By Steve Keating
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The hundreds of thousands of spectators planning to attend Sunday's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 should arrive early and expect to go through added layers of security, officials warned on Wednesday.
With the race sold out for the first time and nearly 400,000 fans expected at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, law enforcement agencies conceded that securing what claims to be the world's biggest single day sporting event will be a massive challenge.
The 2.5-mile oval, which could hold Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Roman Colosseum and Vatican City, presents unique challenges with spectators allowed to bring in coolers and bags.
"It's important fans understand that security this year has really been ramped up," said Mike Bates, the senior director of safety and security for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Security has always been good out here but with the increase in people we thought it was our due diligence to bump those up.
"You will see a lot of uniformed personnel out there but there will also be a lot of plainclothes officers walking around monitoring."
The race will be one of 11 events this year to receive a Homeland Security SEAR 2 (Special Event Assessment Rating) designation that allows federal assets to be brought in to enhance security plans.
More than 50 local, state and federal agencies will contribute to security efforts that will include a no-fly zone over the speedway during the race.
Run on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Indy 500 is a uniquely American event and with this year's race expected to attract a record crowd it presents a potential target for attacks.
So far there have been no credible threats made, according to Paul Dvorak, special agent in charge of U.S. Secret Service at the Indianapolis office.
"It's part of the reason it gets that designation SEAR 2, it's the 100th running, it's an iconic event, it is the largest single day (sporting) event in the world so for all those reasons could potentially make it a target," said Dvorak.
"Many different agencies involved and they are gathering any kind of intelligence and they have been doing it for months. We will continue to monitor that.
"There are no credible threats at this point but that does not make us sit back and relax."
Officials would not put a number to security personnel that will be in place on Sunday saying only that it would be a 20 percent increase over last year.
A large number of additional canine units will search all vehicles entering the facility and will patrol the speedway on race day. License plate reader vehicles will also scan vehicles moving inside and outside the track.
Additional helicopters will help monitor the Indy 500 parade on Saturday and activities in the swarming camping grounds around the speedway.
Homeland security will provide intelligence gathering that will include cameras placed outside of the facility.
"You need to be here early, it is going to be a little more challenging to get to the world's largest single day sporting event," said Doug Boles, president of IMS.
"Come early, plan how you are going to get here and be very patient throughout that process. If you keep those three things in mind your day is going to be a pretty good day."