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INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 26, 2020
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: This is Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Thank you all for joining us today to talk about the Indianapolis 500 and an announcement that I'm sure you all have seen that we made a little bit earlier this afternoon.
Before we get started, I think it's important to acknowledge that while we're talking about a very important event, an event that's going to be celebrating its 104th running, everyone knows that the thoughts and prayers of everybody at Penske Entertainment, the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are with those first responders and doctors and others who are helping right now as we speak, talk about a sporting event, as we battle with the coronavirus.
We could not be doing this today without those folks who are on the front lines doing their jobs in a way they didn't think they were going to have to do less than three or four weeks ago. We thank them for their efforts.
We encourage everyone to do all they can to support those in their community that are working 24 hours a day as we battle this virus.
Earlier today the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series announced that the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 would be rescheduled from its original date of May 24th to a new date of August 23rd. Those of you that know me know I enjoy counting down the days to the Indianapolis 500. Looking forward to celebrating my 44th consecutive year at the Indianapolis 500. The countdown has been adjusted today. It will be 150 days from now that we get to celebrate this wonderful race.
Before I ask Mark Miles to talk through how we got to this point, I want to tell you that I'm relieved, along with most of our fans, to know that the Indianapolis 500 is in a spot where it is more sure it will be run this year. The 500 itself is an event that people look forward to every year, they plan their lives around every year. I know it is an important one. I'm thankful for those fans who will be following us to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August. I can't wait for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to take place.
Mark, it's been a challenging couple of weeks since we left St. Petersburg. Talk a little bit about why we landed on this date and why we think it's an important date and why we're looking forward to the Indianapolis 500 on August 23rd.
MARK MILES: Hello, everybody.
I think we've made it clear for some time, I think it feels a lot more than two weeks, we've been seriously engaged in contingency planning. The reality today is we might still have been able to run as scheduled in May. We hope life is back to normal or near normal by then.
After protecting public health, our priority is absolutely about running the 104th Indianapolis 500 race in 2020. By rescheduling in late August, we fully expect to be outside the window impacted by the COVID-19 virus. We and our fans still have five months to plan for the event. We believe our fans will be ready in August.
More specifically, the date is in late summer, before NFL regular season games, and before college football really begins. With a number of postponed sporting events being rescheduled in the summer and early fall, it's frankly very difficult to find three consecutive weekends as we traditionally have in May.
Moving the GMR Grand Prix to July 4th to run with NASCAR's Xfinity on the road course is a big positive. It's groundbreaking, will be an exciting addition to the Pennzoil 150, and will be live on NBC.
That left us two back-to-back weeks. We think August 15 and 16 for qualifying, August 23 for the 500-mile race is a great solution. All three of those on-track activities, the two days of qualifying and the 500 itself, will be live on NBC. Actually we have more live television over the three weekends than we did even last year.
We're grateful to all of our partners who worked with us on this. NBC has been incredibly helpful with working on it. We think we've landed in a good place.
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: I'll expand on what Mark said related to the schedule for our races in August now.
One of the things we really did look for was a window where we could do the best possible way of replicating the Indianapolis 500 as our fans know that. On Wednesday August 12th, through Friday August 14th, there will be practice for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. August 14th, that Friday, will be our traditional Fast Friday leading into the two days Mark discussed around qualifying on Saturday and Sunday August 15th and 16th.
On Thursday August 20th we will have Indy Lights practice and qualifying for the Freedom 100. There will be a new Hot Pit Stop practice for the IndyCar teams as they prepare for race weekend.
On Friday August 21st we'll have our Miller Lite Carb Day, which will include the final IndyCar practice, the Indy Lights Freedom 100 and our pit stop competition. Our teams are working very hard right now at making that day the celebration that folks are used to leading into the Indianapolis 500.
On Saturday August 22nd, Legends Day, the traditional drivers meeting where the 33 drivers get a chance to interact with the thousands of fans to wish them well 24 hours from the green flag. On race day, Sunday August 23rd, the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 by Gainbridge will take place.
