Our one-on-one interview with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles

IMS President Doug Boles promoting the 2023 Indianapolis 500.

Doug Boles was named president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) in June 2013. He's responsible for the daily operations of IMS, including exploring and expanding business opportunities for the Speedway.

Q: What was a challenge you had to push through that, when you reflect on it, provided a chance to acquire expertise you still use today?

A: Many things come to mind, but one from the very beginning of my professional life stays with me today and is advice I always pass along. In my first job out of university, I was planning a long weekend (Labor Day) at the lake with my relatively new mates from work. It was going to be fun bonding opportunity that we had planned almost from the day I started the job earlier that summer.

The week leading up to Labor Day, I received a call from the general manager of Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) — the racetrack in Indianapolis where the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) US Nationals (the world's largest drag race) are held each Labor Day weekend. Lex Dudas asked me if I would be willing to take a few days off work — beginning the Thursday leading into Labor Day through Labor Day — to work for him at IRP. I was excited, as I definitely wanted to eventually work in motorsports and thought this was my opportunity. And, before I could ask what he wanted me to do, I said, "Yes sir. I would be honored to work for you." He said "Great. Our ownership from California is coming in, and we built these great new grandstands and restrooms, and I want them to be impressed. So I'm going to have you manage all the cleaning and cleaning crews of the restrooms. In case ownership walks into them, I want them to be clean." I was immediately thinking, "Wow. I'm going to skip my trip with my new work mates to clean restrooms?" But ultimately, I decided that if I want to be in the sport, I need to show I'm willing to do whatever is asked.

And, while my work mates had a great time and razzed me about it the week after at work, they quickly left me alone when my phone rang mid-week following Labor Day, and it was Wally Parks — the founder and CEO of NHRA — who called to say "Doug, I heard you were responsible for the job nobody would want, but that means so much to our customers. I want you to know that if you ever need a recommendation for a job that verifies your humility and willingness to do what it takes, that I'm on Team Doug. Just have them give me a call. With that attitude and effort, you'll be fine with whatever you pursue, and I hope it's in our industry."

So, lesson confirmed — be willing to do whatever it takes! It will be noticed and will pay off.

Q: Racing and risk management go hand in hand. What parallels do you draw between what happens on the track and what you do in management?

A: It's all a balancing act of acceptable risk vs unreasonable risk. In order to succeed in business, like on the racetrack, some level of risk is required to set yourself apart and in front of others in your field of business — just like trying to be at the front of the grid or the first to the finish line in racing. But too much unreasonable risk can put you at the back or eliminate you completely from the action. So, making calculated risk decisions — where the outcome is more likely to be positive than not — is required both on the business side and the racing side. Having partners and workmates who can help provide and consider all the data that leads to the right risk-taking opportunities is the key to success.

Q: From afar, IMS could appear visually like other oval raceways. As we consider the "spaces where we play." what are some of the physical components that make it stand out when compared to other tracks in the US and around the world?

A: First, IMSs' size is a huge differentiator. It has 232,000 permanent seats — it's the largest spectator facility in the world. It's basically 1 mile long by a half mile wide and includes 20 entry gates with 200+ lanes of entry. The racetrack itself travels over six tunnels and two waterways — essentially it has eight bridges. On Indy 500 race day, inside the track is the second largest city in Indiana with the busiest hospital in Indiana also located inside the grounds. It's truly like running a mid-size city. Oh, and it has an 18-hole Pete-Dye-designed golf course — four of the holes are actually inside the track!

Q: IMS has many more events than just the Indianapolis 500. How do you make sure people know that, and what are some of the hidden gems beyond the month of May events?

A: IMS is most known for the Indianapolis 500, but we also host other large racing events including NASCAR, two other INDYCAR races and two sports car races. We also have a small dirt track where some of the best short track drivers in the world compete one time a year in the BC39 — that's my second favorite event of the year behind the Indy 500 and is definitely the hidden gem at IMS.

Q: Perhaps no other US city is as tightly linked to its speedway as Indianapolis is to IMS. How do you take on the responsibility of carrying the Indianapolis name, and what work do you want to highlight that IMS does to enrich the community?

A: The three most important things we do at IMS are to protect the legacy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the historic Indianapolis 500; celebrate the men and women who serve our country and, especially on Memorial Day weekend, honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms;, and finally represent our city and state in a way that make all Hoosiers proud because of the international platform that the Indy 500 provides our city every year.

And, being in the heart of the community, surrounded by diverse neighborhoods, it's important that we use that influence to drive positive change economically, from a diversity standpoint and from a sustainability position.

Q: Describe the working relationship between Gallagher and IMS.

A: Working with Gallagher to solve complex business issues has been a great addition to the tools that we have to move the business forward, make our customer experience better and more streamlined, and plan for the future. Sharing a common passion for positive customer experience, problem solving, culture development and celebrating successes of our employees makes the relationship a partnership and one we're very proud to part of as we learn and grow together.