There are moments when time stands still. Moments where you find yourself on the verge of greatness. Moments that stand the test of time. The Edge is a series of conversations where extraordinary people tell intimate stories of one moment that changed everything for them. A world record, a world championship, an epiphany, a life-changing decision. They relive their moments, minute by minute. How they overcame pressure, fear, pain and pushed themselves to the limit. To The Edge.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) has played host to the Indy 500 for over a century. Some of motorsport’s most iconic moments have taken place on this race track, purpose-built for speed. Our guest this time is Douglas Boles, the trailblazing president of the IMS to talk about the innovative technologies that are going to propel the Speedway forward, how motorsport can attract a younger audience, and the deep connection between this iconic institution and its beloved community. Presented by your host Teo Van Den Broeke, enjoy our fascinating chat with the man in charge of the venue that organizes ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’.
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Celebrating the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016
It was really special for a lot of reasons. One, just celebrating the Indy 500 having been in existence for that long. There were a lot of challenges, a lot of worries. We worried about whether this was going to be the race where everybody says, ‘OK, I’m not going anymore because I made it to the 100th. I’m going to stay home now.’ So one of our focuses was to not use that as an ending point and make sure that it was a launching point to continue the growth of the Indy 500 going forward. We actually sold the facility out, which was the first time in history that we had done that. We’d sold all of our grandstand seats.
I spent a lot of time wondering what Carl Fisher, who founded the Speedway in 1909, would think if you could bring him back and say, ‘You started this place in 1909, and the race in 1911. Look at where it is today.’ I think he’d be pretty astonished to think that the Indy 500 was still in existence.
Balancing history and tradition
Part of what makes us [the Speedway] special is our history and tradition. And those are the elements that generations of fans keep coming back for. There are fans that come to the Indianapolis 500 who had grandparents or great grandparents who were here for our first races in 1909. Or our first Indy 500 in 1911. And as we start thinking about the facility, a lot of our fans only come one time a year and you want them to walk in and think, ‘Wow, this is the facility that my dad fell in love with.’ In a world where new stadiums are being built all the time and modern amenities are what folks expect, we have to find a way to keep that history and tradition of the Speedway, but also offer people what they’re used to when it comes to different amenities.
The Indy 500 is more than a race
Nothing has changed other than we have asphalt on top of the bricks that were there in the fall of 1909. So you’re racing on the exact same surface, around the exact same corners, through the exact same layout as they raced 114 years ago. So that’s one of the things that makes us so special. And not unlike Le Mans and Monaco, we’re more than a race. If you think about racing, there are three events in the world that have a race where the event is bigger than the race. I think that’s why the Indianapolis 500 is what it is. It is an event first and a race second.
Without the town of Speedway, this event doesn’t work
One of the things that is the ‘special sauce’ about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: it’s the neighborhood, it’s the Main Street and the local restaurants and bars and areas that just embrace our race so much and help us welcome people from around the world. For race day this year, we’ll have over 35 countries represented in our grandstands. And so many of them will spend their time in the town of Speedway. So without the town of Speedway, this event doesn’t work. It’s a great partnership.
How the Indianapolis Motor Speedway influences its community
A lot of the work that we do with the city of Indianapolis, and the town of Speedway, is how do we use the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to bolster those businesses? The obvious ways are the tourism side of things. The hotels, the rental cars, the restaurants where you’re going out to eat if you’re visiting on one of our event weekends. I spend an awful lot of time with the businesses on Main Street during events that aren’t the Indianapolis 500, which has a huge impact, but some of our smaller events to make sure that what we’re bringing to the facility is great for this facility. But we also look through the lens of, ‘Is it good for our community?’
Creating a new generation of motorsport fans
We have a concert on race day on the infield where 25,000 young adults, under the age of thirty, come for an EDM concert and could care less that there are 300,000 people sitting in the grandstands watching the race. They’re there to party and have fun. The good news for us is I know who those customers are, who those kids are, and we can begin to message to them and hopefully as they grow older and decide, ‘Hey, I don’t want to dance from 7am to 3pm, but I do want to come to the Indianapolis 500 because it’s what I do on Memorial Day Sunday.’ Hopefully we can convert them to becoming race fans.
The biggest challenge for motorsport
I really think our biggest challenge is how do we keep the relevance of the automobile in a way that it’s connecting with young kids who may not think of the automobile right away as that freedom and that connection, that connective tissue that it was for so many of us.