FOR THE DAILY JOURNAL
About an hour before the 2013 Indianapolis 500, Doug Boles wanted to wish his stepson, Conor Daly, who was making his first Indy 500 start, good luck.
But soon after, Boles’ attention was pulled in a different direction.
At about 11:20 a.m. that day, he received a call from Pagoda Command. Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials were watching several TV monitors which showed long lines of people waiting to get inside. The speedway began checking coolers that year in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing the previous month.
Boles, who was then the Chief Operating Officer and is now the president of IMS, spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to keep the long lines from happening again.
“I started to worry because it’s 11:20, and the most magical 30 minutes of the year are those 30 minutes before the command, ‘Start your engines,’” Boles said. “All I’m thinking about is, ‘Yeah, we might get them in to see the race, but they’re going to miss the most important part.’ All of us expect to stand in line a little bit, but 30 minutes, 45 minutes and an hour-and-a-half in some cases is absolutely way too long.”
Friday, Boles was in Columbus to give a town hall-style talk. He spoke for about 35 minutes, then took questions for about another 45 minutes. About 40 fans attended the event at The Commons.
One of the major topics Boles discussed was the renovation of the speedway’s grandstands and other preparations for the 100th running of the Indy 500, which is scheduled for May 29, 2016. He wants to celebrate the event’s history because that’s what makes it special and wants to encourage everyone to remember that the 100th is a big deal, but the 101st running the following year will be just as big a deal.
“So what we have to do is make sure people don’t view the 100th as an ending point, but as a point in which we reflect and celebrate and at the same time, look forward to what the next 100 years of the Indianapolis 500 is going to be about,” Boles said.
IMS also hosts NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 in late July. The 2016 Brickyard likely will be the last one for Columbus native Tony Stewart, who has announced his retirement from the Sprint Cup circuit following next season.
“Tony Stewart is the poster child for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Boles said. “We love Jeff Gordon, and he has that Indiana connection and spent time here, but Tony ran the 500 here, he grew up racing all over the Midwest, he loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Anytime we have an opportunity to bring him out, we love doing that.”
Boles said IMS will honor Stewart at next year’s race.
“He is a really special person for not just the speedway, but the entire state,” Boles said. “He’s one of those few that didn’t allow himself to go to Charlotte and never come back. It’s neat to have him as sort of an ambassador for our state.”
Following the question-and-answer session, Boles gave away a few tickets to next year’s Indy 500 and a couple of green folding chairs from the speedway’s upper deck.
One of those chairs went to Jim Porter.
Porter, 76, has missed only three Indy 500s since first attending the race in 1953. But the 2016 event may be his last.
“It’s very difficult for me because it’s a long walk for me from where we park,” Porter said. “We’ll see when it comes time to sign up for next year’s tickets.”
Boles is in his first year of doing town hall-style talks around the state. He visited Terre Haute, Evansville, Kokomo, Crawfordsville, Anderson and Fort Wayne before coming to Columbus.
“Columbus obviously has a racing heritage, with Cummins being here and their successes at the speedway and Tony Stewart being from here,” Boles said. “This is just a strong racing market of Hoosiers that understand the importance of it.”