One of the things that makes May so special, has from the beginning, is how we've been able to honor in particular military heroes. In this area we have an opportunity to honor some other heroes. Mark, talk about why we're excited about some of our prerace ceremonies for August.
MARK MILES: Happily.
This is the way we're thinking about that. The Indianapolis 500 race is always inspirational. As you said, Doug, because it's Memorial Day weekend, it's always been in our DNA that we celebrate our servicemen and women and their sacrifices. Everybody on this phone I think knows this event knows that's part of us.
The fact is August isn't going to be Memorial Day weekend, it's going to be another time, a time when we may not be the first public event after the real crisis of the virus is pretty much behind us, but we'll certainly be the biggest.
We just think it will be perfectly in keeping with our tradition of honoring heroes and being inspirational, pulling people together, that we'll be able to think about honoring the heroes that have really stepped forward in fighting this current crisis, this current war.
I think that's going to be terrific to be able to bring out people from all over the country, our community as well, who have played key roles in pulling us together and getting us through this difficult time. It will be very much in keeping with the traditions of the 500.
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: The way that we celebrate more than just the racecars drivers, we celebrate the men and women of all different militaries, first responders and otherwise, who are the heroes that allow us to go racing on the weekend.
You touched on it a little bit. I'm pretty excited about where we've landed with the GMR Grand Prix, having it on July 4th, having the IndyCar drivers run there. Of talk about a double. Folks thought someday we would see one. Finally we're going to see a double at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How excited are you to have the IndyCar drivers showcasing their talents in front of our NASCAR fans on the front end of the weekend?
MARK MILES: It's a huge weekend for us. It's so important to us. It's on its way back. I think this kind of groundbreaking opportunity to bring our Grand Prix and get IndyCars on the track on Saturday just before actually the Xfinity race is a huge opportunity.
I think it will get more IndyCar fans out here for a weekend they might or might not have attended in the past. I think there is going to be some really exciting news about who is driving sometime in the future. It's just going to be a big, big weekend.
As I said before strategically in the rescheduling of the 500, it meant we had to find two consecutive weeks instead of three to get it all on national television.
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: I'm really excited about it. That day is going to be a fantastic day. We were already excited about having the Pennzoil 150 on the road course with the Xfinity cars. Now getting to add the NTT IndyCar Series as part of that weekend, it's going to be one folks can't miss and a great way to celebrate our country's birthday on July 4th.
Before we open it up to questions, I had a couple of thank yous I had to pass along on behalf of everybody at the Speedway on the NTT IndyCar Series.
To Gateway and Mid-Ohio for working with us in short order in order for us to land on the weekends that we landed with the Indianapolis 500, without the partnership of all the NTT promoters, we wouldn't have such a great series that we have and the ability to work together. Thank you to both of you.
Also want to give a shout out to our friends at Moto America, which is America's best motorcycle racing series. They were originally schedule to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 23rd weekend. They have agreed to move their weekend to the second weekend in October in order to accommodate this move of the Indianapolis 500. Those three promoters literally helped us within about 24 hours. We thank them for those efforts.
It tells you about the racing community. Same thing goes for NASCAR. I know Mr. Penske put a call into the folks at NASCAR and asked if we could share a weekend. We got a yes. It just really goes to show in times like this, this is one big industry, not several small folks trying to do their own thing.
With that I think we're ready to open it up for questions.
Q. Who on the NASCAR side did Roger speak with? What were the conversations like? Was there any reluctance from NASCAR to agree?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: That's a question I think Roger would have to answer specifically. I can tell you from my conversations with leadership there as well, the NASCAR industry has been nothing but helpful from the top all the way through the folks in the trenches like me.
It was not ever one that I think anybody paused on. We're all trying to help each other here. We would do the same thing from our end if they came to us.
Q. Looking at the calendar, looks like there was an opportunity to have the Indianapolis 500 on Labor Day weekend. What considerations went into not having the race then and ultimately why?
MARK MILES: I would say there are obviously several things that went into it. The first is, just like we think our fans have their traditions, their family culture for what they do on Memorial Day weekend, I think there's a lot of that that happens on Labor Day weekend. We thought it probably would give our fans more flexibility if we didn't pick the holiday weekend where they may have their own traditions.
