J. Douglas Boles | President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway | Part 1

By Ed Bernardon and Drew Wilson

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In this episode, host Ed Bernardon and J. Douglas Boles discuss how he prepares for the Indy 500, what he’s most passionate about when it comes to motorsports, how he incorporates fan feedback into the event, and other quirks that makes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so special.

What can you expect to hear from the episode?

How big is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

It’s basically a mile long by half a mile wide. It’s 300 acres or so that are actually inside the racetrack and make up our grandstand area. It’s massive. It’s the one thing when people come to the Speedway and have never been here before that strikes everybody. They pull into the Speedway, they come under the tunnel, and they say, “Oh my gosh, this place is huge.”

Why is parking one of the top things that keep you up at night?

Well, it really is part of the customer experience for me, and it’s a really critical piece. So, I worry about that. Our campus is about 1000 acres now. So, I’ve said 300 of it is basically the racetrack, we’ve got 700 acres of parking, we’ve got a solar farm, and we’ve got a Pete Dye-designed 18-hole golf course. I mean, it’s a full complex now. But parking—only 40% of those people that come to the Indy 500 park on property that we own.

What are your favorite parts of race day?

Probably my favorite part of the entire race day, including the race, is “Back Home Again in Indiana,” which is the last thing really before “Gentlemen, start your engines.” But it is Memorial Day weekend, Memorial Day Sunday, and the race has always been on Decoration Day or Memorial Day from the very beginning. So, part of our DNA is celebrating, especially those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, and our fans know that.

Why do you also wear a blue suit?

For me, the tie was what my commitment was. But as part of the tie, the suit came along. I’m such a blue fan of pretty much everything. Right now, I’ve got blue shoes on, blue socks on, I probably have blue underwear on, and my glasses are blue. It has ended up being my thing. The commitment was to the tie, and then it’s just gone beyond that a little bit to the suit. I’m the silly guy that walks around with a bunch of sweaty people in grandstands. Our fans get it: this isn’t because I want to wear a suit; it’s my reminder. I’m really doing it so the fans know that I’m really blessed to have this job, and there’s much more to this job than me.

Held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Every year, over 300,000 spectators flock to experience the excitement and energy of the event.   

For as big as it is, a lot of preparation goes into planning for and organizing an event like this. Every little detail needs to be considered. To tell us all about it in this Part 1 episode is the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, J. Douglas Boles

In this episode, host Ed Bernardon and Douglas discuss how Douglas prepares for the event, what he’s most passionate about when it comes to motosports, how he incorporates fan feedback into the event, and so much more! 

Some Questions Asked

  • Let’s say that I came to you and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to start an event that’s going to have 350,000 people in it’. Can you give me three pieces of advice? (8:20)
  • How old were you when you went to your first [Indy 500]? (16:31)
  • You have a degree in journalism, a graduate degree in law, [you’ve worked] in government and campaigns, and then racing. How does that all fit together? (22:08)
  • What kind of racing did you do? What would you drive? (25:05)

In This Episode You Will Learn 

  • How big the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is (2:44)
  • Why parking is the main thing that keeps Douglas up at night whilst preparing for the Indy 500 (6:21)
  • Douglas’ favorite part of race day (13:56)
  • About Douglas’ 48-hour rule (30:37)
  • Why Douglas always wears a blue suit (37:32)

Connect with J. Douglas Boles


Connect with Ed Bernardon:

Ed Bernardon: Doug, you’ve been an assistant manager on a political campaign way back with Steve Goldsmith, and you’ve also managed a racing team. Is it easier to manage politicians, or is it easier to manage racecar drivers?

Douglas Boles: Well, it’s a little bit of both. There’s politics for sure in managing a racecar driver and the race team. I would guess it’s probably a little easier to manage a racecar driver than a politician, especially these days. I did that 25 years ago when the world was completely different than it is now. If I had to choose today, I’d take a racecar driver all day long before I have to deal with politicians again.


[Intro Music]


Ed Bernardon: The Indianapolis 500, also known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” is held each May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also known as the Racing Capital of the World. But what you may not know is the Speedway is the world’s highest-capacity sports venue because it has permanent seating of over 250,000 and a total capacity of 400,000 spectators. The first Indy 500 took place over a hundred years ago in 1911, and since then, more than 100 Indy 500s have run, establishing the 500 as the biggest single event in motorsports, with millions watching on TV and 300,000 to 350,000 attending in person. I sat down with Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He daily oversees Speedway operations and is responsible for making the Indy 500 a smooth running event. In Part 1 of this two-part episode, Doug and I talk about the Speedway and the challenges behind organizing such an event, as well as his career path from journalism to politics to motorsports. Listen in to hear his answers to this and much much more.


Ed Bernardon: Doug, welcome to the Future Car Podcast.

Douglas Boles: Well, thanks for having me, Ed. I always get nervous when somebody reminds me how many people are here on race day. It’s the second-largest city in the state of Indiana inside the racetrack; put that aside because it does worry you when you think about that many people coming to this one location on that one day.


