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Miles eyes lights for Speedway, postseason for IndyCar

December 12, 2012

If I had any doubts that Mark Miles will usher in change for the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they were wiped away after an hour-long question-and-answer session I had with the new Hulman & Co. CEO last week.

Miles, 59, isn’t sure how long he’ll be at Hulman & Co., but said, “to make a dent in something like this I think three to five years is the absolute minimum.” He officially takes his new post Dec. 17.

While Miles said his first priority is to grow the series, there’s no doubt he plans to do the same for the IMS. And growth means change.

After the interview, my feelings were strengthened that Miles not only will hire a new series CEO (there had been some talk about Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus continuing in that position), but also construct a whole new management team to oversee growth at the open-wheel series.

“[The IndyCar Series CEO job] has been identified as an interim responsibility, and that’s to make the point that while [Belskus is] in charge right now, it’s possible, and maybe likely, that eventually there will be another approach to the structure or to the staffing,” Miles said.

Miles will be careful and calculated, but I expect him to have the IndyCar staff overhauled by July. For the record, Miles doesn't see Tony George taking a management position with IndyCar or the IMS.

It’s clear that the buck for all matters pertaining to the series and Speedway will stop on Miles' desk.

During our conversation, Miles, who will work out of the Speedway’s corporate office at 16th Street and Georgetown Road, was not hesitant to weigh in on any number of topics concerning the Speedway’s infrastructure and operations. He didn’t talk like someone interested in deferring or deflecting questions—or responsibilities.

Miles admits he’s more willing than the Hulman-George family that owns the facilities to break from tradition. There’s no doubt, if he can find a way to pay for lights, he’ll have them installed at the Speedway in short order and make the Brickyard 400 a night race.

“If you are talking about the Brickyard [400] and fans believe it’s too hot, that would provide some relief,” Miles said. “There’s some evidence we’re getting that a night race distinguishes itself from day races [and] is a point of differentiation that can add to audience value on television. It’s likely in my view that we’ll conclude that if we can figure out a way to add lights out there it could add real value.”

Miles won’t hesitate to make other improvements to the Speedway.

“The facilities matter. If you think of any major, successful professional event or high-level collegiate event, the facility has a lot to do with the vitality of the event aesthetically and for the fan experience and economically,” Miles said. “So we’ll have to think about investments out there.”

Miles has no interest in focusing on the series’ and Speedways’ baggage.  Open-wheel fans, past and present, awaiting an apology for Indy Racing League’s split from CART in the 1990s can probably forget about it.

“The trick is to have a fresh set of eyes come to this and not let the past—in fact, not [being] interested in continually digging up the past—but looking forward and yet doing that in a way that appreciates the culture.” Miles said.

The trick in looking to the future for Miles will be to find a way to bring back hard-core racing fans still upset over the split without dredging up the ugly past.

IndyCar fans will likely see schedule tweaks for the 2013 season, but in 2014, I expect to see major changes including some type of post-season structure.

During the interview, Miles mentioned the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup and NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup as models the series might mimic.

Miles thinks the series could be out of the red (for the year) in the near term. But he has no intention of stopping there.

“It’s going to be sustainable financially with another race, perhaps, or another sponsor or two,” Miles said. “That’s the base line. Our objective is to grow it in a very significant way. That’s going to take a little bit of time and hitting on all cylinders.”

One of Miles’ biggest long-term challenges will be advising the Hulman-George family on passing Hulman & Co. to the next generation and making sure the company has the right leadership to help it grow.

While Miles said those decisions ultimately remain with the family, there’s little doubt his counsel will be called upon.

“In the end, if a venerable firm is going to succeed over time from generation to generation, it has to be a meritocracy,” Miles said. “The idea is, you have to have the absolute best people available running the company and in all the key seats.

“There’s real talent in the [Hulman-George] family,” but the family might find it better to have an outsider run the company, he said.

“One of the first things I did was meet with the next generation on the day of the announcement of me taking the position. And I’m going to meet with them regularly for two reasons; to see how I can help them and help and aid in their development. Secondly, to see what I can learn from them.”

Ultimately, Miles may have to teach the younger members of the Hulman-George clan that running the racing empire is something that needs to be earned and that it’s not an entitlement to be inherited.

To see the full question and answer with Miles click here.

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