Local embrace of new IndyCar road race at IMS key to its success

September 27, 2013
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The new IndyCar Series road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway early next May will begin to answer a question I’ve wondered about for more than 30 years.

How many people in central Indiana are open-wheel racing fans (now IndyCar fans) and how many are only Indianapolis 500 fans?

That may seem like splitting hairs to some degree, but the answer to that question will have a lot to do with the success or failure of Speedway officials’ most recent effort to raise the IndyCar Series’ profile and bolster the beleaguered month of May along with their bottom line.

Miles has already said he thinks the IndyCar road race at IMS will be a much more local draw than the nationally heralded Indy 500. So the embrace the local community gives this event will be paramount to its success. Miles and his staff must find a way to maximize that.

If a great many local and regional folks who attend the annual Indianapolis 500 are merely fans of that particular race, Miles’ bold plan to add another IndyCar race at the IMS in May could fall flat.

Many sports marketers will tell you myriad Indianapolis 500 fans go to the race because they love the being part of the greatest spectacle. They go to see and be seen, to watch and be watched.

And in the end, lots of fans only have a passing interest in who wins the race, much less the IndyCar Series title.
If that’s the case, I’m not sure an IndyCar road race in early May is going to draw much attention from locals. Initially, there will be some curious onlookers, but it’s unclear how sustainable that will be.

The U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis Formula One race drew about 200,000 the first year in 2000, but attendance declined after that. I’m not sure the most optimistic person would predict the same kind of crowd for the first IndyCar road race that came to the inaugural F1 race here.

An IndyCar road race here simply lacks the intrigue the international F1 race brought. Not only was F1 a new phenomenon here in 2000, but the road course was completely new then. And many oval-loving Midwesterners have been slow to embrace road races.

On the other hand, Speedway officials have promised to upgrade the Speedway’s road course to make it more exciting. And several IndyCar drivers—including Graham Rahal—have raved about the course’s potential to host a thrilling race. An IndyCar is significantly different from an F1 rig and there will be some interest in how the still relatively new DW12 chassis performs on the serpentine Indy road course. If the IndyCar Series ever gets aero kits, that could add to the intrigue.

It’s difficult to say if this move is brilliant or desperate on the part of new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles. That answer will be provided in the years to come.

Last December, shortly after he took the helm of Speedway parent Hulman & Co., I asked Miles, “Do you favor bringing in more events to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?”

“Whether it’s about the IndyCar Series or [IMS], I don’t start from the point of view that more is better,” Miles answered. “It’s all about what the opportunity is and what it adds.”

Miles must think the opportunity to add an IndyCar road race adds a whole lot of potential. I admire the guts Miles is showing in making such bold moves. Doing nothing really wasn’t much of an option. Interest for pre-Indy 500 activities during May has seriously waned.

Miles is a smart guy with lots of experience in sports business. If he’s launching an initiative this big, I know one thing. He didn’t do it without conducting some serious due diligence.

The worst case scenario for Miles is that the new race, as A.J. Foyt fears it will, cannibilizes the Speedway's golden goose and steals fans from or otherwise waters down the Indianapolis 500, which still draws more than 250,000 each year.

Concerning the new event, Miles and his staff have lots of work to do. They have to nail down a title, presenting and/or other sponsors. Those discussions are now underway. Speedway officials have to decide how they’re going to price and market tickets. It’s too late to offer a combination deal for 2014 since Indy 500 renewals are already sent. Miles could smartly offer Indy 500 ticket holders a fat discount for tickets to the new road race. And I’m sure he and Speedway President Doug Boles will think of other ways to leverage the Speedway’s sizable database.

But Miles has to be wondering if any amount of marketing will matter if this town has many more fans of the Indianapolis 500—and all it represents here—than the IndyCar Series itself.

Instead of the usual snark that fills the comment space of this blog every time I write about IndyCar, let's try something different. If you attend or have attended the Indianapolis 500, tell me if you'll consider attending the new road race at IMS. And how much would you pay for a ticket? I'd sincerely like to know. And I'm sure Miles would too.