Ed Bernardon: Well, let’s start right there then because I’m not sure everyone really understands the enormity of the speedway. If you go online, there’s this image you can see of the Speedway, and inside of it are the Rose Bowl, Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, and Vatican City, all at the same time. For those who aren’t as familiar with the Speedway, tell us about how big it is. Give us a feel for it.

Douglas Boles: It’s basically a mile long by half a mile wide. It’s 300 acres or so that are actually inside the racetrack and make up our grandstand area. It’s massive. It’s the one thing when people come to the Speedway and have never been here before that strikes everybody. They pull into the Speedway, they come under the tunnel, and they say, “Oh my gosh, this place is huge.” It’s just a massive facility. That’s really the thing that sets us apart: just how big we are. And you just said how many different things can actually fit in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the same time. Then, when you think about it, those drivers—it’s a two-and-a-half mile course around that mile by half-mile outside of the racetrack—they get around it in less than 40 seconds. That’s how quickly they cover those two and a half miles over those 300 acres; they circle it. It’s an amazing facility, and it is just massive.


Ed Bernardon: And it’s been around for a while.

Douglas Boles: It was built in 1909. A handful of business folks here in Indianapolis really wanted to find a way to put Indianapolis on the map and bring people in. Also, they were in the middle of this new thing called the automobile. How can you test the automobile? If you got out of the center cities, there weren’t really great roads. They bought 300 acres of property from a farmer. Now, we’re about four and a half miles away as the crow flies from downtown Indianapolis and started the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. We first started racing the Indy 500 in 1911, and it’s been an amazing ride since then.


Ed Bernardon: I think if you go back then, it was even thought that Indianapolis might have been what Detroit is today. They thought that the automotive industry was really going to start there. But it ended up being a racing capital rather than the automotive capital.

Douglas Boles: It really did. In those early days, there were so many automotive manufacturers in Central Indiana and, frankly, in the Midwest. So, this was a place where the city of Indianapolis was trying to be the automotive capital of the world. Ultimately, they settled that a little bit further north of Indianapolis in Detroit, but it was designed for those manufacturers to come to the Speedway and test their cars. They raced against each other, but it became this massive testing facility. Our DNA is testing the new technology of the day, and in 1909, it was the automobile. Today, technology is so different, but we continue to test it. Carl Fisher, who was one of the main founders of the Speedway, was able to come back and see the Speedway today. First, I think he’d be amazed that we are getting ready to run the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500. But I think he’d feel pretty good that we were trying to stay true to that DNA of testing new technology. While it looks completely different than the technology he was testing, it still is testing new technology here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, we’re doing what Carl Fisher wanted us to do 115 years ago.


Ed Bernardon: If Carl walks into the Speedway today, what do you think would surprise him the most other than the fact that it’s still there?

Douglas Boles: I think the fact that it is still here would probably surprise him. I think the speeds would surprise him. They built the Speedway in 1909 and thought nobody would ever be able to go over 90 miles an hour at an average speed around the Speedway. We’re running almost 240 miles per hour on average today. So, I think he’d be astounded by the speed. And I think he’d be amazed at the number of people that show up for the Indianapolis 500, which was much larger than the entire city of Indianapolis when he built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, I think he’d be pretty surprised to see that,  and, of course, we’d be pretty surprised to see him.


Ed Bernardon: So, you’ve got 350,000 people. We need to remember that’s like three Super Bowls full of people coming into one event. It all rests on your shoulders. You have got to make sure that it’s all going to come off. I’m sure you’ve got a tremendous staff that helps you do it. But you said to the Indy Star once that the thing you worry about the most and keeps you up at night when you host this, is parking, of all things. Now, why parking?

Douglas Boles: Well, it really is part of the customer experience for me, and it’s a really critical piece. So, I worry about that. Our campus is about 1000 acres now. So, I’ve said 300 of it is basically the racetrack, we’ve got 700 acres of parking, we’ve got a solar farm, and we’ve got a Pete Dye-designed 18-hole golf course. I mean, it’s a full complex now. But parking—only 40% of those people that come to the Indy 500 park on property that we own. So, we need the town of Speedway, which has grown up around this farmland over the last 115 years, to really be partners. So, many of those customers are parking in front yards of people and parking lots of businesses. So, we need all that to work. But getting people in and then ultimately getting people out smoothly is really the most challenging piece of the puzzle. Getting in their grandstand seat, all of the pre-race stuff, and the race itself has its challenges, but it’s not nearly as difficult as the puzzle is related to the parking and then making sure people are able to get in and get out and not feel like they’re trapped here at the Speedway or slow down trying to get in. So, that’s the one thing that I really worry about because that’s a really big piece of that customer experience. If the parking goes poorly, so does your overall experience, in all likelihood.


Ed Bernardon: What’s the number two then? What’s behind parking?

