INDIANAPOLIS — Each time she attended the Indianapolis 500 race and parade growing up, Taylor Hall of Greenfield was always impressed by the young women there who had been named 500 Festival Princesses.
Hall, 22, had known a few others her age who had participated in the race’s ambassador program, and they all spoke highly of the experience, Hall said. But it was only last year, after her close friend and former classmate, Emily Nickels, participated in the program that Hall started to envision herself wearing one of the princesses’ signature sparkly crowns.
As it turns out, the title fits her perfectly.
Hall recently was named as one of the 33 college-aged women who will serve as princesses at the 2015 Indianapolis 500 Festival this May.
Until race day rolls around, when Hall will take her place of honor on the track, she and her fellow princesses will serve as ambassadors to the race and its festival. They will travel the state, together and individually, to appear at events and inform Hoosiers about the race and its importance.
“This is such a great way for me to give back to the community and work with local nonprofits,” Hall said. “I’ve known a few other 500 princesses, and I’ve been really inspired by them. (The program) is just a really cool opportunity.”
Hall is a senior at IUPUI, majoring in nursing. She graduated from Greenfield-Central High School in 2011.
About 200 young women from across the state applied to be in the princess program this year, said Sabrina List, vice president of marketing and communications for the 500 Festival.
The selection process is competitive and can take several months. Each applicant is required to have at least a 3.0 GPA and be involved with extracurricular activities at their college or university, she said.
At first, each contestant is interviewed by a panel of judges, many of whom are CEOs and community leaders in Indianapolis. The top 66 hopefuls are identified, at which point they complete a second round of panel interviews before the final 33 princesses are named. Each receives a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to be named the festival queen this spring.
This year’s 500 royalty hails from as far north as Elkhart County, along the Indiana-Michigan state line, and as far south as Santa Claus, List said.
Hall is planning various visits back to Greenfield to promote the race. She has partnered with Harris Elementary School first-grade teacher Kristin Fewell to plan a program April 17 when she’ll speak with roughly 90 first-graders about the state and the Indianapolis 500.
“(Taylor) will be a wonderful representative of Greenfield,” said Fewell, who is a close friend of Hall’s family. “She is beautiful, inside and out, and will make an outstanding princess. I’m so proud of her.”
Hall will keep her title until next February and can be called upon all year for events around the state. She said she hopes to make visits to other elementary schools in the area and to Greenfield-Central High School.
“I hope I can talk with girls (on these visits) who might want to do this someday, too,” she said.
The 500 Festival Princess Program began in 1959. Since that time, 1,800 young women from across the state have been selected to serve as race royalty, according to the 500 Festival website.
The 2015 500 Festival Princesses come from 29 towns across the state and nine colleges and universities. They hold a collective GPA of 3.3, according to the 500 Festival website, and must demonstrate advanced skills in “communication, poise, academic performance and community involvement” in order to be chosen.
Each princess receives a $1,000 scholarship to help further their education. They are also enrolled in the Princess Alumni Program, which has become a network of community leaders. At the annual 500 Festival Breakfast at the Brickyard in May, a queen is chosen from the princess candidates. That representative will receive a $2,500 scholarship.