As legacy racing fans continue to patiently (or IMpatiently) wait for a too-short season to begin a major source of comfort is that spring is showing signs of re-appearing. Thoughts naturally turn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the way it continues to evolve. Thus far the tenure of Doug Boles as President has been good. He knows what Indy means and has some business chops to boot.
When objectively evaluating the past twenty years you start first with the personalities. Tony George was family and rarely allowed any lack of funding to derail overarching projects. The Pagoda stands as his crowning achievement. The old glass, concrete and metal control tower that went up in ’57 became iconic but always seemed out of step with history. It reminded many of cookie cutter, circular baseball stadiums that went up in the 60s and 70s. They are all gone now too, and few miss either the master control tower or the donut-like baseball stadiums. The IMS Pagoda tipped its hat to history and successfully managed to marry nostalgia with ultra-modern appeal and functionality. Other iconic spots at the facility, however, vanished. Take the inside of turn one, for example. IMS has turned it into a Barbie vagina. Well, trailer park Barbie vagina. The unkept, patchwork randomly thatched non-track area looked horrible from E-Stand and on camera all of last year. ‘Barbie vagina!?’ one might ask. Yes. It is by far the best analogy. At one point turn one had character and natural beauty. There were trees. There was terrain. There was a meandering stream that crossed the inside of the turn before going back outside the track. It even smelled bad over there once the end of the race rolled around; the result of being filled up with some of the most vile forms of alcohol tinged human and animal excretions possible.
Now and for the past few years the ‘snake pit’ has become a controlled, commercialized promotion on the opposite end of the track. The creek in turn one is still there but it now runs through a pipe buried underground. Where there was once character and charm there is now a flat expanse of sterile nothingness. Just like a Barbie vagina.
Once Tony vanished and Jeff Belskus took over the goal seemed to be not spending any money on anything short of preventing selected structures from collapsing, and even then some structures seemed expendable such as historic structures on the grounds with sagging roofs and peeling paint. When Tony demolished the old motel while mums was away it was probably something that needed to be done but an asphalt parking lot as a replacement has zero character or appeal. About the only time grass got mowed was right before track events. Under Belskus the facility as a whole started to become an eyesore.
Now we have Doug Boles, who understands the need to properly maintain the facility and understands the limitations of finite budgets. While the elder Anton’s coffin probably now resembles a rotisserie spit as a result of his potentially frequent grave turning IMS has followed other institutions in supplementing their own funding with taxpayer dollars. Unlike some my problem is not necessarily that the IMS hand is out, but rather what gets done with the money once it arrives. Add the appearance that most future revenue generation will be centered around continuously raised prices for everything every year. Wonder how long that will be sustainable given their location and clientele?
The single most visible sign of Boles’ deeper understanding involved the replacement of the scoring pylon along the straightaway. IMS managed to retain the historic legacy visual AND bring the functionality into the current century. The jury is out on what will replace missing video monitors.
The next big challenge for Boles and crew should be making the attendance experience relevant to an audience of today. What about grandstands? The smart move long term is to avoid taking any cheap way out. The world has enough steep, uncovered aluminum grandstands as it is. Check Daytona’s new Mt. Everest grandstands for proof. Obviously some grandstands at IMS will have to be replaced. Others, like the Vistas, will continue to retain their 70s-era ‘charm’ until they are replaced and/or people stop buying tickets in them. Many of the oldest stands line the main straight all the way to E Stand in turn one. The smartest advice anyone can give or heed is to take a ‘pagoda’ approach instead of a ‘Barbie vagina’ approach.
As crumbling grandstands are replaced IMS must check its collective conscience. Go retro in terms of look but make it modern. Use most new baseball stadiums as inspiration. Retrieve historic pictures of IMS stands. Above all the nuances that make Indy special; e.g., the tunnel effect into turn one, must be preserved. That means double decker, covered stands. Only this time do it right. Wider seating. Rows twice as far apart. Concessions and restrooms plentiful on both levels. Deck access that does not require vertical climbing on the outside of a stand. The look and feel of the 105-year-old IMS can easily be maintained with the right creative architecture, and that should always be top of mind with Doug Boles and crew. Well engineered brick and/or wood-look composite materials can have dramatic effects as the legendary facility crawls into the current century.
It is all about fan experience these days. Replacing fans is important and it involves far more than cars on the track. It is time for a series of pagoda-like home runs. Are you up for it Doug?