Douglas Boles: Weather, probably. I worry a lot about the weather because you can’t control it. When you put that many people in an outside venue in spring in Indiana, when the weather can change almost instantaneously, you want your customers to be safe. You see a storm coming that’s on the west side of Indiana and is going to be here in an hour—it might be sunny here right now—but there might be lightning in that storm. When do you need to stop your race to decide to move people to safe zones in order to make sure that you keep them safe? So, the weather is probably the one outside of parking that I worry about the most. It’s the one that we really can’t control at all; we just have to be prepared to make sure we can do everything we can to keep those customers that are here safe.


Ed Bernardon: You’ve been doing this for 11 years. Speedway has been around for over 100 years. But let’s say that I came to you and said, “Hey, I’d like to start an event that’s going to have 350,000 people in it. Can you give me three pieces of advice?” What are the three things I better keep in mind if I’m going to try and do something like this?

Douglas Boles: The biggest thing is to really understand what it is you’re trying to sell to your customers. We’re pretty certain about what our DNA is: the things that are super important to this place that we’re trying to make sure are super important to our customers. So, really understand your mission; that’s probably the biggest thing. Have a staff of people who are unbelievably flexible because of all the plans you can put together, or you can walk through everything until you get people in the venue. You don’t know exactly how they’re going to respond, what their walking paths are going to be, what they’re going to want, what they’re going to need to do. You have to adjust as the event goes on. Even coming up on our 108th running of the Indy 500, we’re adjusting every May as we learn more and more about our customers. So, I think that’s the second one: really understand, from a staffing standpoint, that you have to be flexible. Then the third one that I think is really critical, after you get through that first event, talk to your customers and understand what went well, what their pain points were so that you can address them for the next year, and make sure you’re communicating with them how you’re going to address them and that you’ve heard them. That customer interaction in a world where so much of what we do is through the internet, Googling something, or looking at it on our phone, you can’t forget that customer interaction is one of the most important things. I call 10 customers every night and say, “Hey, we don’t get to celebrate the 108th running of the Indy 500 60 days from now without you. I’m not calling to sell you anything; I’m just calling to say thank you.” What that does is it opens up this amazing dialogue with a customer when they think, “Wow, this massive facility, this massive event, they care enough to talk to me,” and get that customer feedback. So, customer feedback is, maybe of those three things I just talked about, the most important so that you can continue to make the customer experience better every year when they return.


Ed Bernardon: I was going to ask you when you have 350,000 attendees, which one do you pick to talk to? But I think what I heard you say was you give 10 people a call every night. Let’s just take the past week, the last 70 calls. What’s the most unexpected comment you got that said, “Ah, that’s an aha moment”?

Douglas Boles: I’ve been doing this since 2016, so I don’t really get unexpected ones anymore. What’s really interesting is that I call from my cellphone; I don’t block it. What I’ve found over time is that as cellphone technology has gotten better, people don’t answer phones when they don’t know the number. So, what happens a lot of times is that I’ll leave a message, and then I’ll call somebody else. And then, people will call back after they’ve realized that it was me calling. I get a bunch of text messages on event days now from people I don’t even know because they have my number saying, “Hey, I’m here. Thanks for bringing me.” I think the common theme that I hear the most, and it’s the thing I think is the most gratifying, is when somebody tells me how they came to know about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who brought them, why they continue to come, and who they bring with them now. So, that’s the one that’s probably the most special for me. The surprising things you hear—and as I said, they’re not surprising anymore—when I hear from somebody who says, “Oh, man, my dad brought me, and his granddad brought him. Last year, we sprinkled my dad’s ashes on it.” It makes you realize that this facility is so much more than just an event facility. It creates memories and lifelong connections with family members. Those are the things that are important for us to continue to take care of. But I haven’t gotten too many surprising ones lately. They fall into two or three buckets of the same kind of story. Obviously, there’s more than that. It’s just a blast to hear from fans. I can have a terrible day in the office, and as I’m driving home, picking the phone up, calling people, it’s fantastic to hear from them.


Ed Bernardon: Is there anything you got on one of those calls that you actually made a big change in Speedway?

Douglas Boles: Absolutely, less about race day sometimes and more about some of the days that lead up to it. So, we have a practice day, a final practice before the 500, on Friday before the Indy 500. A lot of fans will come in on Thursday, and then they’re here Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; big parade downtown on Saturday and the race on Sunday. But you learn things like, “Hey, I used to go in this gate, and now you closed this gate. But here’s where we park,” or “I love to sit on the top of the tower terrace for Carb Day. And the way you open the Carb Day venue, it penalizes us to be early,” or “We’re your biggest fans.” And things like that where you can make subtle changes. One change that we’re going to make this year for Carb Day that I learned from talking to fans: we have a concert that takes place after the practice in the infield, and about 30,000 of our fans will stay around for that concert. We have gotten later and later at the time we’ve opened that venue. I’ve heard from a lot of fans who say, “The pitstop competition, which happens after practice but before the concert, is great, but I’m here for the concert and the fun, and I’m drinking enough beer. I don’t care about the pitstop competition, but I want to be upfront; you open the venue too late.” So, we’re going to open that venue up a little bit earlier this year. So, subtle things, you hear for sure, that are able to make the customer experience better. At least every week, I’m getting something new that we can adjust from one of those customers.