The later you get into the summer period, the more there are going to be other major events, more complications from schools, other sports. We just felt like this was the best place to land.
Q. Did NBC want that Labor Day weekend or were they okay where you ended up?
MARK MILES: NBC has been terrific in this. Such an interesting position. Virtually everything that's been canceled or postponed so far is looking to move into the late summer or third or fourth quarters. Everything that they licensed, that they broadcast, is trying to get squeezed into a much shorter period of time.
They're really trying to work through a Gordian knot of sorts. They've been helpful in this. They're going to do some other things we're not going to talk about today to help us promote all this. The rest of the series will have a terrific amount of NBC broadcast coverage in the rest of the year.
As I said the 500 will have a significant broadcast window on race day, both days of qualifying will have a broadcast window, and the Grand Prix will as well. We're delighted with those results in working with NBC.
Q. I don't want to date myself, but I'm going to use the term Rubik's cube. So many moving pieces to get it to work together, with the stakeholders, the tracks that changed dates, with NBC, how much of a Rubik's cube was it to figure it all out, to get the right pieces to fall into place?
MARK MILES: I think there have been several keys. The first was that our priority was to have the 500, to put it at a time far enough out that we have every reason to believe it will be a safe time from the public's perspective in terms of public health, and to give our fans time to plan so we can count on them to be here in August. That was key.
Working with NASCAR has already been talked about. They were terrific. There was just no friction in that conversation at all. It was about how do we work together to make lemonade out of lemons.
NBC has been terrific. As Doug already said, all the promoters on the NTT IndyCar Series have been terrific. As he said, I really want to shout out, give a shout out to our friends at Mid-Ohio and Gateway who really helped us. At the same time I think they have put themselves in a position to be successful. On and on and on.
I think we should also recognize the way that the IndyCar Series teams, the owners, the drivers, the whole paddock are coming together. Everybody is behind this. Roger and Jay Frye conducted a conference call with team owners today. It was terrific. It's all positivity. Everybody is moving forward trying to figure out how to help each other.
Q. We knew Long Beach couldn't make a later date in the year happen. The two that are missing, Barber and COTA, did you make any efforts? What were the efforts to try to find them a later date? What was the reason they couldn't be part of this year's schedule?
MARK MILES: In the best of circumstances, the most normal circumstances, putting together a series calendar is difficult because you have to consider all the things that matter, starting with local considerations, can they find a time that works for their community.
In the case of Long Beach, I think frankly in the end Jim was really hoping we could find a time, but he wanted to find a dated that brought at least a couple series together and worked in their community. There was like one week on the calendar that could have worked for us, and it just didn't work.
In the case of Barber, they're in the middle of a region with Atlanta and Birmingham. They really just didn't have options, as well. They have other major races, NASCAR races, in that region, as everybody knows.
We have spoken countless times with those promoters and couldn't find a time that worked. I think they are disappointed but understand that. They're kind of resigned to it. They'll immediately begin working on 2021.
Q. You have talked a lot about how NBC was really cooperative in helping you guys. In this process of landing on the 23rd for the 500, were you more so working side-by-side with them or was that more of a proposal where you decided this is where you wanted to run it and they were able to accommodate that?
MARK MILES: I wouldn't try to weight the influences. We're in close touch with Gainbridge, with NTT, with really all of our sponsors and all these other stakeholders. There was really no pushback.
People in Japan, people all over the world, people running businesses in other organizations are confronted with these same challenges. In some sense the bigger the business, as in the case with NTT, the more this has had wide impact on them. They were completely sympathetic and supportive of this conclusion.
Q. Rather than landing in that timeframe where the Olympics were in late July, early August, moving a couple weeks back from that, did that come down to wanting to have the 500 as far down the schedule as made sense to make sure this pandemic would hopefully be completely cleared up? Seemed like there was the big open window when there wasn't a lot going on with the Olympics having been postponed.
MARK MILES: I suppose that is sort of a key thing, that in a sense while being in the summer, giving our fans time to plan, the further away from today the better. I think that was a key.
