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Industry races to promote itself: Statewide motorsports group hopes to thwart competition from other U.S. markets

November 28, 2005

Area motorsports leaders are gearing up for another run at unifying the industry and assuring the region retains its status as one of the world's leading motorsports markets.

Organizers of the latest effort promise they won't spin their wheels this time around. They're casting a wider net-going statewide with a motorsports association-to attract more members and build more clout with the media, local and state lawmakers, and service providers, such as banks and insurance companies.

The Indiana Motorsports Association Inc. was officially launched last month with Gov. Mitch Daniels' blessing, and association leaders hope to have a full-time paid executive director hired by year's end.

"That's when we'll really start pushing our membership drive," said IMA Chairman Chris Paulsen, who is also president of C&R Racing Inc., an Indianapolis-based maker of auto racing components. "We think the interest in this association will be substantial, greater than it ever has been before, especially since we're taking it statewide."

U.S. Auto Club President Rollie Helmling, IMA's vice chairman, thinks at least 50 race teams alone will join the association next year, along with sanctioning bodies such as the Indy Racing League and Champ Car; facilities operators such as Indianapolis Raceway Park; and numerous race-related suppliers, manufacturers and other businesses.

"The climate for this association couldn't be any better," Helmling said. "The recognition in the Statehouse and the Governor's Office about the impact of this industry is as strong as it's ever been."

The association already has an office established on the campus of Marian College, which recently launched a motorsports-related curriculum and figures to be an important partner in the new association. Purdue University, which has many engineering graduates in the racing industry, also has shown a strong interest in being part of the new association.

IMA officials have promised not to be a rubber stamp for any one racing interest or series, but to focus on commonalities that can help the entire industry prosper in Indiana.

"This is a fragmented industry and we feel we can pull together companies from a lot of different motorsports disciplines," Helmling said. "Probably more than any other state, we have the opportunity to attract and nourish teams and businesses with interests in open-wheel, NASCAR, even Formula One, and other racing classes. We have to be a voice for all those interests to help the state and industry reach its potential."

The effort is coming at a critical time, said Mel Poole, president of Sponsorlogic, a Charlotte, N.C.-based motorsports marketing firm.

"With efforts in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Las Vegas attempting to grow their motorsports sectors, suddenly it has become real competitive in trying to attract and retain these types of businesses," Poole said.

IMA officials will start touting the state's advantages in December at the industry's largest trade show, the Performance Racing Industry show in Orlando.

Doug Boles, chief operating officer of locally based IRL team Panther Racing, said continuity is needed to see a sustained effort. Boles helped launch Indy MotorForce-a racingrelated economic development organization-under then-Mayor Steve Goldsmith in the early 1990s.

But when Boles left Goldsmith's staff in 1997, Indy MotorForce slid under the umbrella of the Indy Partnership, the region's broadbased economic development organization, and the effort died. Subsequent resurrections also smoked out.

Officials for Gov. Daniels economic development arm, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., said the IMA has Daniels' full support. The governor's support alone, however, won't be enough to sustain the association or its objectives, industry observers said.

"You have the governor showing his backing and that's a really good first step," Boles said. "But someone needs to really focus on this effort full time and be the point person."

Al Lowe, president of locally based AED Motorsports Products, said he immediately noticed a difference between this and other local efforts to organize the industry.

"The difference between what is happening today and what happened several years ago is, this is a group of hard-core racers and racing businesses leading the way," said Lowe, an IMA board member. "It's not politically motivated or marketing-driven like efforts in the past have been. This goes far beyond that.

"With efforts before this, we had a lot of meetings, but nothing seemed to get done," Lowe added. "This time, we're taking concrete steps to nurture what we have here and grow this industry."

Other efforts, he said, were more focused on touting the city and attracting new business, and while that will be one of the initiatives of the IMA, a larger thrust will be creating an environment for racing businesses-current and prospective-to flourish.

Some of the immediate steps IMA officials are promising include developing a unified voice for government lobbying and media relations initiatives, producing a statewide directory of motorsports-related companies, and compiling a clearinghouse of information for current and prospective motorsports companies, including information on real estate purchase options and tax incentives. The group will also work with banks and insurance companies to leverage better loan terms and insurance coverage and provide networking opportunities within the industry to help forge new alliances.

Board members are offering a standard corporate membership for $750 annually. A "fan membership" for individuals interested in the statewide development of the motorsports industry is $95. Colleges and university memberships are $5,000. Higher-level corporate sponsorships with special perks are available for $7,500 to $25,000.

IMA officials know they'll have to show members a return on their investment.

"Motorsports is a lot more professional than it used to be," Helmling said. "Any time anyone in this business makes an investment, they want to see a return."
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