Ed Bernardon: Those little things, too, that usually can make it better. Now, I grew up in Indianapolis. I still go to the 500 every year. I’ve been to a lot of races—Formula One races and NASCAR races—and the one thing I think that sets the Indianapolis 500 apart and makes it different than any other is the pageantry. For me, the one moment I think is practically unbelievable—it is on Memorial Day—is when they play “Taps,” and you have 350,000 people, and it is completely silent. It goes from complete silence to a roar afterward. I don’t know if you can experience that anywhere else other than the Indianapolis 500. 

Douglas Boles: Probably my favorite part of the entire race day, including the race, is “Back Home Again in Indiana,” which is the last thing really before “Gentlemen, start your engines.” But it is Memorial Day weekend, Memorial Day Sunday, and the race has always been on Declaration Day or Memorial Day from the very beginning. So, part of our DNA is celebrating, especially those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, and our fans know that. We have almost 40 different countries represented in our grandstands on race day, and even those fans. It’s amazing; you’re right that the excitement and the noise and the minute “Taps” starts, just how silent 300 acres of 350,000 people can be. It’s just a powerful moment. We celebrate those men and women who are in uniform and march down pit lane, and the crowd is just a slow wave of standing up and respectfully clapping and thanking those men and women who are currently serving. Part of what makes that day so special is the way that we continue to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve. Outside of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” those moments are probably the most powerful moments of the day for me.


Ed Bernardon: I would think, too, is when, at the start of the race, the cars come around the first time; they’re loud, but relatively they’re quiet, and they are sort of straggling, then they come around a little bit better lined up and a bit louder. Now, they’re headed to that start line, and oh my God, the roar of that tightly packed set of cars. I don’t think you have that much horsepower in such a small area except for coming around that fourth turn and heading right there to the start.

Douglas Boles: Yes, like 25,000 horsepower across the 33 cars that you have if you add them all up. That is a moment, especially for folks who’ve never been to the Indianapolis 500, and they go for the first time. Seeing those cars come around three by three, 11 rows, and the green flag, and things start. It is a very powerful moment in sport. They’re going to go try and drive into a 60-foot-wide corner, a 90-degree corner at turn one at over 200 miles an hour, and figure out how to get through there without making a mistake. It’s a pretty neat moment in sport, for sure, and that’s one of the moments that people love. This will be my 48th Indianapolis 500, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to the point where that’s really a neat moment for me, but I still am really stuck in that pageantry, the pomp and circumstance, and that tradition in the last 45 minutes leading up to the command is pretty hard to beat in just about anything in the world.


Ed Bernardon: How old were you when you went to your first one?

Douglas Boles: I wasn’t allowed to go till I was 10. That was the rule in our house.


Ed Bernardon: 10. Why is that? 

Douglas Boles: I don’t know why that was the rule; it was just the rule in my house. My dad worked for the United States Auto Club for a period of time, which sanctioned the Indy 500 at one point in time. So, I grew up in a family around racing. I don’t know if he just didn’t want me to see what was going on in the Snake Pit or all the craziness inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I actually turned 10 in 1976. So, I was trying to argue, as a kid, the lawyer in me that I didn’t know was ultimately going to be a lawyer was trying to say, “Well, look, Dad, I’m closer to 10 for the ’76 race than I’m closer to 11 for the ’77 race. So, you should let me go now.” I lost that battle. Looking back at it, I was a massive AJ Foyt fan my whole life. AJ would be my motorsport hero. To be able to say my first Indy 500 was in 1977, when AJ Foyt won his fourth, is pretty special now to look back on it. Although, I’m a Johnny Rutherford fan, too. He won in ’76. But glad ’77 and AJ were my first.


Ed Bernardon: You mentioned the Snake Pit, and there is a Snake Pit today in the Speedway. But it was a little crazy back there. I think it was in turn one. You said your dad was maybe protecting you from the Snake Pit. So, once you were in, did you ever spend much time in the Snake Pit, which was many years ago?

Douglas Boles: I’ve always been a race man, and it’s really been all about what’s going on at the track. I went to Butler University for my undergraduate degree here in Indianapolis because I wanted to be close to Speedway. I remember the first May as a freshman, going with a bunch of buddies from school, and how they couldn’t wait to drink and go to the Snake Pit. I just thought it was blasphemy because it was May, and you needed to be paying attention to what was going on at the racetrack. So, I probably was in the original Snake Pit once or twice. The bulk of my time here at the Speedway has really been all about the racing side. For me, it’s been my passion. I don’t really have a great Snake Pit memory because I never really spent any time there. As you said, we now have the new Snake Pit. The old one was organic. People who came on their own had no idea anything was going on at a racetrack; it was about drinking and other things that shouldn’t be going on. But it was like a massive EDM concert in Vegas; it probably would be the best way to describe it. Today, we have an EDM concert at the racetrack—30,000 young adults under the age of 30 are there for the music and not really about the racing. It’s been one of the best marketing tools that we have for young folks to get them interested in the Speedway. Since we started in 2011 with that, we’re now seeing those kids transition into ticketholders. It’s what they do on Memorial Day weekend; they go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a slow transition from full-on about the music that takes place from 7 am  to 3 pm into “I’m just gonna go to one or two artists I like, and I’m gonna sit in the grandstands.” Now, we’ve got a lot of them, and they just sit in the grandstands with their buddies, and it’s part of what they do. So, it’s a bit tamer than the old Snake Pit; it still has a little bit of its challenge, but not quite like the old one.


