Is Legends Day on the Chopping Block?

The devil is in the details. An e-mail came across on Wednesday morning announcing that Dierks Bentley was the main musical act for Legends Day. I saw the subject line, maybe read a couple of sentences and thought “OK, that’s a pretty strong name to be bringing in.” I read no further.

It wasn’t until later that morning that I got a text from a friend saying he didn’t like the fact that the Legends Day concert would be taking place offsite. I’m sure I had a quizzical look on my face as I stared at my phone. I went back and read the e-mail and sure enough, there it was – Venue Moves to TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park.

Honestly, it doesn’t bother me where they hold the Legends Day concert. I was not planning on going anyway. I’ve only been to one Legends Day concert (Blake Shelton, 2016). Susan went to that one with me and she also went to the first Legends Day concert with her son to see Jason Aldean in 2014. I chose to sit that one out.

What does concern me is that I’m afraid that Legends Day at IMS is dying a quick death. In fact, I suspect its demise is being purposely accelerated.

I used to really enjoy Legends Day. It celebrated the past, just one day before celebrating the present. We could sleep in a little bit, then get to the track around 9:00 and meet up with one or both of my brothers and their respective groups. The vintage cars would usually start running around 9:30. That was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Many cars would be rolled out of the museum, while others came from the SVRA Series that travels around the country. In one morning, you might see (and hear) the front-drive Novi from the 40s and 50s barreling down the front straightaway, and Joe Leonard’s Lotus 56 from 1968. Mark Donohue’s 1973 Eagle makes a nice sound and shows how wide those cars were. Lloyd Ruby’s 1966 Bardahl Eagle is a regular site on Legends Day, along with the Jim Hurtubise Travelon Trailer Special.

It used to be that a particular legend was celebrated. In those years, the legend would drive one of their most famous cars. AJ Foyt would drive his 1961 roadster, Parnelli Jones drove Ol’ Calhoun, Mario Andretti piloted his pole-winning car from 1967 and Al Unser would be in one of his winning cars.

After the ceremonial driver’s meeting, there would be a Q&A with the annual “legend” on a stage in the Pagoda Plaza. There might be a trivia contest (that I would always try and win) and it was a full day at the track. Later that afternoon, we would go over to the Turn Two area. There we would make our annual Phillips Family visit to the IMS Museum, as in this photo with my two brothers on Legends Day 2016.

Museum 2016

While in the area, we would go check out the static display of all the vintage cars that had run that morning. We would meander back to the Pagoda Plaza to go check out the Memorabilia Shop set up, where you could browse and/or buy just about any racing related item you could dream of. By the time we would get out of there, it was about 4:00 in the afternoon and the concert crowd was beginning to show up. That was our cue to leave (except when we were the concert-goers). By that time, we were tired and hungry. We would head to Dawson’s on Main for an early dinner and then to our hotel. If we were going to survive getting up at 3:30 am for Race Day, it had to be an early night.

That was a typical Legends Day for us. It was low-key, enjoyable, not too crowded and we got to see a lot of historic cars and items. That may not appeal to teenagers, but for us old folks – it was a perfect way to spend a leisurely day at the track and build the anticipation for Race Day.

I will throw out this disclaimer. I know nothing about what I am about to say. I’ve not talked to anyone, nor do I have some inside pipeline or source of information. This is simply me connecting some dots, thinking out loud and probably getting myself in trouble. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I feel like I can make some fairly educated guesses.

IMS President Doug Boles, put a good spin on the Legends Day concert being held offsite, by saying it will give the IMS staff more time to prepare for the Race Day crowd the next morning. Somehow, I don’t think this was his idea, but I think he’s catching the blame from some fans who don’t want to go toward the downtown area.

I sense that this move came from Penske management.

