Doug Boles is a man of the people. The president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway has never forgotten the importance of fans to the health and growth of motorsports.
It all starts at the grass-roots level and that is why Boles can often be found with his wife, Beth, and son, Carter, at short tracks short tracks throughout the Midwest. And when fans recognize him, most can’t believe the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be sitting at a short track dodging the dust and dirt along with them.
“When I go to short-track races, I wear a pair of shorts and a T-shirt,” Boles told SPEED SPORT. “The cool part about Eldora is as soon I as walked in, somebody started yelling at me. It was a family, we talked to them and did a photo.
“We spend our time sitting in the grandstands. Eldora has awesome concessions. I grabbed a beer and a pizza burger and went and sat in the grandstands. What’s really funny is when somebody will walk by and then turn around and walk back and ask, ‘Are you Doug Boles?’
“I don’t think they really believe that I’m a short- tracker; that I love this sport just like everybody else does,” Boles continued. “I don’t want to sit in a suite; I want to sit in the grandstands with people and get dirt on me.”
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By getting to know the fans, Boles can use what he learns to make their experience better at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“For me, I care about this sport beyond just the speedway,” Boles said. “I grew up in a house where we thought about short-track racing and the Indy 500. My dad was the United States Auto Club yearbook editor in the 1960s, so we grew up in a house where short tracks meant a lot. And it was back in the day when short tracks were actually a way to get to the speedway.
“One of the things since I’ve been in this job that is really important to me is connecting with the fans directly,” he added. “That is why on race day, I’m not in a suite, I’m in the grandstands interacting with fans.”
In many ways, Boles fits the true definition of “promoter” instead of speedway “president.”
“Sitting in the Pagoda for the whole race, that’s not who I am. I would rather be out with the fans or with our staff helping solve problems,” Boles said. “A perfect example is the dirt-track event we had before Brickyard 400 weekend, we went way late that last night going to 12:30 in the morning. All of those teams had to get out and were running at Gas City the next night, so they had to get out, remove the midgets and their trailers and get to Gas City.[caption id="attachment_283105" align="alignleft" width="300"] Doug Boles talks to the media during a press conference ahead of the inaugural BC39. (IndyCar PHoto)[/caption]
“But we realized the way we loaded in, we had built the garage area after the trailers moved in and people needed to move out. I stayed until 3 a.m. with staff helping to take the fence down.
“For me, I would rather be asking a fan what their issue is? Or rolling up my sleeves and working alongside staff to make sure they know we appreciate everything they are doing. I really try to pay attention to that.”
Boles has taken a little bit from every promoter he has encountered throughout his career, but there are a few individuals he has followed more closely.
“On the promotion side, ‘Humpy’ (H.A.) Wheeler and Eddie Gossage are the true, great promoters you learn from,” Boles said. “I love both of them. But J.C. Agajanian is my favorite promoter of all time. He is somebody who talked to people, tried to learn what is going on, shake some hands. It’s more grassroots promotions. You do a few stunts here and there but not real crazy stunts. I try and take bits of an Eddie Gossage and a ‘Humpy’ Wheeler and a lot of J.C. Agajanian into what I do.
“Chris Economaki is another one who was tremendous in our sport as a broadcaster, journalist and track announcer. But I loved the way Agajanian did it.
“There is something to be said for the small, local, short-track promoter,” Boles noted. “The only way they are promoting is to their people. They are in the small communities. It’s flyers in the restaurants. A lot of it is hand-to-hand combat. Over time, we have gotten away from that.
“Now, we are trying to supplement the more traditional digital marketing, home marketing, television marketing and radio marketing along with remembering the individual customer. The way you do that is to either call them or sit in the grandstands and ask how to make their experience better.”