Ed Bernardon: But I never really thought about it the way you were just thinking about it: you go to that concert, and you said, “Oh, there are cars here. I can hear ’em every now and then,” and then, “Oh, it’s time to go home, I guess the race is over.” But then, eventually, they’re fans.

Douglas Boles: It’s 100% that way. It’s the best tool we have. If I go to a college campus to talk about the Indy 500, a handful of people will show up. If you go to a college campus to talk about an EDM concert at the Indy 500, you get a whole bunch of interest. So, it’s a great way to create that dialogue. What we do during the concert is that during those 45 minutes of pre-race, the Snake Pit goes down, there’s no music, and the kids that are in that venue actually are seeing what’s going on on the big screens there. So, they’re getting to at least see the pomp and circumstance. They see the start of the race once the start of the race happens, and we go back to the concert. And then, for the last 10 laps of the race, the concert goes down, and they get a chance to see what’s going on at the end and see who wins. So, it’s our way of subtly getting them connected to what’s going on. But for the most part, they’re there for the music, not for the racing.


Ed Bernardon: You spend a year preparing. Like you said, you start to look forward to the next race as soon as the one you’re at is finished. You have the celebration in Victory Lane and all that. I’m sure you probably have to talk to the press. But eventually, you get home. What do you do when you get back home? You open the door, and you shut the door. What do you do next? 

Douglas Boles: For me, I spend most of the month of May actually here. I have got a little camper, so I’ll stay in the camper; it’s just a lot easier. The day before the 500, I wake up on Saturday morning, and as we get prepared, I actually stay up all night, Saturday night into Sunday, because by the time you’re done and prepared, it’d be a two-hour sleep anyway, and I’d feel worse. So, I spend most of the night out in the campgrounds, watching the fans, just having a great time, interacting with fans, and then getting ready for the gates to open. Once the race is over, we have all of our PR that we have to do, which usually goes into the evening time. And then, I typically go back to my camper, sit down, have a drink, and talk through the day with my family. The next day, we’re here to get ready for our victory celebration event, and that’s downtown Indianapolis. So, I actually don’t get home till Tuesday. When I do get home, it’s fun to see the dog again and sit down.


Ed Bernardon: He remembers you, I hope.

Douglas Boles: He definitely remembers me. That’s the moment at which you sit back and you start getting ready for how we’re talking back to our customers to make sure we’re getting feedback on how the experience was for them, what we’re thinking about in terms of renewal because those folks that bought tickets have 500 hours to renew their tickets to make sure they have the same seats for the next year. So, we’re just right back at it basically right away. Tuesday night afterward, that’s the first night I get to sleep in my own bed, and it’s always amazing how your own bed feels better than just about anything else.


Ed Bernardon: Let’s take a step back and talk a little bit about your career. You have a degree in journalism, then a graduate degree in law, then you’re working in government and campaigns, then racing, then lawyer, and now you’re running a racetrack. How does that all fit together? It’s, “I’m going to be a journalist. I’m going to get a degree in that.” And the next thing you know, you’re running Indianapolis Motor Speedway—not completely unrelated, but not necessarily a straight path.

Douglas Boles: It was definitely not a straight path. I was a journalism major because I thought, “I’m not AJ Foyt; I’m not gonna get to drive cars probably like him, but I can certainly write about them.” So, I chose journalism as a way to learn to communicate, which is a great opportunity through that education course. But more than anything, it was an opportunity for me to think, “Okay, this will give me an opportunity to write about motorsport.” Then, back in the day, they didn’t have a PR or marketing degree; journalism was as close as you could get, at least at Butler, where I was. So, I chose journalism because it did have a few classes in PR, but there wasn’t a concentration in it. Then, I had an opportunity to go to work. My first job, once I was about to graduate, was shooting photos at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Associated Press. They assigned me to turn three, Canon gave me a camera, and I went out and shot photos all day long, but it got me to be at the racetrack. I started at the Statehouse. Even at the Statehouse, when I was there working for the House of Representatives, I used every opportunity I could to connect to motorsports. So, there was a team called Tom Walkinshaw Racing out of Northern Indiana, who won the 24 Hours of Daytona with a guy named Davy Jones, who was an IndyCar driver as well later in his career. I thought, “Well, we’ve got to celebrate them on the House floor.” So, I made connections that brought them to the House floor. Then, I went to work for the mayor of Indianapolis, and we created a Motorsports Economic Development Task Force to create and bring business to the City of Indianapolis. So, really across the board, no matter what I was doing, I found a way to connect my passion.


Ed Bernardon: Yeah, I noticed you have a simulator behind you there.