COVID brought about a lot of bad things, aside from the obvious health ramifications. It weakened our economy and our supply chain. One thing not a whole lot of people talk about is how corporations cut back a lot of perks and services, in the name of health and safety; when all the while it was really to help their bottom line. When flying on Southwest, was it really safer to drink poured water out of a plastic cup, rather than just giving passengers a sealed bottle of water? No, but they passed it off as them caring about us. I flew twice during the first year of COVID, and that was their policy then. I’ll be curious to see if bottled water and soft drinks are again being offered on Southwest or if they are now a thing of the past.

When staying in hotels during COVID, hotels were protecting their staff by no longer offering daily housekeeping service. I can’t remember the last time we stayed for more than one night, and walked in to a made bed on the second night. I can’t help but think that housekeeping in hotels has gone the way of the 8-Track.

That is my fear of the race weekend at IMS. After having no fans in attendance in 2020, then only 40% capacity with no other weekend track activity except for the Carb Day practice – those of us there were just happy to have what we got. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot more on Saturday of 2022 to entice those coming in for the race to spend time at the track the day before the race.

If you haven’t, check the IMS website. For Friday’s Carb Day, it looks fairly normal (minus the Freedom 100 for the third year in a row). Practice goes from 11:00 to 1:00 EDT, the Pit Stop Challenge returns and will run from 2:30 until 4:00, then the Miller Lite Carb Day Concert goes from 4:00 to 6:00. The acts have not been announced yet.

Good luck finding Legends Day even listed on the website. When you finally do, it shows you that there is a driver’s autograph session of the current field at 9:00 and the ceremonial driver’s meeting at 10:00. That’s it. That’s your 2022 Legends Day. And if you read the fine-print on the autograph session – you won’t get all thirty-three autographs. You will get three. Pick the table you want, get in line early and those three will be your autographs. It appears there are no vintage cars running on Legends Day and I’ll bet there is no memorabilia show at the track. Last year, it was held offsite due to COVID. What about this year?

Is that even worth the trouble to go to the track on Saturday this year? We will still go, because it has always been a family tradition to go to The Museum the day before the race.

I have an idea that attendance will drop off. You will have many folks show up for the vintage cars or a more traditional Legends Day. They won’t know things have been scaled back. When they find out Legends Day consists of getting three autographs and watching drivers presented with their starter’s ring in the driver’s meeting – they’ll probably turn around a leave.

I would like to give the powers-that-be a pass for 2022. Perhaps some of these things needed to be decided by early January when we were still dealing with the Omicron variant. Not knowing what things were going to look like, they probably had to decide some things just weren’t going to happen for 2022 or at least be moved offsite, but will return in 2023. Maybe the labor shortage makes them worry that they will not have the staff to clean the place up overnight. That’s a legitimate concern, and if that holds just for 2022 – I get it. That’s what my optimistic side says.

My skeptical side says that Penske management would like to see Legends Day go away. Doug Boles always seemed to embrace the energy that Legends Day brought. Carb Day was for the partiers, but Legends Day was for the hard-core racing fans to get fired up for Race Day. But I don’t think Doug Boles has made this decision. One of the downsides of IMS changing hands is that you have a whole new layer of management making key decisions. I always felt like Mark Miles pretty much gave Boles free reign to do what he wanted. He trusted Boles to make the right decisions. I felt like Boles always did.

Mark Miles is now President of Penske Entertainment, the newly created parent company formed to oversee IMS, IndyCar and IMS Productions; but Bud Denker is president of the entire Penske organization. I sense that he spent the last two years learning about IMS and IndyCar and that he is full-blown ready to go making key decisions for 2022 and beyond.

I’m sure he will make the best decisions to affect the bottom line. After all, this is a business above anything else. But I just wonder how much Bud Denker appreciates the sound of the Novi or the history of the Blue Crown Specials. I’ve noticed that I am hearing his name more and more, while I’m hearing the name of Mark Miles less and less. Miles grew up in Indianapolis and has his own appreciation for the history and magnitude of the Indianapolis 500.

I have nothing against Denker, and he may have an even greater appreciation for the sport – but I simply don’t know much about him, other than what I saw on his LinkedIn page. He is my age (which tells you how little I’ve done with my life), he went to Lake Superior State University and joined Penske Corporation in 2005, after a four-year stint at Eastman Kodak. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot out there on him.

