Mattel may build Hot Wheels track at IMS

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IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are working on a deal with California-based Mattel Inc. to build a life-size Hot Wheels track in the Speedway’s infield in conjunction with the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 this May.

Sources close to the Speedway said discussions include building a tricked-out track, complete with loop-de-loops and ramps, near the oval’s third and fourth turns.

Motorsports sources said the project would be “massive” and that Mattel “is committed to it.” Plans, sources said, include “major publicity stunts” conducted during May to bring attention to the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. It’s not clear if the track would be temporary or permanent.

At a State of the Series address Jan. 11 in downtown Indianapolis, IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard and Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus alluded to an upcoming announcement involving a major publicity event with Mattel. Speculation centered on an event held in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500’s centennial this May.

Bernard and Belskus have declined to elaborate on the plans. Bernard was in California last week, helping set up the series’ L.A. office and working on other business deals.

“Mattel has a bunch of things they’re exploring,” said Speedway spokesman Doug Boles when asked Jan. 26 about the Hot Wheels plan. “Obviously, the centennial is huge for everyone, so they’re looking at some things during that time frame.”

Mattel officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Locally based racetrack designer and builder Paxton Waters said such a project could cost $5 million to $10 million and would take at least three months to design and build.

“It takes $3 [million] to $4 million minimum to build a quarter-mile drag strip,” said Waters, who has worked on Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Pikes Peak International Raceway, California Speedway and Iowa Speedway. “The engineering for something like that would be incredible.”

A typical National Hot Rod Association drag strip is three-quarters of a mile long: one-quarter mile for racing, and another half mile for cars to decelerate. A life-size Hot Wheels track replica, Waters said, might not have to be that long.

Waters thinks there’s plenty of room in the Speedway’s infield for the Hot Wheels project.

“If they’re going to do it this May, they need to get started soon,” he said.

Waters, who has done past work for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he’s not involved in this project.

“I’ve heard that the Speedway is working on something big with Mattel,” Waters said. “I heard it might involve some type of Hot Wheels-style track.”

Waters added that he did not hear about the project from IMS or IndyCar Series officials.

Sources familiar with the deal said Mattel is considering underwriting a good portion of the project for promotional considerations.

Mattel, which had sales near $6 billion in 2010, shouldn’t having difficulty financing the deal.

In January 2009, IndyCar Series officials signed a deal with Mattel’s Hot Wheels to roll out a line of replica open-wheel cars later that spring. Mattel has been a strong promotional partner the last two years, with in-store displays and sales efforts at most of the IndyCar Series tracks.

This year is an important one for Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand as the company tries to rejuvenate the line of toy cars and track sets that have been one of its biggest sellers since the line was launched in 1968.

Earlier this month, Mattel unveiled a planned overhaul of its 2011 Hot Wheels line, including new cars and a racetrack that can be assembled to climb a wall.

Mattel this year also will sell for the first time a car with an embedded video camera that will allow 12 minutes of video recording. The car can attach to bicycle helmets and skateboards, providing users the ability to film themselves doing their own, real-world stunts.

To engage younger children, Mattel is launching a Hot Wheels-themed version of its Fisher Price unit’s Trio build-it-yourself sets.

“Given what Mattel is trying to do with the Hot Wheels brand, and given the timing of the centennial, this makes a lot of sense for Mattel, the Speedway and the [IndyCar] Series,” said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy. “I think something like this would get tremendous attention from the media nationally.”

The Hot Wheels connection, Frost said, is a perfect match with the IndyCar Series’ efforts to attract younger fans. For the first time, fans as young as 9 years old will be allowed in the pit and garage areas during practices and qualifications.

It’s not clear if the cars on the Mattel track would be on rails, more like a roller coaster, or on a regular asphalt track. Sources said only that Mattel and IndyCar officials are committed to using “real” cars.

“That would be quite an engineering feat,” Waters said. “Running a real car upside down like that would be incredibly dangerous, but I guess that’s a big part of the allure. I’ve never seen anything like that done before.”

Motorcycles have done loops before.

“There’s a big difference between a motorcycle that weighs a few hundred pounds and a car that weighs 3,500 pounds,” Waters said. “The loop would clearly require the most thought.”•

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