Douglas Boles: I do have a simulator behind me. So, if I get a chance, I actually get in and do some laps here at the Speedway. I’ve done some racing across my career and still get in a race car when I can, not ever in IndyCar. I tell young people all the time, especially if you’re not married, you don’t have a mortgage, and you’re passionate about something: Don’t give up on your passion. Find a way to pursue your passion. No matter what you’re doing, you could probably find a way to connect your passion to it. That’s really what I did. Every step of the way, I found a way to either tie it to my work or take part-time evening jobs working at Raceway Park, which is a small track west of Indianapolis here, in their media center. Terry Lingner, who was famous for taking ESPN motorsport and putting it together, worked for Terry Lingner, traveling around the country on my weekends and spotting for production. So, anything I could do to build my motorsport network and stay connected to motorsport is really what I tried to do, no matter what job I was in. So, it’s a weird way to get here, but there was always a thread of motorsport through each one of those.


Ed Bernardon: You said you did some racing yourself; what kind of racing did you do? What did you drive?

Douglas Boles: I’ve driven just about everything. I did a lot of SCCA racing, Formula Vees, and Formula Fords. I’ve done a lot of vintage NASCAR racing and vintage cup cars. I’ve done a lot of sports car racing. The most recent race that we competed in was here at the Speedway last year. We had a big vintage race here. I ran in a NASCAR car and actually finished on the podium in my class at NASCAR. I’ve got a good friend of mine, a former basketball coach, who has an old Trans-Am car, and we did a 90-minute enduro race together. So, anytime I have a chance to strap into a racecar, I certainly do that. When we announced that the Brickyard, our NASCAR race, is going back to the Oval from the road course, we have these really cool two-seat NASCAR cars that Roger Penske and Team Penske built for us here, and I actually got to give high-speed rides to the media around the Oval. So, anytime I can hop in something fast, I certainly do. In fact, my helmet’s sitting right back with my driving shoes, just in case somebody shows up and needs me to strap in.


Ed Bernardon: So, do you have a few wins in there? Do you have some first place, some trophies, or a roomful of trophies, maybe?

Douglas Boles: I do. I have some Formula Vee wins, for sure. Back in the ’90s, I was a Pro Vee champion back in the day, as well. Picked up a Formula Ford win here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few years ago. But for me, it’s really about getting in and competing. Like I said, I’m not AJ Foyt. When I was standing in line, I didn’t ask God for the gift to drive race cars. So, I’m missing that 5% that the great ones have. I enjoy cars so much, especially the old-school and manual ones; I love to drive anything manual. I just bought a 1924 Chevrolet dirt car; I thought I’d use it as my golf cart driving around the campus in May. So, that’s how much I love cars. My wife didn’t divorce me when I called her and said, “Hey, I think I’m gonna buy a car.”


Ed Bernardon: Now, you’ve driven quite a bit around the Speedway for one reason or another. I had Mario Andretti on the podcast. Mario says to me, “Ed, there are two kinds of people at the Speedway: the ones who have hit the wall and the ones who are going to hit the wall.” Which category are you in?

Douglas Boles: I guess I’m in the latter category. I hope that, in my case, he’s wrong. He is 100% correct as it relates to running the Indianapolis 500. You are not going to get through a career at the Indy 500 without having some sort of incident. Oftentimes, that incident is the incident that helps you understand what the edge is and how not to cross it and actually makes people better racecar drivers. But it is definitely like riding a motorcycle: there are those who have and those who are going to crash their motorcycle.


Ed Bernardon: So, did you tap the wall at some point?

Douglas Boles: Oh, certainly. I’ve had my incidents.


Ed Bernardon: Would you call it a tap or a crash? 

Douglas Boles: Most of the racing that I did was road course racing, so most of them were taps. I have had a couple of spins here at the Speedway on the road course, but fortunately, I’ve not hit anything.


Ed Bernardon: Your Panther Racing has been very successful, winning 15 IndyCar championships. What made you make that change? It was almost instant success. How did you go from what you were doing prior to that to “I’m going to start a racing team”?  

Douglas Boles: I talked to you a little bit about my path. As part of that, I met Terry Lingner and ended up working for him. Then, we met a guy named John Barnes, a team manager at the time, and I actually ended up spotting for his driver, Roberto Guerrero and went on the road and was Roberto’s spotter as he was driving. An opportunity came up for us to create a team. A sponsor reached out to John and said, “Are you interested in creating a team?” John wasn’t quite sure, and the handful of us who were good friends of John’s and worked with him said, “Yeah, you absolutely have to at least try when somebody asks you.” So, we put together a really cool group of people, including Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, Terry Lingner was involved in that, John Barnes was involved, a car dealer named Gary Pedigo. A little unknown fact: the current Athletic Director at Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick, was working as a consultant here in Indianapolis, and he helped us put together the presentation that we made to Pennzoil on how to start this team. I was working for the mayor at the time and had no idea that it would turn into what it turned into. When Pennzoil loved the idea and what we were trying to do, I told the Mayor of Indianapolis in the fall of 1997, “Thank you very much for the opportunities. I’ll help you get the budget for the city passed. Once that’s done, I’m going to go off and try to be a full-time race person.” I was the Chief Operating Officer there. We ended up winning 15 races, and Sam Hornish won a couple of championships back-to-back with him. We did win a championship in the Indy NXT Series. We won a lot of races here with a guy named Mark Taylor. It was just a really fun opportunity to do that. Ultimately, in around 2007, I just felt like it was time for me to get off the road, pay attention to a young family, and go back to practicing law for a while before I came here to the Speedway, ultimately. Those were some of the greatest days: you’ve got to suit up, the team side. Working with Jim Harbaugh was crazy. He was such a competitor, being able to see how he ticked. He learned so much about culture from the team aspect. I think that the one ingredient that gave us that success so quickly is the team culture. Everybody had everybody’s back; there were job descriptions, but everybody threw them out. We just did what it took to be competitive and to win.


