The Race 2 Replace bicycle race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at first appeared to be just another local fund-raiser.
Now, the Lance Armstrong-backed event put on by the professional cycling team he co-owns appears to be rolling up enough momentum to have a significant economic impact on Indianapolis.
IMS President Joie Chitwood is calling the Aug. 12 race a "historic day at the track."
Race 2 Replace promoters said the IMS' first-ever bicycle race is poised to become an annual event that draws more than 1,000 cyclists and tens of thousands of cycling fans to Indianapolis each summer.
As of July 26, Race 2 Replace had drawn more than 400 competitors from 17 states in an event billed as a search for the next Armstrong. Competitors are paying $150 each for a chance to race in the U.S. Pro Championships in September in Greenville, S.C. The winner of the Indianapolis race will win a roster spot on the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, which Armstrong co-owns.
Race 2 Replace competitors will race 10 laps around the Brickyard's 2-1/2-mile oval. Races will be broken down to eight heats based on age, and the fastest overall rider will win an all-expenses-paid trip to Greenville, a $7,000 team-issue bicycle and everything else needed to compete against the nation's best cyclists. All heat winners will take part in a post-race ceremony with Armstrong.
"For the first year, the response has been tremendous," said Kent Kramer, president of Texas-based Professional Sports Marketing, which was hired by the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team to promote and operate the event. "This event is growing every day, and we'll have to let it unfold to see just how great the economic impact is."
Another 700-plus cyclists have paid $20 to ride one lap around the track with seventime Tour de France Champion Armstrong. After July 31, the cost goes up to $40.
Race 2 Replace has attracted an impressive number of entrants, considering the entry fee is much steeper than the $25 to $35 races typically charge, said Dan Daly, founder and promoter of the Indiana Race Series, a collection of local bicycle races. Daly said it was initially unclear if the event was a publicity stunt or a real bicycle race.
"I think they're starting to get the word out," Daly said.
Kramer said Race 2 Replace will draw an upscale demographic. William Strickland, a Ball State University graduate and executive editor of Bicycling Magazine, agrees.
"People who routinely buy $5,000 bicycles, and don't think twice about a $150 entry fee are the kind of people any city would want to draw," Strickland said.
All proceeds will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Indiana University Cancer Center, where Armstrong was treated in 1996. Austin-based LAF supports cancer research and patient care.
The gates open at 6 a.m., with racing starting at 7 a.m. Event promoters are promising a full day of entertainment, including a live performance by rock band Collective Soul.
The event is being hyped nationally through bicycling magazines and through the Discovery Channel and its affiliated cable networks. Spectator admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
In May, Armstrong drove the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. Event promoters said the bicycle race was in the works before the Speedway asked Armstrong to drive the pace car. "There's a lot of investment behind this event, and we'd like to see it continue," Kramer said.
Initially, 10 locales were considered as sites for Race 2 Replace, which is projected to raise well over $100,000 for charity.
"Indianapolis is in the central part of the country, so we thought we could draw racers from a wide geographic region," Kramer said. "And we have an absolutely perfect venue for racing."
IMS officials agreed to allow the race at no charge.
"The most important thing is all the funds go to charity, and we were especially interested in benefiting the IU Cancer Center," said IMS spokesman Ron Green.
IMS officials have made no commitment to the event beyond this year.
"We think this is a good event for the community, but as far as future relationships with Lance Armstrong and this event ... that remains to be seen," Green said.
Bicycling Magazine's Strickland said the event's venue as much as Armstrong's association is creating the buzz.
"Racing bicycles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is what makes this event really unique and cool," Strickland said.