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Indy 500 is ‘great for our economy,’ IMS president says ahead of Sunday’s race

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Douglas Boles joins Yahoo Finance Live to talk about the estimated attendance figures for the Indy 500 race, the economic impact and fan engagement of professional racing, the motorsport industry, and competing with Formula 1.

Video transcript

- Well, drivers, start your engines. Race fans, crush your couch. More than 12 hours of racing between green and checkered flags on Sunday. It starts with the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, finishes with NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600. But in the middle, one of the great traditions in American sports, the Indy 500. With what to expect, we're joined by the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Doug Boles.

Doug, good to see you, my friend. So given where this race was two years ago, fanless for the first time in more than a century, what does this weekend mean, and how many fans are you expecting?

DOUGLAS BOLES: Well, it means an awful lot to our fans who come year after year after year. 325,000 or more people expected here on Sunday. It'll be the largest crowd we've had in the Indy 500 in the last 25 years, with the exception of our 100th running in 2016. It means a whole bunch to us to have this come back, to have all these people come back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's great for our economy. It's great for the teams who rely on the Indy 500 to be successful. And we love being right in the middle of Monaco and Charlotte. It is a big day in racing on this Sunday, and we love to be a part of it.

- Feels like a huge reopening milestone. Are there any COVID concerns remaining?

DOUGLAS BOLES: Well, obviously, there are COVID concerns, as we all are watching numbers. But right now there are no restrictions. We're an outside event. We've known that all along. That's in our favor. We're just asking people just to be really careful. No restrictions. And we're looking forward to having a full crowd here. We had nobody in 2020. And then last year in 2021, we had 40% capacity with some spacing and some masks. So to have those smiling faces of people coming back to the Indy 500 in full capacity, we're really excited.

- Indeed. And you've got a great field that includes seven-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson. He'll compete for the first time. Hélio Castroneves goes for a record fifth Indy Title. One of them's 46, one of them's 47. An old guy like myself loves that. You've got to admit, Doug, you're rooting for one or the other to win.

DOUGLAS BOLES: Well, as a 55-year-old myself, I certainly am rooting for the old guys. I'm just really excited we've got Jimmie Johnson coming. He's won here four times in the Brickyard 400 at NASCAR in the oval. But being a rookie here in the Indy 500 is crazy.

And then Hélio Castroneves, yeah, this will be his 22nd start in the Indianapolis 500. He's won it four times. He'd be a huge favorite if he were able to pick up a win. And you're looking at Tony Kanaan right there. Tony Kanaan won in 2013. Rinus VeeKay right there-- one of our young kids, our superstar, that we're really excited about. Colton Herta just got upside down in practice today, but another young kid. If he wins, he'll be the youngest driver in history to win the Indianapolis 500. So a lot of great storylines.

- And I mentioned the day in racing, and it starts with the Monaco Grand Prix. And Formula 1 is on fire-- record ratings, record attendance here in the United States. Can F1 be a threat to Indy's place, or does the rising tide lift all boats?

DOUGLAS BOLES: You know, I've always been a believer that the rising tide lifts all boats. Romain Grosjean, who ran F1 forever, is a rookie at the Indianapolis 500 this year. Juan Montoya, who's won the Indy 500 twice, was in F1 and is now back in Indy car. We talked to the folks at Liberty Media quite a bit. We hope that they're successful. I love NASCAR. I have a NASCAR race here myself. So we want them to be successful.

So for us, we're trying to work together. The motorsport industry is as healthy as it's ever been. We want to lead that, obviously. But we want to make sure everybody else is successful as well.

- Interesting. So the thing we hear from everyone regarding their interest in F1-- I've got to be honest-- it's not as much about the racing. It's about the celebs, it's about that Netflix series, and it's about the scene surrounding the races. How do you compete with that? And what is Indy's competitive advantage over Formula 1?

DOUGLAS BOLES: Well, for sure, the Netflix series "Drive to Survive" has been big for Formula 1. So you've captured a lot of people that aren't necessarily Formula 1 fans. I can tell you, the thing that Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 does better than anyone-- it's 325,000 people in a small 275-acre area. We are the second-largest city in the state of Indiana just inside this racetrack on race day. And the activity that goes on here, the pomp and circumstance, from the guys that want to take their shirt off and hang in the mud to the guys that want the super-highest level of hospitality, that all takes place here in the Indy 500 and has for 105 previous runnings. And we'll do it for the 106th time on Sunday.

- All right. I've got to get there, go shirt off in the mud next year. I have still never been, Doug. What has the Captain, Roger Penske, the winningest owner in the sport, done to revitalize the race, and really the Speedway itself?

DOUGLAS BOLES: Well, we have been really, really fortunate. Roger Penske was announced-- he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November of 2019. The deal closed in January of 2020. And just a few weeks later, we were dealing with a global pandemic. Instead of just kind of putting everything aside and giving up, what Roger Penske did, he said, let's invest in this facility while we don't have people here, so when they come back, they realize we are investing in the customer experience. So we've spent the last two years really putting about $35 to $40 million in the facility to make it better. And our fans are noticing. When they come back in, this place that's 113 years old looks like it's brand-new.

And that's really what we've gotten with Roger Penske-- an unbelievable leader who's made an investment for the long run, is great for motorsport, and is really driving us as well through into new things. You were talking about electric vehicles earlier. We're in the sustainability space, we're in the diversity space, and a lot of spaces that nobody would expect us to lead in. And that's all because of Roger Penske.

- We saw a huge economic impact for the city of Miami when that F1 race was there. What type of economic impact do you see there in Indianapolis?

DOUGLAS BOLES: I think over the course of the full season here in the state of Indiana, we drive about a billion dollars in economic impact. And that's through the teams that are located here, the jobs that are created here. The Indy 500 alone is somewhere between 350 and 400 million of that. So if you think about that, that's like having a couple Super Bowls every year here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So it's a huge economic driver for the state of Indiana. In fact, our governor has businesses from all over the world that are here this weekend as we try and attract more businesses to the state of Indiana. And this is the platform to bring them in, to show them why Indiana is a great place to do business.

- Doug, have you thought about alternative uses for the Brickyard-- having football games there? We've seen a lot of that in stadiums across the country and iconic sports venues like Indy.

DOUGLAS BOLES: We had the Rolling Stones concert here, which is sort of unique for our venue. The problem with our venue is we are just so big-- we're a mile long by a half a mile wide-- even if you put a football game on, only a portion of the racetrack could you see it. We'd love to have maybe an NHL Winter Classic or something like that in the future, something that that's iconic here.

But it's really hard, as big as we are, to do things like that. So concerts work really well for us. Festivals work really well for us. But bringing a football game in here, it would be hard. You could put 15 Lucas Oil Stadiums, the entire stadium where the Colts play-- you could put 15 of them inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's how big we are.

- That's remarkable. Doug, I'll see you next year. I'm coming. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president. I appreciate you coming on, sir. Thanks.

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