The Indy 500 has a crew of “princesses” that serve as ambassadors of IndyCar racing and the 500 Festival. This year, like many years, the 33-woman crew is made up of white women exclusively. And that’s not exactly an unusual situation for the festival to find itself in. As The Indianapolis Star‘s Erika D. Smith points out, the princesses don’t tend to demonstrate a whole lot of racial or ethnic diversity. But according to festival organizers, they’ve actually been trying to recruit a more diverse corps of princesses; they’ve just been having a really hard time getting applicants.
It’s not for a lack of trying to change that. Both the 500 Festival and IndyCar, separate entities that run 500-related events and the race, say they want to broaden their audience to boost participation and attendance. The future depends on it.
So I believe the 500 Festival’s communications manager, Megan Bulla, when she says the organizers do their best to recruit minorities to be princesses.
A coordinator makes the rounds to colleges all over the state and meets with student groups and sororities. They venture out to churches and synagogues. And in the past, she says the 500 Festival has worked with black newspaper, The Indianapolis Recorder, to get the word out.
It doesn’t always work out, though.
“We really didn’t have many people of diverse backgrounds apply,” Bulla said of this year’s princesses.
A couple hundred people apply to be princesses every year, and the festival has managed to attract some princesses of color in the past.
To be a princess, a woman must be an Indiana resident and a full-time college student between the ages of 18 and 23 who has no children and has never been married. The application form does not ask prospective princesses to disclose their heritage. At the end of the princess pageant, one of them will be crowned queen, and the queen gets a $2,500 scholarship. The regular princesses don’t get scholarships, but being one of the Indy 500 princesses carries bragging rights in some circles, and maybe they get to keep those jaunty pageant sashes or something.