Ed Bernardon: Harbaugh had a special rule, I read: the 48-hour rule. Explain what that is and if you still live by that.

Douglas Boles: It was the good or bad rule. I actually try and shorten that rule as much as I can. You have to be able to learn from your mistakes and move on but not dwell on them. You’ve got to celebrate your wins. But you have to remember, there’s another game coming, so you can’t celebrate them too long or rely on that last one to continue to move forward. So, there are definitely things, especially in this day of social media.  I love social media because it’s a great way to connect with fans, but it’s also a great way to go down rabbit holes and things that can really get you sidetracked. You have to be able to compartmentalize it, move on, and learn what you can learn from those mistakes, but think about the next win or the next opportunity to win. That really started with Jim and that 48-hour rule. It worked pretty well for him and, obviously, for us back in the Panther Racing.


Ed Bernardon: So, if you win the big game on Sunday afternoon, I’ll let you celebrate till Tuesday afternoon. After that, you better think of the next big win or forget about the loss and think about the next big one or something like that. When you win the Indianapolis 500, for a driver, it’s like a career changer. In some ways, it’s probably even bigger than winning the IndyCar championship. Your team came in second four times. I would imagine coming in second at the Indianapolis 500, especially four times, has got to be a big heartbreaker. But let’s talk about that fourth-second place. How’d you feel?

Douglas Boles: For me, it’s a little different because I left Panther in ’07. Obviously, I stayed in touch with the guys and had a lot of pride in that team because of being there from the beginning and then watching them have those second-place finishes. What’s unique about the fourth one is that it was my first May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was on the PR side; I wasn’t yet in this role. But I was the Director of PR and Marketing here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As that race was unfolding, especially towards the end there, as J. R. Hildebrand and Panther Racing with the National Guard car were leading in those last few laps, it was a pretty neat moment to think about the pride you have and think about where that team came from and how close they’d been, and then to actually get there. All John Barnes cared about was the Indianapolis 500. He did the rest of the series because he had to, but he grew up wanting to win the Indianapolis 500 and to be there with a rookie was pretty amazing. When that crash happened, there was this weird moment where you just felt really bad for this team that you love so much and that you know how much it meant to them. On the flip side, for me, as the promoter of the Indianapolis 500, two things happened that made it an amazing thing: Dan Wheldon won. There is no driver in recent history who loved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like Dan Wheldon did. For him to be a two-time winner, I thought in my head, “This is great for me as the promoter because Dan is going to help us promote the Indy 500 going forward.” And then the second thing is the way that J. R. Hildebrand finished that race; he crashed. The right side of the car is basically gone, and instead of stopping, he keeps his foot on the throttle, the car pinned against the fence, trying to win the race with half a car. Ultimately, he falls a few yards short and ends up finishing second. That car had it won the race, would have been one of those cool things to just take it exactly like it was, put it in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and never touch it. We still talk about the 2011 Indy 500 to this day.


Ed Bernardon: In fact, we had seats in the fourth turn. I can remember seeing that thing and going, “Oh, wow! It’s still moving. How could it move?” I guess he was getting a little bit of that 1,000 horsepower back down onto the ground somehow, one way or another. So, in your current role, I had someone else on the podcast, Beth Paretta. She had fielded the first majority women’s team, which was quite exciting. It was great talking to her. She told me about her first interaction with Roger Penske. I think he had a car dealership of some sort. She actually had to raise her voice and get upset at him because she didn’t like what he was doing, and then she realized afterward, “Oh, my God! I just yelled at Roger Penske.” Now, it all worked out great because, in some ways, his respect for her grew, and he ended up helping her get into the 500. Can you think of a time with your boss, Roger Penske, when you’ve been angry with him? That you were a little bit maybe butting heads. 

Douglas Boles: Well, a story I’ve never told that; I haven’t even told this to Roger. In 1986, I was a Butler University student who got a pit pass, and I was all excited about it. Watching practice from probably too close to the pit box inside the pit area, and Roger Penske is trying to bring Rick Mears in and is holding the lollipop that helps him stop. I was in the way, and he just basically moved me out of the way with the back of the lollipop. I was like, “Whoa! I’m in the way, I’m in the way.” It’s one of those moments where my buddies are laughing, “Oh, Roger Penske just moved you.” That may be my first real interaction with him. He’d have no idea or not remember it. It certainly was one I remember just because it was Roger Penske moving me with a lollipop out of the way so that Rick Mears could pit.