  • Bad weekend
    I don't mind that there is another race violating the tradition. Plenty of "historical" tracks have other races that. I just think the date stinks. My "car guy" free pass from my wife gets used for the Mecum Auction the following weekend in Indy and a day at the track before qualifying. And it being Mother's day weekend hurts it even more. And I totally agree with the portion above about most fans going for the spectacle and don't care who wins (Attend the packed Kentucky Derby and you will understand). Give us a good party and some speed and people will come back to the 500. I'm not sure what will bring them to the road race, other than novelty the first year. And I have said this in other posts, the IMS marketing team needs to steep it up once and for all. A banner on the track and a few banner ads online just doesn't cut it any more.
  • Road-curious
    I'm not an IndyCar fan, nor do I particularly like going to the 500 (too hot, too many people, can't get a sense of the overall action). But I'd like to check out the road race, which sounds like it would be more fun to watch.
  • yes
    I fall into the opposite category of the "only locals" theory for this. I am a lifelong IndyCar fan from the Chicago area, go to Milwaukee every year and used to go to Chicagoland, but opt for watching the Indy 500 every year on TV. I just don't want to deal with 250,000 people and all the logistical nightmares that brings. I am, however, seriously considering going to the road course race. A smaller (but hopefully not too small) crowd, the chance to finally see the Speedway in person, and the opportunity to finally attend a road course race are all too good to pass up. Especially if ticket prices are reasonable.
  • Embrance the void
    HaY Anthony....what does EMBRANCE mean? I misspell words on purpose so the retentives here have something to flail about. But, this one has be puzzled. So, I have purposely labelled this IMS idea as "Embrance the Void"...the vacuuous sucking sound you hear when you enter the void of nothingness. Just liek this new road race idea at Indy. I actually AGREE with AJ Foyt, Jr. on this. Less is more, NOT MORE is MORE. Mark Miles you are doing the bidding of the devil, sir. People can't stand the IRL/Indycars now...so you want to give them MORE? I revel in the epic downward implosive direction of this track as this set of failed ideas come to fruition. In this case Mark, MORE is MORE....if you're going to take it down, take it down in HUGE meteoric ball of FLAMES. I support this 110% and am eager to see it happen! Someone give tennis boi a big raise please. This has sucksees ritten all over it.
  • Worth a try
    As a long time IndyCar fan I am excited about a road race at the Speedway. I will definitely attend the inaugural and would hope general admission tickets will be in the $25 range to try and draw a large crowd.
  • I'll be there, but....
    I will attend my 46th consecutive Indianapolis 500 next May. Obviously, I love the 500 and do follow IndyCar throughout the season. I will attend the road course race because, well, it's Indy and I want to be there and support whatever is happening during May at the track. That said, however, I would have much preferred to have seen this race scheduled for later in the season - Sept for instance, when we have this huge gap between races. Simply seems to make more sense....
  • Local longtime fan
    Nice try on the snarks, but we all know that Chief lives for these moments. While I doubt this has sustainability, I'll go and think that $25 would be a fair general admission. Perhaps they can digitize an audience along the main straight so it won't look so empty on TV. No one will be sitting there unless it rains. And I think there has been a difference between the 500 fans and series fans for a long time. As a kid in the 60's, we followed the 500 closely, maybe looked in the paper to see who won Milwaukee the next week, and then waited for the 500 to come back.
  • The Thrill Is Gone
    I think most people in Central Indiana have moved off the "500" and I am fairly certain they do not follow or enjoy the road racing sport. It could be, as some have suggested here in past posts, the "500" has had its day. I do not see how adding a road course race enhances the "500" or the sport itself. I side with those who suggest having the "500" through 2016. One Hundred Indianapolis 500's is enough. It is time this region move beyond this old dinosaur. It had its day and was King for many years. Now it is relic. The best thing to do is run these events in 2014, 205, and culminate with a big 2016 send-off Indianapolis 500. Henceforth, the land should be redeveloped with a monument in place commemorating the one hundred years of the event. Money can be made of that land daily, not just a few times a year on something that is in decline anyhow.
  • I'm going.
    Yes, I go to the Indy 500 every year. Yes, I will go to the IMS road race in early may 2014. And I'd be willing to spend $60 per ticket.
  • No
    No, I live out of state and will come in for the 500, but not the road course race. I attended the first GP at Indy and the first NASCAR race at Indy, but did not continue to attend after the first year. I won't be at the first Indycar road race. It should be interesting and I will watch on TV and I have no issue with them running there, just I will not fly or drive 700+ miles to attend, especially with the 500 in the same month.
  • No
    Not interested. Maybe the "500" next year. Maybe. The cars are so ugly these days I can't hardly stand to look at them. But since I live in Brownsburg it is hard not go to the "500" and get all into it on Race Day. Too much of it is in the news. This road race? Nah. Boring. The F1 race in 2002 I did attend. Yawn.
  • Protecting what?
    So, 1995 and the IRL is created to protect the month of May and oval racing traditions. Snicker. You bought that one didn't you? Indy and its fans are getting theirs now, just like in 1996 when the rest of the sport's former fans got theirs. Fool me once, fool me twice, after that it is just plain foolish. So, foolish it is. Enjoy.
  • Road Race
    I come at this with a slightly different view than most posters here. I have long thought there should be second race in Indy. From IndyCar and the City's view, I think a downtown street race would have been perfect. From IMS's view of course they want it at the Speedway. Either way I think a May running of this second race is just bad. It's too close together and doesn't allow the average fan time to "economically" recover. I will attend the road race anyway. I like them.
  • What do you think generates the $100 Million?
    That's right...ticket sales. This isn't about giving fans what they want, it's about making $$$, so much so that they'll wager the 500 (once again) against the odds. This crew rolls snake eyes like no one else ever. I hope this dilutes every race on the IMS schedule. That's why this is a grate idea. Mark Miles is a genius. Did you see the Doug Boles interview? Great stuff thar...they (IMS) know they are doing the wrong things. He said Carl Fisher in 1909 wanted a road course at IMS. This is offered as a justification for a road race. Never heard that one before....
  • I'm in
    My friends and I attend the 500 every year, and we'll attend the road race too. I'd pay around $40 for GA. I also like the timing leading into the 500...practice days are boring, and Pole Day is the only exciting day before the 500 anymore.
  • YEP
    I'll be there. I enjoy auto racing.
  • Maybe TURBO the Movie will sponsor the new race?
    BMC, how'd the Turbo movie wind up? Think there'll be enough $$$ from it to sponsor the IZODless IRL series on the all-oval IMS road course? I luv racing too...just not the IRLcarz. And especcially not under the Hulman dynasty. Two race are better than one!!! Enjoy good buddy! So, now the month can be condensed even further!!!! WoooT!

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