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For the first time in more than a half century Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are taking their show on the road.
Speedway President Doug Boles this month launched a statewide tour of Indiana, visiting venues ranging from coffee shops to the 11,000-seat Ford Center in Evansville. He’s talking up offerings at the Brickyard and answering questions from prospective and current racing fans.
The first two statewide stops were in Terre Haute, the home of the Hulman family that owns the IMS, and Kokomo. On Tuesday, Boles traveled to Evansville, where he addressed a crowd of about 200, which rivaled the size of the gathering in Terre Haute.
Boles plans to visit at least seven more cities before this year’s Indianapolis 500 on May 24. He’ll resume his barnstorming circuit after racing activities at the track end for the year in the late summer.
“I want to visit 10 cities this spring and then go to a whole bunch in the fall,” Boles said. “We’ll continue these statewide visits leading up to the 100th Indianapolis 500 [held in May, 2016]. As we build this initiative, it’s something that will definitely become bigger.”
In central Indiana, Boles this month has spoken to the Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce, the downtown Indianapolis Kiwanis, a gathering to honor IUPUI’s top 100 students and a meeting of attorneys involved in the motorsports industry at The Conrad Indianapolis hotel.
Boles isn’t hitting the road empty handed. He’s touring the state with a fistful of free Indy 500 practice tickets and autographed racing memorabilia to liven up the meetings.
The idea for a statewide tour took life last fall at an Indianapolis Colts game where Boles had a conversation with Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.
“We started discussing this, and he really encouraged me to do it,” Boles explained.
Boles said he’s taking a page from the marketing manual authored by Tony Hulman, who bought the IMS in 1945 and spent the next few years touring the state extolling the virtues of the IMS and its events.
“This is the original social media, and no one did better than Tony Hulman,” Boles said. “We’re trying to revive some of that. Instead of forcing people to come to us, we’re going to them.”
So what is Boles’ message?
“I want to remind people this isn’t just an Indianapolis attraction, this facility is the jewel of the entire state of Indiana,” he said. “We want to highlight each community’s connection to [the Indianapolis Motor Speedway] and the events we hold there.”
Boles said he’s spoken to groups ranging from about 75 to more than 200 people. The meetings are open to the public. IMS officials email notice of the gathering to people in the area who have previously bought tickets to one of their events.
Boles said a big crowd isn’t essential to consider the tour a success.
“If we meet with just five people, it would be a success. The best way to engage fans is one-on-one,” he said. “I just want to sit down with people and have an honest conversation, to say ‘hello and thanks,’ and to really connect with our fan base.”
On tour stops, Boles said he’s explained to people that while the IMS is trying to grow and diversify, Speedway officials are still intent on protecting the track’s traditions.
Fans at the meetings have bombarded Boles with questions on numerous subjects ranging from installing lights at the track, bringing back Formula One, the future of Indy 500 qualifications and radio and Internet coverage of track events.
“I’ve gotten really good feedback,” Boles said. “It’s been real educational for me. And I’ve gotten to let our fans know some things about our venue and events that they might not have known.”
The Speedway isn’t the first local sports business to take its marketing efforts on a statewide walkabout.
The Indianapolis Colts began doing statewide appearances more than a decade ago under then marketing boss Ray Compton.
After the Colts won the Super Bowl in 2007, the team took the fabled Lombardi Trophy on a massive statewide tour that included appearances by cheerleaders, mascots, players and other team officials. That tour—which often included a fan fun zone—hit Indiana cities and towns large and small from Angola to Evansville.