INDIANAPOLIS – Thursday morning was all about the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. But first, you need a ticket to get into the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. During a ceremony at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday, Mark Miles (President and Chief Executive Officer Hulman & Company) Doug Boles (President Indianapolis Motor Speedway) Takuma Sato (101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 Champion) and Eric Holcomb (Governor of Indiana) showed off the shiny new ticket for the 102nd annual event.
The ticket for this year’s race, like many years presiding it, will feature the Indy 500 winner. It’s part of an annual Indy 500 tradition for that to happen that way. The milk, the wreath, the likeness on the Borg Warner Trophy and your picture on the next year’s ticket are all part of the post race traditions for the races’ winner that started 70 years ago.
Boles, said the tradition of doing so started in 1948 and has been that way every year with the exception of a few since.
If you want one of these tickets though, it’s getting time to move swiftly. Boles told me that ticket sales for this May’s race is well above the pace from the last few years and is tracking to beat last year’s total of 300,000 spectators.
“Our renewal period was almost 2-percent up, which is great,” Boles told me on Thursday morning. “Typically, what happens with our renewal period is, if we’re up or down, it stays pretty consistent even with the rest of the time now. We’re noticing day over day over day over day we’re significantly better than ’17 and way better than ’14 and ’15. I feel like it can be even better than that.”
Last year, Boles told me that his biggest challenge after the historic 100th Running was to keep as much of that crowd coming back as possible. They knew the numbers in 2016 would spike because of the number 100, but how many of those new fans can they keep for 2017? So, for 2017 comps, they compared them to 2015. If they could outnumber 2015 in 2017, then why not outnumber the 2017 number for 2018?
What Boles said on Thursday is, that they’re way ahead of 2014, 2015 and 2017 already and there’s still 94 days until the big race. He also said that he’s not worried about getting over that 300k mark for this year.
Danica Patrick Impact
The other big thing left to sell tickets is Danica Patrick. She announced at Homestead back last November that she would be running two more races, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Well, last week, Patrick revealed who she’d be racing for at Indy and that’s Ed Carpenter Racing. But, the official announcement hasn’t really taken place yet. Will there be another bump when it does?
Boles expects there to be a “noticeable” one whenever that occurs.
“When she (Danica Patrick) announced the Danica Double, we noticed a little bit of it even then,” Boles said on the impact Danica will have on ticket sales. “Then, talking with her team down in Daytona, just trying to figure out a way of how to help promote her and at the same time try to sell some tickets, I think as we continue to go we will see a Danica bump. I don’t know how big it will be but it certainly will be noticeable.”
When she does embark on 16th and Georgetown in just over two months time, what kind of reception will she get from IMS? In the NASCAR world, it’s been customary as of late for tracks to send off retiring drivers with gifts. IMS did so each with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. With Danica not really getting a farewell tour like those drivers did, will she get some kind of recognition and/or gifts in May?
“We haven’t decided exactly what but we will do something,” Boles said on that topic. “We haven’t decided on a gift on what we will do, but absolutely. The fact that it’s her last race on our turf, on the turf where she led the Indy 500, we definitely will do something. I don’t know exactly what or when, but our team will figure that out.
Is This The Most Important Indy 500 For The Series’ Growth?
This year’s ‘500 may not just be big for the track, but it could be huge for the Verizon IndyCar Series as a whole. The entitlement sponsor as well as the TV deals are up at seasons end. That’s why the ‘500 is even more magnified this year compared to years past. You know Mr. Miles and company are dangling that Indy 500 carrot in front of sponsors and TV execs eyes. With the racing growing again in popularity year over year, does that make the 2018 edition even bigger as it could shape the future of this series?
“I haven’t ever thought of it that way,” Boles told me. “I’ve always thought it’s as important every year because of those reasons. I haven’t thought of it because of TV and title sponsor and all those other pieces. We’ve really kept our head down and said we have to continue to grow this event because it is our flagship. We want to make sure it’s successful. But, now that you’ve said it, now there’s a little more pressure because of that.
INDYCAR Grand Prix Future
While all this talk of the Indy 500 is being discussed, we can’t forget about the INDYCAR Grand Prix either. The race was started in 2014 and this year will be the fifth running.
The race has been debated since its inception on if it should stay in May or move towards the end of the schedule. Also, what about a title sponsor? It was Angie’s List but their contract ended and last year it was known as the INDYCAR Grand Prix again.
Where does a new sponsor stand and would the race ever move?
“I think eventually we will get there,” Boles said of a title sponsor. “We thought we had one for this year but it ended up just not working. We will just keep getting on it.
“To me, with or without it, it’s a great way to kick off the month, otherwise we’re just doing a practice day. For me, to have everyone come in a compete and get the national ABC coverage is great. Those things are all big for us.
“We talk about every year the whole schedule. Obviously the ‘500 is set. We talk about the whole schedule and where everything is and right now there’s not a better spot. A lot of people say to move the race to Labor Day weekend, well I guess you could but Labor Day is US Nationals and the US Nationals have been here so long it’s part of this community. We want to be community partners so for us that weekend doesn’t work. We’re pretty happy where it is right now. The biggest challenge is that it falls on Mothers Day weekend. That makes it a short weekend. If it was any other traditional weekend we’d probably race on Sunday and that helps a little bit. It actually gives you more track time in some ways that you may be able to add sports cars or something else. But that would be difficult to do in the way that it is now and we believe you can’t race on Mothers Day. “