More than a sash and tiara: Two ambitious women from Plainfield and Avon named 500 Festival Princess

Claire Rightley (left)
and Miranda Bieghler represent Hendricks County as 500 Festival Princesses. Rightley attended Avon, and Bieghler is a Plain eld native and South Putnam High School graduate. (Photo by Rick Myers)

By Lindsay Doty 

It’s 8 a.m. and 21-year-old Manchester University junior Miranda Bieghler is squeezing in a basketball workout on campus before dashing out the door to head to Indianapolis, a two-hour-plus drive.

She’s scheduled to shoot the puck at the Indy Fuel game, one of several scheduled events in her new role as 500 Festival Princess.

Bieghler is one of 33 young women selected for the scholarship program that celebrates the 500 Festival traditions and the Indy 500. 

“I wanted to be a 500 Festival Princess because I have grown up looking up to all of those amazing women, and ever since my 500 Festival education program experience, I knew I wanted to be involved in it one day,” said Bieghler, a Plainfield native and South Putnam High School graduate.

She was pretty pumped to find out she was selected in 2021.

“I started jumping up and down and screaming because I was so excited. The first person I called was my mom and dad because they are my biggest supporters.”

She’s adding the princess title to her already impressive resume that includes captain of the women’s basketball team at Manchester, president of the Student Education Association (SEA), and volunteer, to name a few.

“I am a driven and passionate person,” Bieghler said. “I work hard in everything I do and always make sure to put my best foot forward.”

That same drive can also be found within Claire Rightley, a fellow Hendricks County native and Avon High School graduate who was also named a 2021 500 Festival Princess.

“I always love a situation where I can meet very driven and powerful like-minded women,” said Rightley, a Purdue University student studying cyber security (she wants to help stop child pornography and trafficking) who applied for the scholarship through her sorority.

“The program is one of the 500 Festival’s most time-honored traditions,” Rightley said.

 It’s not just a sash and tiara but has a long history of helping with career development and opening doors for countless young women in Indiana. 

The 2021 500 Festival Princesses represent 16 Indiana colleges and universities and 21 cities and towns across the state. With a cumulative grade point average of 3.74, the women were selected from hundreds of applicants based on communication skills, academic performance, community involvement, commitment to service and leadership. Each young woman receives a $1,000 scholarship. 

The princesses are part of the 500 Festival, a nonprofit organization providing programs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500. Planners determined that the 500 Festival would not be able to host the Indy Mini in its traditional, in-person format, but a virtual option only.

“We will continue to work on the remaining 500 Festival month of May activities and look forward to participating in the events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, culminating with the Indy 500,” said Bob Bryant, president and CEO of the 500 Festival.

This month, the princess outreach programs leading up to the Indy 500 will be a mix of in-person and virtual — a step forward compared to 2020. 

“I think it is different being a transition year. I think everyone is excited to do as many in-person events as we can,” said Rightley, who will host a virtual storytime this month via Zoom with first graders at Sycamore Elementary in Avon where she attended school. 

The ladies say they are making the best of it. 

500 Festival Princesses conduct a series of outreach opportunities, including visits to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, community celebrations and various youth programs. Their role is to spread kindness and enthusiasm for the 500 traditions.

“Being able to share my excitement for the Indy 500 and 500 Festival with all of the young children that I have gotten to interact with and being their role model and setting that example for them is super important to me,” said Bieghler.

“We are all driven women and open-minded and willing to be very flexible in interesting times … and do it all with a smile on our face,” said Rightley

Both ladies are pumped to be part of the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 and its return to some normalcy, taking place in-person and with 135,000 fans (40% capacity) on May 30 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The princesses get to ride in a pace car pre-race and wave to fans.

“I’m really excited to be going to the race this year,” said Rightley, a Ryan Hunter-Reay fan. 

“I am so excited that we have been able to do so much this year and be able to adapt to the pandemic and make the most out of this situation,” Bieghler said. “You get out what you put into this program, so being flexible and adapting to different situations is the most important, and I think this year we are all doing a pretty good job with it.”

Getting to know Miranda Beighler 

In 10 years I want to be….

An elementary classroom teacher or an elementary principal, wife and a mother

My favorite thing to do at home in Hendricks County:

Utilize all of the amazing parks by either running or walking one of my dogs

Earliest Indy 500 memory… 

My dad took me to the track for qualifying. Also, racing quarter midgets on a small track in one of the parking lots of IMS and winning a large trophy and a customized watch.

Song that gets me motivated:

“You Got It” by Vedo 

My role model is… 

My sister

When I’m not on princess duty, I keep my crown and sash in…

A basket in my closet for easy access

Favorite Disney princess I relate to:

I would probably say Moana because she is not your typical princess, but she is very driven to become her best self.

Getting to know Claire:

In 10 years I want to be…

Living in a nice rural, forested area with a cat and just happy 

My favorite thing to do at home in Hendricks County:

Catch up with high school friends. 

Memorable Indy 500: 

One time when my brother and I were at the race together, we got hungry about halfway through the race and walked all over trying to track down funnel cake for me because it’s my favorite. 

Song that gets me motivated:

“Africa” by Toto 

My role model is… 

My sorority academic advisor, Dr. Beth Holloway. She’s an incredible woman. 

When I’m not on princess duty, I keep my crown and sash in…

A box

Favorite Disney princess I relate to:

Alice in Wonderland.