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Auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary—with a balloon race. See more photos in the gallery >>
As they drive south on I-65 for a two-day trip through central Indiana, travelers will learn two things: Despite Chicago’s well-deserved reputation as the country’s architecture capital, it does not hold a patent on beautiful buildings. And watch out when you visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—there’s a good chance a golf game might break out.
Before ogling the architecture of Columbus, let’s start with Indianapolis and its famous speedway, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. The Indianapolis 500, the track’s premier race, takes place on May 24th, but centennial events kick off the weekend of May 1st with a balloon race (the first race at the track, on June 5, 1909, was a balloon race) and a half-marathon for runners. Practice runs for the Indianapolis 500 begin the following week, and there are other auto-racing events throughout the summer—among them, the Allstate 400 on July 26th (tickets for all speedway events are available online).
Even on non-race days, the track is worth a visit. In addition to a short movie packed with exciting Indy 500 highlights, the track’s Hall of Fame Museum regularly displays 75 cars from its automobile collection, including Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp, which won the first Indy 500 in 1911. (Harroun’s winning time was six hours and 42 minutes; the winner in 2008 completed the race in three hours and 29 minutes). The Pete Dye–designed Brickyard Crossing Golf Course offers a duffer’s perspective of the track, with four of its 18 holes situated within the racing oval.
Auto racing and golf aren’t the only sports Indianapolis offers. Check into the Conrad Indianapolis, the city’s most luxurious hotel, and professional basketball, baseball, and football are all within walking distance. As spring gives way to summer, a changing of the guard takes place at Conseco Fieldhouse, where the NBA’s Pacers make way for the WNBA’s Fever (the Pacers host the Bulls on March 31st; the Fever home season gets under way on June 7th). The Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, a minor-league baseball team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, plays the first of its 72 home games at Victory Field on April 9th. And, yes, Peyton Manning does have another career besides making TV commercials: his Indianapolis Colts commence their 2009 NFL season at the year-old Lucas Oil Stadium in August. Cap off any of these sporting events with dinner at Mo’s A Place for Steaks and you might catch sight of at least one species of pro ballplayer.
But Indianapolis is more than just a great escape for sports enthusiasts. With its promenade, zoo, IMAX Theater, and museums (including the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art), the city’s White River State Park is a delightful alternative for folks who would rather not follow the bouncing ball—or the speeding racecar.
WHITE RIVER STATE PARK
The White River State Park Pass ($42 for adults, $30 for children) provides 25 percent savings on one-time admission to six prime attractions, including the newly reopened NCAA Hall of Champions.
THE OTHER NASHVILLE Just west of Columbus, Brown County is home to Indiana’s largest state park (with fishing, camping, and miles of hiking, biking, and bridle trails); two wineries and a pair of covered bridges; and a thriving art scene, centered in the town of Nashville, that dates back to the early 20th century. The 43rd annual Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is June 13th to 20th.
Since 1942, when the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen put up his First Christian Church in this small town on the prairie, the city of Columbus has assembled a remarkable collection of more than 70 modern buildings and pieces of public art. Its roster of top-tier architects and artists includes I. M. Pei, Henry Moore, Eero Saarinen, and Chicago’s Harry Weese, who has crafted nine buildings for the town. His L. C. Schmitt Elementary School, built in 1957, was the first structure whose design fees were paid for by a foundation sponsored by Cummins Inc., part of the public-private partnership that nurtured the city’s big-name building boom.
Start your visit with the two-hour bus tour that departs most mornings from the visitors’ center. Spend your afternoon exploring some of the buildings at a more leisurely pace; the churches alone—especially First Christian, First Baptist, and North Christian—warrant a close look inside and out. Don’t miss the city’s 19th-century buildings, including the Bartholomew County Courthouse and the 145-year-old Joseph Irwin home. After dinner at Smith’s Row, take one last walk around town: Some Columbus buildings, such as the Pei-designed library, look their loveliest when illuminated from within at night.
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