Ed Bernardon: You haven’t used a lollipop on him recently, just to get even or anything?

Douglas Boles: I’m not gonna raise my voice at Roger Penske.


Ed Bernardon: It worked for Beth but not for you. You would think, “Who would take the chance?”

Douglas Boles: We have great conversations, and there are moments in time when we have different opinions. The great thing about Roger Penske is he wants you to tell him his opinion, even if it’s contrary to his. Oftentimes, you can get to a point where maybe he sees your side, or maybe you see his, and you settle on a direction, but he’s not interested in you following along with where he is. Obviously, I got to know him in passing, working here at the Speedway. Even on the team side, when I was at Panther Racing, one of our championships was beating his team, Elio Castroneves. They ended up second in the championship; Sam Hornish and Panther ended up first. So, I got a chance to know him in those days. But several years ago, when I was a couple of years into my presidency here, after the victory celebration, I got an unbelievably nice note from Roger Penske about the way that we run things at the Speedway and how impressed he was with the way that I was able to work with folks and promote this event. It struck me as typical Roger, in the sense that he goes out of his way to take care of people, thank people, and know that when he notices something. I can remember getting that letter, and I still have it; I probably should frame it and take pictures of it and send it to my family and say, “Can you believe that I got this letter from Roger Penske?” It was a pretty powerful moment. For the last four-plus years, to been able to talk to him every day and work with him. He’s down here once a week. The things you learn from a guy like Roger Penske, even at 57 years old, it’s been the biggest learning period of my life. I just learned from what makes Roger Penske tick and why he’s so successful.



Ed Bernardon: I’m sure he’s helped you with your career. Like you said, you learn something from our everyday. I do want to ask you one other thing to see if this influenced your career: the blue suit. I’ve seen some videos online where you skydived in the blue suit. You didn’t have that jacket on, but you had a blue shirt and a blue tie, and you were with waiters looking for bricks in the brook. What’s with the blue suit? Is there a secret to always having the blue suit? Do you recommend that to everyone?

Douglas Boles: When they made me president, I said, “I’m going to wear a tie every day I’m representing the Speedway because the brand deserves it.” It’s a reminder to me that every morning when I get up, I represent something far bigger than I am; I represent memories, excitement, and all the things to all the 350,000-plus people who are here. I represent the people who came before: Carl Fischer, Tony Holman, Wilbur Shaw, Tony George, and all the folks. I’m the 11th president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me, the tie was what my commitment was. But as part of the tie, the suit came along. I’m such a blue fan of pretty much everything. Right now, I’ve got blue shoes on, blue socks on, I probably have blue underwear on, and my glasses are blue. It has ended up being my thing. The commitment was to the tie, and then it’s just gone beyond that a little bit to the suit. I’m the silly guy that walks around with a bunch of sweaty people in grandstands. Our fans get it: this isn’t because I want to wear a suit; it’s my reminder. I’m really doing it so the fans know that I’m really blessed to have this job, and there’s much more to this job than me.


[Outro Music]

J. Douglas Boles | President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

J. Douglas Boles | President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

J. Douglas Boles was named president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation in July 2013. He is responsible for the daily operations of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all the world-class racing events at the facility, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the Sonsio INDYCAR Grand Prix, the NASCAR Brickyard 400 presented by PPG, the IMSA TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks and the Indy 8 Hour Sports Car Endurance Race. He also is responsible for exploring and expanding business
opportunities for the Speedway. In a normal year, IMS hosts more than 275 event days of activity at the nearly 1,000 acre facility. Boles is a graduate of Butler University and the IU McKinney School of Law.

Ed Bernardon

Ed Bernardon

Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011, he previously directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory.  Ed holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.

On the Move: A Siemens Automotive Podcast Podcast

On the Move: A Siemens Automotive Podcast

The automotive and transportation industries are in the middle of a transformation in how vehicles are designed, made, and sold. Driven by an influx of new technologies, consumer demands, environmental pressures, and a changing workforce in factories and offices, automotive companies are pushing to reinvent fundamental aspects of their businesses. This includes developing more advanced and capable vehicles, identifying new revenue sources, improving customer experiences, and changing the ways in which features and functionality are built into vehicles.

Welcome to On the Move, a podcast from Siemens Digital Industries Software that will dive into the acceleration of mobility innovation amid unprecedented change in the automotive and transportation industries. Join hosts Nand Kochhar, VP of Automotive and Transportation, and Conor Peick, Automotive and Transportation Writer, as they dive into the shifting automotive landscape with expert guests from Siemens and around the industry. Tune in to learn about modern automotive design and engineering challenges, how software and electronics have grown in use and importance, and where the industries might be heading in the future.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/on-the-move/ed-bernardon/doug-boles-president-of-the-indianapolis-motor-speedway-part-1/