Valparaiso University Student Becomes 500 Festival Royalty

Chloe Smith ’23, a health science major on track to enter the physician assistant program at Valparaiso University, had never been to the Indy 500 or the Indy 500 Festival before 2022. Watching the floats and marchers go by with her family, however, she realized that it was an Indiana tradition that she wanted to be a part of. 

“At first I told my parents we should volunteer and hold the balloons,” Chloe says. “Then I saw the princess float go by, and wondered what it was. So I looked it up, and spent the whole car ride home reading about it. That day, I decided to apply for it.”

The Indy 500 Festival Princesses are selected from a group of applicants that live and study in Indiana. To become one, Chloe had to fill out a variety of applications, write essays, and provide character references. In January, she was notified that she had been selected for the first round of five-minute interviews with Festival committee members. 

“The most challenging part was getting everything I wanted to say in that five-minute span. I think it ended up being a good thing that it was shorter so I had to say my points without rambling,” Chloe says. “I remember my first interview, it was very hard overcoming those nerves and getting comfortable, but after that, the other ones went very well.”

One of the things that Chloe believes got her that far in the selection process was her willingness to stand out from others. That included adding humor to her application essays and drawing from her experiences portraying Valparaiso University mascot Blaze at basketball and volleyball games.

“In my interview, I said Blaze had the best dance moves the University had ever seen, and they said ‘let’s see them’ and I think that definitely set me apart,” Chloe says. 

A week later, Chloe was asked to participate in a second interview, and shortly after that was informed that she had been selected as one of the 33 Indy 500 Festival Princesses presented by the National Bank of Indianapolis for the 107th running of the Indy 500. 

“It feels great,” Chloe says. “I am confident in my academic, leadership, service, communication, and professional skills even if I did not get the position because each woman who applied shares all of those characteristics.  Now I am excited to have the unique opportunity to advance those skills through the 500 Festival Princess Program.”  

As an Indy 500 Festival Princess, Chloe will participate in a number of inbound and outbound service projects. Inbound projects, where an outside organization requests her participation, will include visits to nursing homes and elementary schools. Outbound services projects will be organized and pursued by Chloe herself. Her current plans include visiting her old schools to read books to the children, participate in art activities with them, and lead their gym classes in race car driver exercises to promote healthy living.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and that’s brought on by an inactive lifestyle,” Chloe says. “I think it’s really important to do that from a young age, and hopefully those lifestyle skills will stay with them.”

As a health care student, Chloe is especially committed to helping people of all ages lead healthier lifestyles. Part of being an Indy 500 Festival Princess also pairs her with one of the Indy 500 Festival’s 33 board members, hers being Jonathan Nalli, CEO of the St. Vincent hospital system in Indianapolis, where Chloe hopes to do her clinical hours. 

“That’s very exciting for networking,” Chloe says. ““I’m in a group chat with him and his wife, and we plan to meet for lunch or dinner sometime.”

On the day of the race, Chloe will ride around the track with the rest of the Indy 500 Festival Princesses and help represent the organization to fans and visitors. She will also receive a $1,000 scholarship to assist with educational expenses, made possible by Marlyne Sexton, an Indianapolis philanthropist and president of The Sexton Companies, and the 500 Festival Foundation.

For future hopefuls for the title of Indy 500 Festival Princess, Chloe’s has the following advice:

“Do it. Be confident in yourself. Don’t think that you can’t,” she says. “There was one point that I was feeling like I wouldn’t get it because so many people applied, so why waste my time? But I quickly changed that attitude. Also, take some small risks, because that’s what’s going to make you stand out.”

The Indy 500 Festival itself will include events for people of all ages, including a parade, a Kid’s Day, several running events, an educational program, and more. See here for details. To Chloe, the event represents a shared identity for everyone in the state. 

“It’s so rooted in tradition, and it’s what makes me and what should make the state of Indiana proud to be a Hoosier,” Chloe says.