This week, I was honored to catch up with the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, J. Douglas Boles, as we were heading into May, his busiest month of the year. With the Angie’s List Grand Prix finishing up and the first days of Indy Car practice already underway, we sat down to discuss the wide variety of IMS events that will take place in the upcoming year, culminating in the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 in May 2016.
Boles grew up in Danville, Indiana with racing in his blood. His father, Hendricks County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Boles, moonlighted as a member of the Indy 500’s observer staff since the 1960s and sat with a young Doug as he made toy 500 qualifiers at the family’s kitchen table. After seeing A.J. Foyt’s fourth 500 victory at the age of ten, Boles was hooked, and determined to make racing a part of his life forever.
Boles has worn a remarkable number of hats over the years, but through it all his various careers have always led him back to the track. From lawyer to government official, Indy Car team owner to head of corporate affairs for former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, Boles has been consistently involved with initiatives both public and private that have helped to grow Indy’s motor sports cottage industry into a major attraction. Even in 2007, when he had sold his ownership stake in Panther Racing and contemplated getting out of the racing game altogether, he fell into a gig working with racing sponsors that led him to a new job in 2010 as head of communications for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2013, he was named president, the same year he got to watch his stepson, Conor Daly, compete in the 500 as a rookie. Boles’ father was in the flagstand. The family’s love of racing had come full oval.
Boles is an amazing speaker and, for most of our time together, I was happy just to listen to him tell me stories about the motor speedway. From his own family traditions to the crackling energy at the track in that fifteen minutes just before the flag drops, it was a joy to hear about his memories of victory lane. One of Boles’s most cherished traditions each year is the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” In the moment that the song plays over the PA, he told me, everyone watching is a true Hoosier. Those 300,000 fans in the venue are standing in solidarity with everyone watching at home or listening their backyards. The energy of that moment of collective attention is just something that you can’t replace.
When it comes to the 100th running of the greatest spectacle in racing, there is no one better than Boles to decide what this event should look like. According to Boles, he wants to honor many of the great racing families like Unser, Andretti, and Foyt whose legacies have stretched the influence of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway across the United States and around the world like they did during the centennial era from 2009 to 2011, focusing on some history. In 2016, it is about history, but it is also about trying to intertwine that with the future, and the investments. The difference is more messaging-related. What does it look like over next 100 years? It’s a balancing act. Tradition sets us apart, but people look for more beyond 2016. But this event, he said, should also pay tribute to the young drivers and their teams who will carry that legacy forward and attract new fans for the future.
If you missed the segment on IN the Loop about my chat with Doug Boles check out the video below. And don’t forget to watch me, Erica, every Sunday night at 11:30 on WISH-TV 8. Keeping you IN the Loop of everything that is Indianapolis.