IMS eyes bigger crowds, better weather for Brickyard 400 race

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Executives at Indianapolis Motor Speedway say they are optimistic better weather and an expanded programming slate will give this year’s Brickyard 400 a much bigger crowd than it’s had in recent years.

The race—officially called the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard powered by Florida Georgia Line—is slated for Sunday at 3 p.m., and will serve as the last race of NASCAR’s regular season.

The Brickyard has had dismal attendance for the past two years, but track officials said they’re hopeful for a turnaround.

In 2017, attendance was estimated at about 35,000, while last year’s rain-delayed Monday edition brought in about 20,000 fans for the 25th running of the race. It’s a far cry from the early days of the race, when crowds regularly were estimated at more than 200,000.

“If we can have a 2019 Brickyard 400 with attendance that is better than it was in 2017, throughout the weekend, I think that’s something that definitely will be a positive for us,” said Doug Boles, president of IMS. “We think we’ll have a much stronger crowd this time around.”

While Boles declined to share exact figures, he said tickets are “selling well,” and that pre-race sales are up over those for both the 2017 and 2018 races to this point. This includes individual and bulk ticket sales.

Last year, NASCAR opted to shift the race to early September—making it the last race of the season—after holding it in late July or early August since it began in 1994.

Efforts by IMS to boost the race’s profile, and attendance, last year fell apart when rain upended the entire weekend. Among the events that never came to fruition were the FGL Fest, a music concert featuring artists curated by country pop band Florida Georgia Line, along with dirt track races.

With no rain in the extended forecast this year, those and other events are expected to go off without a hitch, Boles said. This year’s FGL Fest, scheduled for Saturday, will feature Dan + Shay, Nelly, Mitchell Tenpenny, Florida Georgia Line and others.

Other events on the docket include:

— Driven2SaveLives BC39 dirt track events on Wednesday and Thursday;

— race practice and the NASCAR Hauler Parade on Friday;

— autograph sessions, the Indiana 250 race, Xfinity Series qualifications, Cup Series practice on Saturday;

— and Cup Series qualifications and the Brickyard 400 on Sunday.

There are also several community events and activities surrounding the race. Downtown streets are still renamed for NASCAR drivers. Hundreds of pieces of signage are on display throughout Indianapolis—including at the airport—advertising the race and related events.

“This event is the second-largest annual sporting event in Indianapolis,” said Allison Melangton, vice president of events for IMS. “We really want to change the dialogue so people remember what a big event it is—whether they buy a ticket or not.”

But any excitement from this weekend’s events could be tempered by another upcoming shift in the calendar, which will see the Brickyard 400 move to Independence Day weekend starting next year.

“Transparently, when NASCAR called and asked us [about  the move], we all were a little concerned,” Boles said. “But the more we thought about it, and when we mapped out the pros and cons, there’s an awful lot of pros that we think can help us. We’re great at celebrating holiday weekends.”

Boles said he believes the new lineup of events will translate well to the July slot, and that the move will allow IMS to showcase itself and motorsports in a way it hasn’t had the opportunity to in the past.

“A lot of the things that we’re doing for September this year are things that we’ll just build upon in July,” he said.

Both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 will also fall on or near two patriotic holidays, giving IMS an additional opportunity to connect with race fans and honor the military, Boles said.

“To be able to bookend over six weeks the two biggest American weekends of the year, we think fits really well with our brand,” he said.

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