Q. Mark, with the schedule now starting with Detroit just a week after when the 500 was supposed to have run, what is your confidence level of being able to run those first couple races that are now supposed to be the start of the IndyCar schedule given the state of where things are in the country at this point?
MARK MILES: Well, we're optimistic. Again, we're talking to all our promoters regularly. In Detroit they're optimistic. As I said at the beginning of my comments this afternoon, we might have been able to run the 500. It's two weeks. It's really effectively three weeks before Detroit. The 500's lead times to put everything in place, given the scale of it, are longer than probably any other races.
They're optimistic. We're optimistic. If at the end of the day it can't happen, we were thinking about other dates that might work. We'll do everything possible, they'll do everything possible, to stay on the schedule hopefully at the end of May.
Q. Mark, the news about St. Petersburg essentially being reinstated, give us the overview on that, when you think it might be able to happen, what changed from when you and the mayor said it would be difficult because it's a street course, and why it makes sense now as a championship finale.
MARK MILES: We've been in constant contact with our promoter at Green Savoree and the mayor. I've spoken to the mayor of St. Petersburg at least twice I suppose in the last three days. The one thing I'll say about him is he's an IndyCar fan. He's a true believer in the value of the race at St. Petersburg to his community.
They just never gave up. They're making some arrangements that make it more feasible logistically. I think they'll try to keep up some of their stands, not completely reset, as I thought they might have had to. I think the key was their persistence and their appreciation for what it brings to them.
It's just such a superb event for us, to be in south in Florida to start the season every year, it's something we really look forward to and have now for a long time. In this case we'll be doing it to end the year. We'll be back there again in March of 2021. We think that's pretty special. They are up for it in terms of the date.
Obviously what we've said here is that we expect to run the Laguna Seca event in late September. We got to get back from the West Coast. I expect in finding a date for St. Petersburg it's likely to be the beginning of October or maybe even a little later in October.
Q. Doug, as far as the doubleheader goes, NASCAR has yet to release their finalized resumption of schedule. They want to begin it May 9th at Martinsville, but they haven't said definitively that's going to happen. They want to run 36 races. Is there any concern on your part or have you discussed the potential of NASCAR having to shift dates, that May 9th date is optimistic? Could that affect the possibility of a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: Right now we along with NASCAR are continuing to hope we can begin racing at some point well before the July 4th weekend event here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We haven't talked about a contingency plan if we get into a point where we have to rethink the July 4th and 5th weekend.
We at this point in time, along with the entire country, can't wait to celebrate our country's birthday on July 4th. Hopefully a lot of them will be doing it here with us at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Q. How much had there been talk about a potential doubleheader with the Grand Prix and Xfinity or even Cup before this started? Do you think those conversations, if they had already begun, helped make this more of a reality?
MARK MILES: That's a really good question. It's not like we had a plan in place. It's something that comes up. It's been clear for a long time that both series under the right circumstances thought it could be a good thing for the sport and for each of our series. The spirits have always been willing. It hasn't necessarily always been the highest priority.
This sort of just created the opportunity to say, Here is an opportunity, let's go for it. As has been said, there wasn't much hesitation.
Q. Doug, if somebody has already bought a ticket for the Xfinity race, is that good now for both races? Are ticket prices changing? Any idea beyond the IndyCar race being first before the Xfinity race, any other details on how that Saturday might look?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: Right now we're working through the schedule for that Saturday. What we do know is that Saturday is going to host two amazing races with the NTT IndyCar Series and the GMR Grand Prix, then the Pennzoil 150, which we were excited about on its own because it's the first time we've had NASCAR cars on our road course. That's going to be a fun-packed afternoon of activity. The final schedule is yet to be completely determined.
Our customers will be able to bring their ticket they had for the GMR Grand Prix and the ticket they had for the Indianapolis 500, show up at the gate, and we're going to go racing.
Q. Mark, can you talk, will there be one ticket for all three races on the July 4th weekend? Maybe a new ticket issued that you can attend three races for the price of one?
