Back to the ‘grassroots’: Doug Boles talks racing promotion

Published On September 10, 2015 » 2539 Views» By J. Douglas Boles » Blogs, IMS, Indy 500, Verizon IndyCar Series

There are many tasks and responsibilities that go along with being President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but at the top of the list is serving as the promoter of our events and the racetrack in general. As the promoter, simply put, my job is to engage fans so that they want to attend races at IMS.

As the world has changed, the avenues for promoting events have also changed. Today, we attempt to engage with fans across many platforms. In our arsenal we have traditional advertising (print, radio and television), direct mail, email blasts, social media posts, earned media opportunities, out of home (billboards), sponsorships and stunts, just to name a few.

But as a lover of our sport’s history, I have also enjoyed studying the playbooks of some of our sport’s best promoters – Carl Fisher, Tony Hulman, JC Agajanian, and Humpy Wheeler are perfect examples. Each of these four men had the ability to make the promotion of an event or facility personal and put a human face on it that connected to the fan through the most basic, but most impactful, form of “marketing” we know – the one-on-one connection.

The "A" frame wheeled billboard: a staple of grassroots promotion.

The “A” frame wheeled billboard: a staple of grassroots promotion.

I continue to be impressed by the local racetrack promoter – the guy that promotes the weekly series on small tracks just outside of any number of towns in the U.S. When I was in Sonoma for the Verizon IndyCar Series finale, I drove up to Calistoga, California, hoping to witness sprint cars at the famous Calistoga Speedway (a half-mile dirt track that has seen some of the greats of open wheel – Jim Hurtubise, Bob Veith, Freddie Agabashian, Steve Kinser and Tony Stewart to name a few). Unfortunately, I was a week early … but my takeaway reinforced my belief that successful promoters make the relationship personal.

In addition to having a photo taken with my dad standing on the Calistoga backstretch, I was reminded when I went through the town of Calistoga and the surrounding towns that the tried and true promotions – a banner across the main street, “A” frame billboards on wheels parked at various high traffic intersections, posters on storefronts and banners in local restaurants all connect the community to the event and facility unlike many other mediums we have become conditioned to tune out. It was pure grass roots, personal marketing.

Out the windshield we could see this big banner over Calistoga's main street, welcoming race fans.

Out the windshield we could see this big banner over Calistoga’s main street, welcoming race fans.

Calistoga was only missing a JC Agajanian, hat and all, driving around in his convertible waving and talking to passers-by with a large “Big Car Races, Saturday Night” poster on either side of the car.

With all that said, marketing the world’s largest single-day sporting event requires much more than the simpler days of posters and banners. So you’ll still see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway taking advantage of traditional advertising and the new ways to communicate with fans via the internet and social platforms (I love to Tweet, Instagram and update my Facebook with photos and stories that as a fan I know I would want to see).

But speeches to groups, attending festivals, going to local racetracks, and continuing statewide “town hall” meetings where I can shake hands, tell the Indianapolis Motor Speedway story and listen to fans one at time – making it personal – will always be the heartbeat of our promotions.

My parents and I visited a local bar in Calistoga, where you couldn't miss this banner for the track!

My parents and I visited a local bar in Calistoga, where you couldn’t miss this banner for the track!

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About The Author

J. Douglas Boles

I’m a lifelong Indianapolis Motor Speedway fan and have attended or participated at some level in 34 Indianapolis 500 races. I get it honestly, as my dad was the USAC yearbook editor about the time the roadster was winning its last few races at Indy, so the Indy 500 history and tradition runs deep in my family. Currently I serve as the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My hero growing up was A.J. Foyt. When I blog, I hope to convey some of memories of IMS overlaid with my daily experiences here as I would want to see it from a true fans point of view.
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