The 500 Festival’s oldest tradition: 500 Festival Princess Program

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Indianapolis, Ind. - The 500 Festival Princess Program is the Festival's oldest tradition.

It started in 1959 and more than 1800 women have worn the crown and sash.

Samantha Lozano is one of the 2016 500 Festival Princesses.

"I submitted my application the day it was due and before I knew it, I was going over the process and I was selected and now I've just been enjoying the experience, but it still hasn't hit me that I'm a Princess!"

Like all the others before her, she's proven to the judges she's a leader, a servant to her community and an academic success story. She's a recent Indiana University graduates, with majors in Political Science and Spanish.

Hundreds of women apply each year and 33 are chosen.

The applicants have only two five-minute interviews to make an impression and then they have to wait.

"I was looking at my phone a lot!" said Lozano. "I was quite nervous. I looked at it and I just couldn't believe it! I just went for it and the rewarding experience has been much more than I would have ever imagined. It took some time on my part, but it’s definitely something worth investing your time in. What you’re getting out of it, it’s a life changing experience."

The women must meet a few criteria. They must be residents of Indiana, attend college in Indiana and must have at least a 3.0 GPA.

"I tell everyone the 500 Festival Princess Program changed my life," said Sabrina List. "It helped me gain connections that I would have never had had I not participated in this. Through that I was able to network and I was able to establish interviews with organizations I never would have. And now today, here I am, employed by the 500 Festival. It’s been a dream come true and it’s changed my life."

List is the 500 Festival Vice-President of Marketing and Communications.

"The women are given multiple opportunities to serve within their community, but then they also network and interact with 500 Festival board members who are leaders within the business community," said List. "They’re also given the opportunity to take leadership and professional development classes that we put together that bring together the community’s most engaged active female executives and help teach the women how they can empower themselves in the future."

The networking opportunities have benefited many others over the years.

"We have a lot that we love to brag about," said List. "We have people in the entertainment space, someone like Catt Sadler, she works for E! News and is a correspondent for them. We e also have another princess, Beth Boles, who is of course the wife of Doug Boles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but is also a successful business woman in her own right.  We have princess alums that have done a wide range of careers, they hold PhD’s, they are attorneys, they are business owners, they are successful women within our community."

Something List is really proud of is being able to make it clear that the Princess Program is about substance, not looks.

For the past two years, the 500 Festival has been able to offer money for the women's educations.

"We did want to make sure that the Princess Program is viewed as something more than just beauty, so to reward the women and to encourage them to continue pursuing their academic pursuits, every 500 Festival Princess receives a $1000 scholarship."

Another perk for the 500 Festival Princesses is getting to take a lap around the track on Race Day, waving to the hundreds of thousands of race fans.

"I’m looking forward to seeing a full crowd," said Lozano. "But I’m just looking forward also to serve as a role model to people that see me and can be like, Hey she looks like me and one day I can be her too."