GREENFIELD — For Hoosiers, the month of May is historically a special time of speed and spectacle, but for Emily Nickels, this year’s speed season is defined by outright royalty.
Nickels will join 32 other young women from throughout the state as a 500 Festival Princess for 2014, becoming an ambassador for the 500 Festival, the city of Indianapolis and the High Hoosier Holy Day, the Indianapolis 500.
Nickels and this year’s entourage were selected from a field of 230 applicants and represent nine Indiana colleges and universities and 24 cities and towns across the state, according to the 500 Festival.
But entering such a contest was something Nickels had never considered before.
“This is way off her radar,” said Nickels’ mother, Nancy.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Nickels said. “But my summer intern supervisor introduced me to the program, and that piqued my interest.”
She also received encouragement from a few sorority sisters who had been involved with the program in the past, and that was all the Ball State University junior needed to get her onto the grid.
As a public relations major at BSU, participating in the princess program and becoming an ambassador for Indiana’s single biggest event on a worldwide stage is an excellent way to begin developing skills and relationships that will be instrumental to success in the future.
“It crossed my mind what a great opportunity this would be to network with the alumni, the women who were involved, the board of directors; it’s very beneficial,” she said.
However, becoming a festival princess, which puts her in the running to become the 500 Festival Queen on May 17, is more than a pageant and smiling for the camera.
In addition to being present at more than a dozen mandatory events and functions, Nickels and her fellow royalty will plan and implement outreach programs in their local communities to bring the history and significance of the race home.
“We’ve really moved away from (being a pageant) over the last few years,” said Megan Bulla, 500 Festival communications manager.
“It’s more of an ambassadorship where we teach them about the race and the entire month of May, and then they plan their outreach programs in their own hometowns.”
Recent years have brought more than 200 well-qualified applicants vying to become festival ambassadors, and this year was no exception, Bulla said.
“They’re so well-spoken, and about half of them have never been to the race, so there’s a big learning curve for many of them as well,” she said.
Understanding what goes on at the Brickyard during the month of May is nothing new to Nickels, however.
“I went to my first race when I was a junior in high school, and I think I’ve only missed one year since,” the 2011 Greenfield-Central High School graduate said.
Nickels’ mother said though entering the festival field was somewhat of a surprise, Emily has always been active as a former G-CHS volleyball player and member of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, and being engaged in and seeking new opportunities is just part of who she is.
“Being in public relations, it’s amazing what she’s learned so far,” Nancy said.
With another year of school, Nickels said she is still looking at her options, though she would love to land a job at a public relations firm when she graduates.
And though race day is still 3 months away, Nickels and the rest of the festival princesses hit the track with their feet running today as ambassadors to pass out refreshments and encouragement at a 500 Festival Mini-Marathon 10K training session.
There’s been little time to think about donning the $30,000 queen’s crown or using the queen’s $2,500 scholarship to help pay for her senior year BSU.
“It’s just a great honor to be given this opportunity and become a part of this program out of 230 women; I’m really, really happy,” Nickels said.