Speedway.

Women at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: TAG Heuer)

This was followed by a paddock visit. We had the opportunity to see the exact cars that would enter the racetracks and meet with driver Pato O'Ward, a buzzy racer who drives for Arrow McLaren in the IndyCar Series and is McLaren's reserve driver for the 2024 Formula One season.

A Conversation With Motorsport Driver Alexander Rossi Ahead of the Indy 500 Race

Alexander Rossi at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: Kevin Amato)

Tell me about your watch collection. Do you have a favorite timepiece that you wear?

My actual favorite is the [TAG Heuer] Autavia because I fly airplanes as well. So they brought that back. They said they brought the retro styling of it back, so it was a timepiece in its original state. This combines automotive and aviation, so obviously, that fits into my personal life quite well.

How did you begin working with TAG Heuer as a brand ambassador?

My parents were huge race fans, and as a result of that, we'd wake up every Sunday morning to watch F1 races. TAG Heuer was the timing partner of F1, so it was just a brand that you associated with the sport that we had such a passion for. As my career progressed and I got to the point where I started earning money, I actually got my dad a 40th birthday present—a [TAG Heuer] Monza watch.

I went to Europe and raced there [and] came back to the States in 2016. TAG Heuer is the official timing partner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and one of the things when you win the race is you get a watch that is the special edition for that year. I was like, "Man, that's pretty cool," thinking that the story would end there because I didn't own a TAG [Heuer] watch at the time.

IndyCar does a media tour in Manhattan. One of the stops was a rooftop cocktail hour that was hosted by TAG Heuer, and I came and gave a 10-minute speech explaining my journey and what had happened three days prior [after winning the 2016 Indy 500 race] and met some people there. Within like 12 days, I had an ambassador deal done with the brand, and here we are going on nine years later. It's come full circle from something that was truly an aspiration of mine as a kid to be able to even just have the watch.

Any styling tips for when you wear your timepieces?

I wear them because of the significance that they have more than because they match a certain outfit or an aesthetic. That means I'll wear a rubber-banded watch to a black-tie event because I like it and I want to.

How would you describe the excitement and energy around Indy 500 for someone who hasn't stepped inside the Indianapolis Speedway?

It's the 108th running [of the Indy 500], and to put that into perspective, it was Super Bowl LVIII. If you think about the history and the legacy of that event and the fact that it's at the exact same facility, the track hasn't changed from a geometrical standpoint. You have people that have been going for generations.

It's really cool because this race shaped automotive culture in the United States. It shaped some of the technology that you had in road cars today. Every year that you're involved in it, you're contributing back to that history. On top of that, it's 350,000 people in one place—it's the largest nonreligious gathering of human beings on Earth.

Indy 500 Race Day

Woman at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

Before the Indy 500 race began, I had a chance to walk down to the grid with the TAG Heuer team. We chatted with the race engineers, spotted some of the drivers prepping for the race, and got a view from the ground moments before the race began.

Woman at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

With paddock badges on, it made the race weekend feel official.

Staff and fans at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

One of the track rescue members looking attentive at the track ahead of the race.

Staff and fans at the Indy 500.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

Josef Newgarden took the winning spot at the 2024 Indy 500.

Woman standing over racetrack at the Indy 500 wearing a TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph watch.

(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

Naturally, I clocked the race times with the TAG Heuer stopwatch built into the Carrera timepiece.

Associate Director, Special Projects

Kristen Nichols is the Associate Director, Special Projects at Who What Wear with over a decade of experience in fashion, editorial, and publishing. She oversees luxury content and wedding features, and covers fashion within the luxury market, runway reporting, shopping features, trends, and interviews with leading industry experts. She also contributes to podcast recordings, social media, and branded content initiatives. Kristen has worked with brands including Prada, Chanel, MyTheresa, and Luisa Via Roma, and rising designers such as Refine and Tove, and her style has been featured in publications including Vogue.com, Vogue France, WWD, and the CFDA. Before Who What Wear, Kristen began her career at Rodarte, where she worked on assistant styling, photo shoots, and runway shows, and at Allure, where she moved into print and digital editorial. She graduated from the University of Southern California, where she studied art history and business, and currently lives in New York.