Economic development leaders and corporate executives thought Roger Brummett was spinning his wheels when he launched a classic car show in Indianapolis four years ago. But Brummett and partner Tim Durham find themselves at the wheel of such a fastgrowing enterprise that they hope to expand it into a multiday event, with an auction and classic-car race, that they believe would draw 100,000 attendees.
The pair also plans to replicate the show in other markets, starting in Naples, Fla., in November.
The Indianapolis Concours Grand Prix already is among the largest classic-car shows nationally based on attendance. The event had 80 exhibitors and 2,000 attendees in 2003, its inaugural year. This year's show, on July 1, will have nearly 250 exhibitors and likely will draw more than 60,000 people, event organizers said. Last year's show drew more than 45,000.
"The attendance, particularly for an event of this age, is unbelievable," said Jeff Broadus, publisher of Florida-based Car Collector Magazine. "There have been shows around for decades that never draw near 20,000. What they've done is astonishing."
Unlike other major classic-car shows, local event organizers charge nothing for admittance. That helps draw big crowds, which, in turn, helps attract corporate sponsorships.
The show is staged annually on the same weekend as the Formula One race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first show was at White River State Park. It's been at Monument Circle since.
"Indianapolis' venue in the heart of the city and the use of the U.S. Grand Prix weekend have really been a big boost to the event," Broadus said. "This show very quickly attracted the attention of some of North America's biggest car aficionados and mostrenowned collectors."
While the event benefits from the international crowd here for the U.S. Grand Prix, and from growing awareness of North American car collectors, more than 60 percent of attendees are Hoosiers, event organizers said. Even if the F1 race ceases at IMS, Indianapolis Concours Grand Prix organizers said the car show will continue.
"This is a car-loving town," said Durham, CEO of Obsidian Enterprises Inc., a private holding company that invests in companies in such industries as manufacturing and transportation. "The local community has really supported this event, and without a lot of marketing to this point."
A collection of cars with a combined value of more than $100 million will be on display at this year's Indianapolis Concours Grand Prix, organizers said.
"Some of these cars are truly one-of-akind and sell at auction for $3 [million] to $5 million," said Brummett, founder and CEO of Alexander Talbott Inc., an Indianapolisbased recruitment and staffing firm.
Exhibitors-who pay no entry fee-compete for a $20,000 Best of Show prize package, but the biggest monetary gain comes from adding the award to a show car's resume. Winning an award at a major car show can increase a car's value close to $1 million, Broadus said.
Event organizers are hoping to get more promotional support from city leaders and the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association.
"I think some people have not fully comprehended what we're doing here," Brummett said. "The city is wisely seeking to be a center for culture and art. If a $100 million rolling historical museum isn't art, I don't know what art is. And if an event as prestigious as a classic-car show isn't culture, I don't know what culture is."
ICVA officials said they've given the event their full support, including cross-promoting the show with other F1 weekend happenings.
"This show is one of the keystone events in connection with the U.S. Grand Prix," said Bob Schultz, ICVA's director of communications. "We love the fact that it's free, it's set in the city's center, and draws people of high wealth and influence."
Vehicles on display will include both muscle cars and classics. Also part of the show will be a number of Indiana-made brands-including Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and Stutz.
The cars won't be the only high-worth items on site. Brummett estimates the collectors at this year's event will have a combined net worth of more than $2 billion.
"These collectors are people with staff and big budgets, and are the type of people who not only spend considerable money on hotel rooms and at restaurants, but are influential business leaders," Brummett said. "These are the types of people the city should want to connect with."
The nation's three most prestigious classic-car shows are held at Pebble Beach in California, Amelia Island in Florida, and Meadow Brook in Detroit.
While those shows charge $25 or more for admittance and have an exclusive air, organizers of the local event chose a different business model.
"We feel like it's an event that appeals to a wide range of people, and we want all of them to have access to this show," Brummett said.
By not charging admission, local organizers have attracted a bevy of sponsors, including title sponsor Chrysler, which ponies up six figures annually, according to the show's executive director, Andrew Lee.
Chrysler brings in several classic cars and numerous new models to show off. Last year, Chrysler gave more than 400 test drives in its new vehicles.
"We were drawn by the strong turnout they've been able to draw in Indianapolis," said Jeffrey Hartley, Chrysler's brand global event marketing manager. "These are car enthusiasts, and just the kind of people we need to be in front of. They have a unique show there with the F1 race and its downtown venue, and we look for it to grow."
The event's other sponsors range from Regions Bank to Easley Winery.
"Although our demographics trend up, our crowd may be populated with a little more of the everyday people than other car shows, and that appeals to certain sponsors," said Durham, who is a car collector and exhibitor.
While the event is a labor of love for its founders, it's also proved to be a sustainable business. Besides the Naples show planned for November, organizers are looking to expand in Arizona and Colorado.
"Our model is to hold events in destination cities with a historic backdrop on festival weekends," Brummett said.
Indianapolis' history as the epicenter of auto racing and as a former automotive manufacturing hub make it a perfect site, Brummett added.
The local event has a $300,000 annual budget, but has drawn enough revenue to support itself and to contribute more than $80,000 to charities, Brummett said. He added that charitable giving should increase substantially as the show grows over the next two years.
"We're doing this because we love cars, and we think it's a truly unique event for the city," Brummett said. "But you have to operate it like a business to survive."
Despite what they've already accomplished, organizers believe they're just starting to rev their engines.
"We want to draw the type of international crowd the show in Pebble Beach draws," Brummett said.
Brummett and Durham also want to host an auction and a race for classic cars, perhaps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Indianapolis Raceway Park, in conjunction with the local event.
IMS spokesman Ron Green said the Speedway supports the Indianapolis Concours Grand Prix, and he called it a big hit with international F1 fans. But Green said the track would have difficulty hosting any events during race months.
Local organizers aren't deterred.
"This could be an event spanning several days with a crowd size and economic impact that would really be off the charts," Brummett said. "We think this show could unquestionably be the largest car show in the country."