The Right Person in the Right Job

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This will seem like shameless self-promotion, but I promise you it’s not. Just stay with me on this. This past Saturday, I was a guest on Steve Zautke’s radio show, The Final Inspection, on 105.7 FM The Fan in Milwaukee; to discuss how I think Roger Penske’s purchase of IMS and the NTT IndyCar Series will affect the series specifically.

In a nutshell, I told him that while everyone is focusing what his ownership will do for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 – I thought his impact will be most felt early on in the series. The series has more room for improvement and growth, than the Indianapolis 500. You can listen to second hour of the show here. My segment starts at the 18:20 mark. It came immediately after an interview with the legendary David Hobbs, which is a tough act to follow.

How is this not self-promotion? Well, I guess it is in a way, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about something that came up in the interview that got my attention and didn’t leave me with a great feeling.

As the thirteen-minute interview was winding down, I turned the tables and asked Steve a question – a question I had brought up in my post last Friday. It centered on the future of Doug Boles and where he fits in with Roger Penske’s plan. I regretted asking the question because I immediately sensed some uneasiness in Steve’s voice. After all…I was the guest. He’s the one to ask the questions, not me.

His response surprised me, but I appreciated his candor. He told how he had known Boles for over twenty years and was a big fan of his, but he knew there was a group of people out there that didn’t care for the way Doug Boles does things for a few reasons.

Quite honestly, this took me by surprise. I do not doubt what Steve Zautke said, because he is much more plugged-in than I am – but I was still surprised by what he said. I’ve often said that I follow social media in order to keep my finger on the pulse of what IndyCar fans are thinking. I’ve not seen a single negative thing written about Doug Boles. I have to wonder if these are fans or IndyCar insiders that are saying these things.

Some of the criticism he mentioned of Boles claimed that he was way too into self-promotion. I strongly disagree; not with Steve, but with those saying this. I want to stress that Steve Zautke is only the messenger here, and not the accuser. There’s no question that Boles likes to appear in videos and photos on social media, but he’s doing his job – promoting various events and happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Like it or not, this is the age of social media and I think Boles has grasped the concept on how to utilize this platform better than most.

The old way of doing things would be to have someone in the PR Department craft a carefully worded press release on any news-related item and send it out to the media. They in turn would put their own spin on things as they spread the news to their followers. Something would invariably get lost in translation. Unless a newspaper or online source ran a stock photo of the president of IMS, we would never even be able to put a face to top-executives of The Speedway.

Doug Boles is a savvy promoter (of IMS, not himself) and understands that if he wants to send a clear and specific message about anything going on at The Speedway – it’s best to let people hear it coming directly from his mouth. That way he can control the narrative and not rely on beat-writers and lowly bloggers to put their spin on things.

I enjoy following Boles on Twitter and Facebook. Whether it is a video of him sitting at his desk and addressing the camera, or him posting photos of tickets being sent out in large post-office bins – he is giving fans a direct link to the track and keeps us abreast of everything going on. His predecessor, Jeff Belskus, never utilized social media for anything. He preferred to quietly stay in the background. Consequently, we knew very little what was going on with the day-to-day operations at IMS. We never knew when tickets were being mailed out. They would just show up – hopefully.

Boles has given us more than a peek behind the curtain. He lets us see all kinds of things – some more interesting than others. When the old scoring pylon was replaced a few years ago, Boles provided photos of a look up into the innards of the old one, with all of the wires and cables intertwined throughout the surprisingly wooden frame. Some may could not have cared less about such a photo, but I found it fascinating.

His photos show us the IMS ticket office and gives credit to the otherwise nameless people that work there. He lets us see that it is a small, but dedicated group of folks that work tirelessly to get our race tickets to us every spring.

Does Doug Boles have an ego? Absolutely, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing for someone in that position. In fact, I think it’s almost a requirement in order to succeed in that position. Jeff Belskus was known to not have an ego, and I think he was very ineffective in that role.

Another criticism by some that Steve mentioned on the show was that they didn’t appreciate Lights at the Brickyard – the annual display of Christmas lights and decorations at IMS. He said they didn’t like “other stuff” like concerts there. My question is…why?

Once Tony George broke the seal and allowed more than one event per year at the famed track, by allowing NASCAR to run there beginning in 1994 – the uniqueness of the property was gone forever. IMS suddenly became a multi-purpose facility. The massive track encompasses roughly a thousand acres at the corner of 16th and Georgetown. There is a lot of upkeep and maintenance involved just to maintain status quo. Why not try and come up with new and different ways to (a) generate revenue and (b) keep IMS visible and relevant throughout the year?

I’ve been to Lights at the Brickyard for the past two years and have enjoyed it immensely. It combines my two favorite times of the year – the Christmas season and the Month of May. Based on the backed up lines of traffic I’ve seen there both times – I’m not alone. First of all, it’s surreal to be at the track at night. Then to be in your own car and be able to wind throughout the IMS road course, garage area and Gasoline Alley while observing literally millions of lights making up countless displays, is both enjoyable and impressive. But it’s worth the price of admission to be able to drive your own car down the main straightaway (in the proper oval direction) and cross the Yard of Bricks.

Doug Boles understands why this might appeal to fans, because he is a fan himself. And as I pointed out in the radio interview – what else are you going to do with all that acreage in December? It brings in revenue and it gives people another reason to go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Why anyone would be critical of this is beyond me. They either hate Christmas or they hate the idea of the property being utilized for anything else other than a race. If it’s the former, I don’t know what to tell you. If it’s the latter, that ship sailed a long time ago. It’s now time to be creative and come up with other ways to make money off of that property year-round.

As for concerts, race tracks have been hosting concerts for decades. And it wasn’t Doug Boles who introduced concerts to IMS, it was Tony George and/or Joie Chitwood – and that’s assuming that Carb Day concerts were the first concerts to be held there. Boles has just capitalized on the idea by expanding to Legends Day concerts and hosting The Rolling Stones in 2015. Unlike Carb Day, which historically involves has-been acts from the seventies and eighties – Boles has grown Legends Day to include A-List Country Music acts like Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton or next year’s act – Luke Bryan.

Boles also had a dirt track built inside Turn Three and has hosted the BC39, a race memorializing the late Bryan Clauson. It has quickly become a premier USAC event that is run in conjunction with the Brickyard 400.

I’m all about tradition and am averse to change. But I’ve also understood that it takes money and revenue to maintain IMS. Boles has been creative in selling signage for Sunoco and then Speedway, in pit lane as well as the side of the Turn One grandstands. I don’t necessarily like it, but I understand it and if it keeps IMS going – then I’m all for it. It’s today’s sports-world reality.

Doug Boles is not stodgy. He is one of us. Above everything else, he is a race fan. He grew up with the Indianapolis 500 as many of us did. He understands how it is in the blood of so many of us, because it’s in his blood also. He lives and breathes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and every move he has made has been with preserving The Speedway in mind.

In my mind, Boles has done a phenomenal job and I think Roger Penske would be making a serious mistake if he did not retain him. I don’t know why his name has not been mentioned when the names of Mark Miles and Jay Fyre have; but no one seems to be talking abut him and that worries me. Even this past Monday, Robin Miller posted an interview with Miles on Racer.com. The interview addressed the future of Mark Miles and Jay Frye, but there was not one mention of Doug Boles. Not only do I find this curious, it sends up a giant red flag. It’s as if those in the media know something is up, but they are completely avoiding the subject.

Boles has been in this position since 2013. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Indianapolis 500 has seen tremendous growth since then. He works tirelessly promoting the Indianapolis 500 and creating new ways to generate income for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Times in sports are way different now than they were twenty years ago, when faceless executives sat in their ivory towers and told the fans only what they wanted them to know. They almost seemed to hold fans in contempt. Doug Boles is the prototype for a sports executive in 2019. He loves the fans and understands what they want, while also keeping his eye on the bottom line. He connects with fans directly through social media, as well as mingling with them at the track. He lets them see behind the scenes like never before. He is extremely popular with fans and Roger Penske needs to assure all of us that Boles will be in that position for years to come.

But what’s the best thing I can say about Doug Boles? He doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s the highest compliment I can give to someone in such an important position.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “The Right Person in the Right Job”

  1. My impression is that Penske wants to use the track for even more events. I’m expecting F1, hotels, gambling and “Indyland.” This statement not based on factual information.

    Boles does a good job. Didn’t Speedway replace Sunoco?

  2. I have to call any criticism against Mr. Boles rubbish. I’ve talked to him at the track many times and every single time he made me feel like the most important fan at the track and that he was genuinely interested in talking with me, he makes every fan feel that way. He is not a self-promoter, everything he does is to promote the track, the race, and the series and it’s damn fun riding along with him on social media.

    10-15 years ago IMS was kind of a forgotten relic in this city but now it’s our pride and joy, that’s mostly due to Mr. Boles in my opinion. He is one of the best parts of IMS and they would be foolish to not retain him. I believe I did see Mr. Penske say in one of the interviews that he plans to keep the management staff, including Doug, intact so hopefully he will be around for a long time.

    I, for one, love all of the events at IMS and attend all of them except NASCAR. But as a resident I’m biased because more events just means I get to spend more time at my favorite place in the world.

    Regarding the Christmas Lights, they’ve expanded it this year and added an area behind the Pagoda where you can get out and take pictures, and if you pay extra for the Speedy Pass you get to go to the 8th floor of the Pagoda and see the lights and skyline from there. Also, the year end sale is next weekend, get there early!

    • James T Suel Says:

      I do not think Penske will remove Doug Boles from his job. I think he has done the job perfectly. Penske wants to use the speedway for more than races.

  3. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…hopefully you are being paranoid and Doug’s job is safe…we shall see.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Perhaps Boles is a bit of a camera hound, but I fail to see why that is worth any genuine irritation or derision, much less anything more than a mild chuckle. He was the only specific non-driver to have one of those Lego-compatible Oyo minifigures made of him (they also made a generic IMS Yellowshirt), which I found amusing rather than some sign of an inflated and damaging ego.

    Racing history is full of hucksters and hype men, many of which have done great things for the sport even while being boisterous and over-the-top. I’d count Boles among them, and he is far from the most ridiculous.

    • Maybe a slight camera hound, but to his credit something related to IMS/IndyCar/Motorsports is almost always the center of attention in his photos, or at least very visible in the background. In my impression, anyway, very few of the photos he posts are intended to be about himself, but rather to highlight someone or something important to Indy/IMS/IndyCar.

  5. Matthew Lawrenson Says:

    DougWatching on Twitter is one of my favourite May traditions. It simply wouldn’t be the same without pics of Doug Boles smiling and going thumbs-up while doing something unlikely. Even Penske’s enormous cash-pile can’t buy that kind of publicity #KeepSuperDoug

  6. I have always thought Doug to be a breath of fresh air within IndyCar. I am glad he is out and about at the Speedway. Not everyone within the company seems as fan friendly.

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