I could be dead-wrong in my speculation, and I hope I am. Bud Denker may end up being God’s gift to IndyCar fans. Maybe they are scrapping the current Legends Day format for something that will completely blow us away in a year or two. Let’s hope so, because some of these Legends Day decisions on the surface do not appear to be just real fan-friendly for the most important people that ultimately made that place what it is – the fans. Doug Boles has made every decision with the fan in mind. Let’s hope that continues with the new regime.

George Phillips

18 Responses to “Is Legends Day on the Chopping Block?”

  1. Dave from Mukwonago Says:

    I share George’s concern for Legend’s Day and agree to allow a one year pass. I too will still visit the Museum that day. (Anyone know what color ticket they’re using this year? Kidding.)

    They sold me a $5 ticket for Drivers’ Meeting/Legends day. What am I getting besides the Driver’s Meeting and autograph session?

    I assumed last year when they collected our email addresses for the drawings that they would continue to hold the memorabilia show offsite for more control and perhaps less cost. I expect to get an email in the next month or so about the event.

  2. The autograph session sounds the same as always. You need to get in a line for a certain starting row. usually there is only time to get in one line. I heard that the rental fee for the memorabilia show space went up so much that they moved it to the Plainfield site. I assume that is where it will be again this year.
    I also found the get ready for race day rationale very curious. Does this mean they haven’t been ready for race day in the past?

    • The only justification for the “get ready” rationale is the staffing shortage. They possibly weren’t given very strong assurances that they could have the staff on-hand to have the stage taken down, and the grounds cleaned up by the time the gates open at 6 am. If that’s the case – I get it.

      • Staffing shortage makes sense but I wish they would just come out and say it I’m sensing a trend of fans time at the track being shortened. COVID showed companies that they can make do with fewer hours of public interaction.

  3. George better watch what you say media credentials could always come under review

  4. Rick Johnson Says:

    George, my typical Legends Day was very similar to yours. I, too, have concerns about the future of Legends Day. The folks that run the Memorabilia Show have already announced that it will be in Plainfield again this year.

  5. Tony Geinzer Says:

    I wouldn’t want to start a “Careless Whisper” about wanting both the Freedom 100 and the Night Before the 500 Back in Remark, but, I would welcome them both back. The Wham! Reference would be a Whammy to both Gators Fans, who lost their Maiden SEC Football Title and Drag Racing Fans, who lost Lee Shepherd 37 Years Ago Today. I feel I want to give another look at Presentation, on TV and in Person.

  6. And Roger Penske was going to increase events at the Speedway. At least that is what he said when he purchased the track. Hmmm…..

    They should be adding events to Legends Day. Not reducing them. This really does bring my thoughts back to the early 90’s when Roger Penske openly stated he wished the 500 was more like other races. Qualify on Saturday and run the race on Sunday. That may be the direction we are headed.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      “And Roger Penke was going to increase events……. ”

      You might add to your comments a clarification that Roger stated this BEFORE Covid invaded everyone’s lives, activities, businesses, future plans / events, and health precautions, etc. ………

      It is not perhaps fair nor reasonable to hold Roger directly responsible for not increasing events at the Speedway given what Covid has dictated and will dictate for many years to come.

  7. The autograph session is not being handled any differently than it has been handled for the past 10 plus years, you pick a row and line up in that row, you might only get that row, you might get more than one row, but you’re not getting 5 or 6 rows, that’s how it’s been at that session for more than a decade.

    The Memorabilia Show has already been moved to Plainfield, it simply has outgrown the space allotted in the Pagoda Plaza area so this is an outstanding opportunity for the growth of the show to move it a location where growth opportunities were possible.

    While Legends Day has always been my favorite day other than race day on the May calendar change was definitely inevitable (in fact I mentioned on Beyond The Bricks LAST May that Legends Day as we knew it would be changing).

