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INDIANAPOLIS – Doug Boles has been president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for less than a year, yet has overseen some of the biggest changes in the iconic track's history.
Saturday will see the first IndyCar race not named the Indianapolis 500 at the track when the Grand Prix of Indianapolis runs a 14-turn road course in the infield.
Boles took time from his busy schedule to talk to The News-Sentinel about many topics:
News-Sentinel: Financially, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis has seen an investment for this event to be long term. Is the current plan to run this even multiple years, or is there a wait-and-see approach?
Boles: We want to host one and see what happens. I think all of us see this as something that is a great foundation that we can continue to build on. We would like to see it continue as a way to kick off the month of May, and all indications are we are going to have a good crowd here (Saturday). If our fans enjoy it and feel like they want to come back, it is something we would continue to host.
Our central Indiana fans in particular who don't see IndyCar racing (live) except at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have never seen the IndyCars in person doing what they do half the season (on temporary street circuits or road courses).
So this is an opportunity for them to see the product that we export to other communities inside and outside the country. Assuming it goes the way we think it will, yeah, we will keep it going.
News-Sentinel: Project 100 is the capital improvement initiative for IMS that includes the road course. Any other additions on the horizon leading up to the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016?
Boles: We hoped to have a new (scoring) pylon up for (May), but we are going to postpone that because technology is changing so quickly that we have an opportunity where if we wait a couple months we can get the next level of technology. So we felt like that was the wisest thing to do. We will roll that out either later this summer or for next year.
We will also have new video boards throughout the track coming in probably by 2015.
News-Sentinel: What are the chances of adding permanent lights to the oval?
Boles: It is a more likely "no" than "yes." The issue is the investment for the lights is so significant. We are talking to a handful of companies that believe there is an opportunity to use that as a promotional opportunity for them, but the expense is so high and you start looking at that and how long, even if you sold the place out again for the Brickyard 400, the payoff is not for a long time. So the question is, is it worth the investment? We are still continuing to look at that. I would say it is not as likely as it once was.
News-Sentinel: Any other changes to the track we can expect?
Boles: One of the things we have talked about doing is investing in our aprons again, the asphalt below the yellow and white lines on the track. It used to be there until the early 1990s and we took it out then. We are thinking about putting that back, especially for the NASCAR cars because it gives them more asphalt so therefore they can reduce some the aero push problems they have. We were hoping to do that this year, but since the winter was so hard, we were so far behind completing the road course that are going to postpone that project until the end of the season, so it will not be ready until 2015.
News-Sentinel: Will the aprons be for the IndyCars as well?
Boles: We have not yet sat down with (IndyCar President of Operations and Competition) Derrick Walker and the IndyCar guys and asked if they are going to allow people to run them or police it and have them run the line … that's a question to be dealt with in the offseason.
News-Sentinel: What are the challenges with having upwards of 250,000 seats in the facility? Especially for events that will not or have not sold out like the Grand Prix and the Brickyard 400?
Boles: The struggle for us is … when you don't fill it people think you have failed. We were careful last October when we announced (the Grand Prix) to say a success for us is 40,000 people. I feel very confident we will have that on race day.
News-Sentinel: So many tracks, including Daytona, are taking out seats … has IMS ever considered it?
Boles: Our issue with taking out seats is that the Indianapolis 500 is close to using every single one of them. So if we took out seats it would impact the Indianapolis 500. So we don't have the luxury that some of the tracks have had to say, "OK, we're only selling 60 percent of what we used to sell so let's take out some seats and it will make it feel full again."
So for us … we are committed, and NASCAR has been great with us, in getting the Brickyard 400 back to numbers that we are all excited about. We still are very high up in terms of attendance for a NASCAR race.
Most tracks would love to have our problem in terms of the number of people that we get through the gates.