MARK MILES: No, that's not the plan. As Doug just said, if you already have a ticket for the GMR Grand Prix, you'll just bring that ticket on Saturday morning and you get in. For the rest of the events, we are already well into selling tickets separately and will continue to do that.
Q. Doug, is the BC39 still on that week?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: Yes, right now the BC39 is scheduled for that week. We've had preliminary conversations with USAC. But that has been the plan all along. We still are planning to do that as part of that week.
In fact, I just sent a text a little while ago to a certain racecar driver in Columbus, Indiana, that if there's one driver on the face of the earth that could compete in all four of the races that will happen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in one week. I got a text back from him with a thumbs up. He said, You get me the good rides, maybe I'll consider it.
Q. Would the BC39 be Tuesday or Wednesday night?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: Wednesday and Thursday. Friday will be practice for both of the Xfinity and the NTT IndyCar Series. They will qualify on Saturday morning, race on Saturday, then Cup race will be on Sunday.
Q. Mark, another St. Petersburg question. Given the fact it's the only one on the schedule that doesn't have a date yet, how confident are you you'll be able to make everything work and it will be able to be rescheduled and happen?
MARK MILES: Our confidence comes from our discussions with the mayor and the city administration, our promoter. I don't think they've ever given up on it. They all have a lot of things to do with dealing with the crisis right now.
They've looked at it. As I said, they have made some logistical accommodations to make it easier to do than it might otherwise for a street course. They've looked at their calendar.
They want to tend to their knitting and make sure they take care of their people right now. If we're talking about early October, for example, it's a ways off. The expectation for everybody is it will be time to go racing again, and they are eager to do that.
Q. That would be, depending on the schedule, two IndyCar races here in St. Pete in a five- or six-month span. Are you concerned at all for race fatigue?
MARK MILES: I think it builds momentum. It might be the logistical accommodations they're designing right now between the rescheduled race from March to, say, October could be extended from October to, say, March. That could make it again sort of more feasible, more efficient.
All the indications that I have, race fans down there would just be thrilled to have us back in there in short order.
Q. You mentioned the specifics about Carb Day, Legends Day, all the events that will take place those days. You did not mention anything about concerts, REO Speedwagon, the Legends Day concerts, have those been canceled?
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: Yes, thank you for asking. We have canceled our concerts around this year's Indianapolis 500. As we were focusing on making sure that we could get the most important thing that we have, the Indianapolis 500, scheduled and in the windows that we had, the short amount of time we had to do it, we were really left with no other option at this point in time other than to cancel those concerts.
Obviously they were scheduled for the 22nd and 23rd and 24th of May. Our focus after deciding that we had to move past that date was just making sure we had the race taken care of.
Q. You've been mentioning NBC broadcasting the races now in August. For everyone here in Indianapolis and central Indiana, is there still going to be a local blackout? Have you talked about that?
MARK MILES: We're winking at each other who is taking it. You're going to get the same answer from either one of us (laughter).
We have thought about it and we're not going to change the policy at this point. We want to get people in this market out here to enjoy the race together.
J. DOUGLAS BOLES: I'll recap and just say thank you. Again, we were here today to talk about the rescheduling of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge to August 23rd. Practice will begin on Wednesday August 12th, culminating in the 104th running about 10 days later.
We're excited to know the Indianapolis 500 this year has a home. We're no longer left waiting and wondering. Hopefully that will be some relief to our fans, and it's certainly a relief to us here.
I wanted to just reiterate some really important thank yous. We have amazing partners at the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. First and foremost Gainbridge, but friends like Firestone, Chevy, Honda. I mentioned Gateway and Mid-Ohio. That says a lot about the NTT IndyCar Series. The folks at NASCAR, Moto America.
I want to close on one that I think is really important to us. I talked about the importance of those frontline folks who are out taking care of those that are struggling with COVID right now. GMR, our title sponsor for the IndyCar Grand Prix, that is their business. Their business is to help people who are struggling. Their folks are out right now, 100% of their folks, doing work for us. I just want to thank them for relocating with us but for continuing to make life better for those of us that live in this country. We're proud to be associated with them.
Thank you very much. We look forward to talking to you over the next 150 days.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports