Meet the man hosting an all-Indiana tailgate at the Indy 500

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The truck Spangle will be taking to Sunday's Indy 500. (Credit: Nate Spangle)

Once a year, for three weeks, a small enclave of Indianapolis known as Speedway turns into the capital of the racing world. There sits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 2.5-mile oval that has hosted the Indianapolis 500 since 1911. While the stands are packed on race day and during practice and qualifying sessions during the preceding weeks, the true off-track center of life is the infield.

The inside part of the Speedway spans 253 acres – big enough to hold four holes of the adjacent Brickyard Crossing Golf Course. On race day, approximately 100,000 fans file into the infield, and chaos ensues.

Some are race fans, some haven’t been to a race in their lives, and some just like to drink. The one thing in common?

A shared sense of community with hundreds of thousands of others.

Spangle watches over the infield at the 2023 Indianapolis 500. Credit: Luke Johnson/IndyStar

No truer will that sense of community be on Sunday than with Indiana native Nate Spangle. He’ll be hosting what he says is the first ever Indiana-only tailgate at the 500 this year. For his purposes, Indiana-only means every product at the tailgate will have Hoosier ties. That goes all the way down to the 1986 Dodge W250 truck he bought for this specific purpose – it was purchased off of Facebook Marketplace in the small town of Akron, Indiana.

But Nate’s ties with the Hoosier State go much further than just attending the Indy 500. In fact, Indiana is really all he’s ever known.

Spangle’s story starts in Bourbon, Indiana – a one stoplight town 120 miles north of Indianapolis, home to just 1,700 people. While some chalk Indiana up as a flyover state, Nate rejects that sentiment:

What really ticks me off is when people don’t have pride to be from Indiana. And they’re like, oh, there’s nothing to do here, Indiana is boring, Indiana sucks. I’m trying to be the voice that uncovers all these different things and finds really cool things to do. …there’s tons of cool Hoosiers doing amazing things and I just want to be the person who helps uncover those different activities where the people are the whole nine yards.

After spending three years on the football team at DePauw University, the 27-year-old has worn many different hats: He’s worked as a community leader, co-founded a company, and currently serves as a high school wrestling coach.

But Spangle’s latest adventure is as host of the “Get IN” podcast, where he interviews business owners and executives from both small and large companies in the state, leading discussions about all things Indiana. A quick scroll of his Instagram or TikTok page will reveal countless videos in his “Hidden Gem” and “Small Town Breakdown” series, both of which highlight lesser-known places around the state.

Spangle thinks that format brings out the best in people:

We started doing that about a year ago, and the podcast just exploded. There are so many people in Indiana that have that Hoosier pride, it’s fun to just talk to people from small towns in the middle of nowhere to Indianapolis to Fort Wayne to Evansville and really just take that sense of small town community.

That small town-style sense of community is harnessed across the month of May in Indianapolis. But for Spangle, his story with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started later than many other Hoosiers.

I first ventured here in college. My friends convinced us by saying ‘Hey, let’s go to the infield at the Indy 500.’ And I said ‘I don’t know what that is, I’ve never been…’ but I was like ‘Oh, that’s crazy. And I love crazy.

Year after year, like thousands of others from both Indiana and around the world, Spangle has returned to the infield. But this idea didn’t come into fruition until earlier this year.

My crazy idea was to be the first car in the infield. This thing has been going what, 108 years? So there’s only been so many people that have ever been the first.

While Spangle will attempt to be the first car in the infield for Sunday’s race, representing businesses from across the Hoosier State is his day-to-day passion. Lucky for him and other Indiana natives, this weekend’s activities come at a time where sports in Indiana are getting a rare spotlight. Memorial Day weekend will see not just the Indy 500, but two home games for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers during an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals and multiple chances to see superstar Caitlin Clark play for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

Spangle hopes that he can channel that energy and use it to help Indiana-based businesses like Kincaid’s Meat Market, Sun King Brewery, and Java House Coffee.

So many brands reached out to us to be a part of this… We have some amazing, amazing partners.

And while at the end of the day it is just a tailgate, there are some high stakes involved. The day before the race, Spangle hosted a mini tailgate at the Juncos Hollinger Racing team shop, just down the road from IMS. There, JHR driver Romain Grosjean joined the party, promising that should he win the 500 on Sunday, he’ll take the truck on a victory lap around the city.

Spangle with Juncos Hollinger Racing driver Romain Grosjean the day before the 108th Running of the Indy 500. Credit: @natespangle on Instagram

As far as his plans on how he’s going to be the first one in line, Spangle’s lips remained sealed. The only hint he offered is that he will be in the “Greater Speedway area” the night before the race.

Should Sunday prove a success, there could be much bigger plans in place for the tailgate in the future:

If this year is a smashing hit, maybe we just pack the truck up and we go up to some tailgates all over. Maybe we just go on the IndyCar circuit with the truck.

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Born and raised in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Gabe joined the TCF team in 2023 to cover the IndyCar Series. He currently studies Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. You can follow him on Twitter @gabe_perrin.
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