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Blue Envelopes: Indianapolis 500 Ticketing Deep-Seated in History, Hard Work

(Originally posted in March 2017)

There are countless rites of spring. Warmer temperatures. Leaves sprouting from barren tree branches after the cold days of winter. Spring cleaning. Spring break. Spring training.

But there’s one spring ritual that may stand above all for Indianapolis 500 fans: Seeing that blue envelope in the mailbox.

Indianapolis 500 advance sale tickets are mailed to fans around the world in distinctive light blue envelopes, part of the rich history and tradition of the ticketing process for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which is the largest single-day spectator sporting event in the world.

The famous blue envelopes are part of a carefully managed and executed plan to distribute tickets for the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, a process that almost never stops year-round, from ordering by fans all the way through delivery to all 50 states and foreign locales near and far around the world.

Fans can renew or apply for tickets online, by mail or at the IMS Ticket Office for the following year’s Indianapolis 500 the day after the current year’s race. Orders and applications are processed, and an outside printer produces tickets based on each customer’s order and sends them to IMS, tailored and ready for packing in the famous blue envelopes for each customer.

Those tickets are matched with corresponding renewal inserts and ancillary items, promotional flyers and other informative collateral and placed into a blue envelope, sealed and placed into a numbered mail tray. Each customer has an assigned tray number in their account in a computer database for reference by IMS Ticket Office officials.

The daunting task of mailing the blue envelopes of Month of May joy is almost as large as the feat of reaching Victory Lane as a driver on the last Sunday in May. It also requires the same team effort.

Orders submitted from immediately after the race through late November of the previous are mailed first. The first mailing this year, on March 8, was comprised of more than 100,000 tickets on 329 large U.S. Postal Service trays, each containing around 400 total products ranging from tickets to parking tags and other ancillary documents.

Federal postal inspectors come to IMS with a large truck for the first mailing, and many IMS employees pitch in to help load the truck. IMS President Doug Boles was among those who rolled up their sleeves and helped get tickets on the truck this year.

It takes roughly six weeks to mail all pre-ordered tickets for the event, from orders the day after the previous year’s race up to current orders.

Hard work from employees in the Ticket Office and a computerized system administered by the IMS Information Services department ensure the ticketing process runs smoothly and on schedule.

That automation is a far cry from earlier days when the “500” was the only race at the Speedway. Back in those times, a printing company printed all of the Indianapolis 500 tickets at once and returned them to IMS, and Ticket Office employees matched them – by hand – with a customer’s packing slip/renewal form! But that time-consuming and painstaking manual labor became obsolete due to multiple events being added to the annual IMS schedule, reduced storage space and the march of technological progress.

This year, tickets were mailed to all 50 states and many countries around the globe, including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Japan, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand, Argentina, The Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, South Africa, Chile, Uruguay, Slovakia and China.

And now for the answer to one of the most popular traditions of the Indianapolis 500 ticketing process, a rite of spring that even has spawned a Twitter hashtag -- #BlueEnvelope.

In the 1970s, Indianapolis 500 tickets were mailed in brown envelopes with the IMS return address in the upper left corner. In the 1980s, a heavier-stock, gray-colored envelope was introduced to mail the tickets, with just the IMS Post Office box number in the upper left corner. A computerized printer also was used for the first time in the 1980s to print ticket customers’ name and address on each envelope.

When the Brickyard 400 was added to the IMS schedule in 1994, the Ticket Office needed a way to distinguish between the envelopes containing tickets for the Indianapolis 500 and the annual NASCAR race, especially if the Postal Service returned the envelope as non-deliverable.

So the IMS Ticket Office decided to color-code the ticket envelopes for each event. Indianapolis 500 ticket envelopes became blue, Brickyard 400 envelopes purple, and ticket envelopes for other IMS events, such as the United States Grand Prix Formula One race or Indianapolis GP MotoGP race, use a variety of colors, including red, cream and green.

Tickets remain on sale for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 12 and the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27. Order today at IMS.com, and the surest sign of spring – a blue envelope – will be in your mailbox soon!

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Blue Envelopes: Indianapolis 500 Ticketing Deep-Seated in History, Hard Work
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