    • billytheskink Says:

      While the Pagoda plaza was a really neat venue for the memorabilia show, it makes a lot of sense that they outgrew it. It was really really tight the last time I was at Legends Day.

      Indeed, if you want the whole field’s autograph at the Saturday autograph session, bring 10 friends. If you don’t have 10 friends but are going to another race or two on the season, spread your autograph-hunting crew out to just the rows that have part-timers in them and then get the full timers’ autographs at the other races.

  8. northeastvista Says:

    Our group kind of mirrored your Legends Day schedule. We always brought the “rookies” to Legends Day to acquaint them with the track and introduce them to the Vintage cars on display plus a visit to the museum. Plus we usually saw the rehearsal for the Pre-Race festivities near Victory Circle. And, provide them with an opportunity to purchase souveniors and wearables. Legends Day was considered the warm up for Race Day. Here’s hoping the changes are only temporary.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    I certainly loved the low-key and historical fun of Legend’s Day on my far too infrequent trips to the 500, so I’m not thrilled to hear this. I imagine that Legend’s Day, or whatever the Saturday before the 500 may be called going forward will expand or contract its list of activities based on demand rather than tradition. I would prefer tradition, personally, but I’m not the one who has to make sure everything gets paid for.

    Interesting to see that Bud Denker joined Penske from Kodak shortly after Penske brought Kodak sponsorship to the #77 Jasper/Penske NASCAR team (away from its longtime home on Morgan-McClure’s #4).

  10. George –

    I always enjoy your blog. Really disappointing that Freedom 100 not back this year for carb day. For hardcore fans, this was as exciting as anything else due to the action on the track.

    Onto Legends day….Doug Boles and IMS pride themselves as being in touch with the fans. I can tell you the decisions made with the concert and other events on legends day is not consistent with what race fans desire for their IMS experience during race weekend. This is an absolutely terrible decision. I have a group of 20 that camp each year in lot 1A and we always enjoy taking in the vintage cars then enjoying the legend’s day concert. I can tell you absolutely 0 of us are happy with these changes and goes against the “fan experience” that Doug and IMS pride themselves on as they promote the month of May. I am hoping as you allude to in your article these decisions were more Covid planning related in January than strategic by Penske and management. 2023 will tell us a lot if these sudden changes are permanent. Let’s hope not as it surely diminishes the total experience of “Indy” not having fun events like the Freedom 100, vintage cars and the legend’s day concert.

  11. Well, maybe the concert is only held at another venue this year.

    However, the Freedom 100 is missed indeed. It used to be the highlight of the Indy Lights season. And it was an interesting storyline every year to see some drivers racing in both events. Carlos Munoz did a particularly awesome job during his debut IndyCar race.

  12. I have to say that I was a bit concerned about the future of Legends Day when I saw the location of the Saturday concert (and it’s possible to that it gets phased out in the future, I have no idea), but then I also remembered that IMS is working on building the new BMW Experience center on the North end of the infield, roughly where the old scoring “octagon” used to be. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the construction materials and equipment for the project have to be stored inside of Turn 4, since Turn 3 is still going to be the location for the Snake Pit and the paid infield Race Day parking. Since Turn 4 was where the Carb/Legends Day stage was, I wouldn’t at all be surprised that this was found to be a good time (either temporary or permanent) to switch the Legends Day concert to downtown, with a downsizing of the Legends Day schedule being the side effect (the possible lack of necessary staff to prep for Race Day also being a factor). I’ll be curious as to where the Carb Day concert winds up being, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s also downsized a bit from what it’s been in the past inside of Turn 4.

    • I can tell you that the BMW event center building is almost complete on the outside. I was at the Speedway on March 3rd and went by the building. The area of Turn 4 was pretty normal. Denker has been in charge of the Grand April in Detroit for the past few years and there is a festival atmosphere on the island. He knows how to have a lot of fan activation events during a race weekend. I hope this is a 1 year anomaly! Let’s wait and see!

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