WADE: Phone Calls To The Fans

Susan Wade

SEATTLE — Thousands of people may say their favorite part of the workday is driving home. For Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, that’s true — but for an impressively unique reason.

Every evening for nearly three years, Boles has taken a list of 10 Indianapolis 500 ticket-buyers on his ride home. He purposely requests a varied list: patrons who just attended the world’s most famous race for the first time, those who have come for 10 to 15 years and veterans of 40 or more races. Most of the time, folks don’t answer his call and he has to leave a message.

“Three or four is my average — five’s a lot — of people who actually pick up. And it’s fun to hear the stories and how they got connected, and who they knew or who brought them,” Boles said. “That’s the cool thing about this place. The race is important, but the facility, the event and all the other stuff that goes along with it is what makes the event so cool. Most of the people I talk to aren’t race fans. They’re Indy 500 event fans. They don’t watch another race the rest of the year, let alone come to one.

“But everybody has a story about how they connected, whether their dad or their grandpa brought them, or they used to do Memorial Day picnics at uncle Bill’s house and they listened on the radio and it was a bucket list item to get to the speedway. The best part of my job is my drive home every night, listening to people say what they like about the speedway,” he continued. “And oftentimes, you hear the struggles of a fan. They say, ‘Can you fix this? Can you fix that?’ You learn a lot. But the best part is the passion people have for the brand.”

Boles understands that passion because he shares it. The race and the famous facility are imprinted in his DNA. He pronounced the Memorial Day classic “bigger than everything else. It’s a spectacular event.”
His practice of phoning Indianapolis 500 fans and engaging with them daily — not to mention his penchant for picking up the occasional piece of litter or mingling with the crowd when he easily could insulate himself in the Pagoda — is no chore. It’s his pleasure. It’s who he is. Surprisingly, Boles learned his customer-service lessons in drag racing.

Boles has a law degree and extensive political, as well as advertising and marketing, experience. He was a co-founder of Panther Racing. He served first at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as director of public relations before graduating to chief operating officer.

But his first job in motorsports came when he was a student at Butler University, as an intern at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Now Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the multipurpose venue is home to NHRA’s prestigious U.S. Nationals. The late John Potts hired him to work in media relations when Lex Dudas was the track operator.

After three summers at the drag strip, Boles took a job in Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s administration. But the young go-getter had made an impression on Dudas, who enlisted Boles’ help after his departure from government.

“Lex Dudas called me right after the new grandstands on the west side were built,” Boles said. Dudas asked him to help that Labor Day weekend with the track’s biggest event.

“I really need your help,” Dudas told him. “We’ve got all this new investment in the facility and all these NHRA big bosses are coming. I’ve got a couple of things I just really have to make sure are sorted and I can’t think of anybody I trust more than you to come do it.”

Boles said, “I’m like, ‘This is cool: Lex Dudas is calling.’ I said sure. He said, ‘Here’s what I need you to do: I need you to show up Wednesday. You’re going to be in charge of all the restrooms.’ I’m like, ‘What have I just gotten myself into?’

“Literally, he gave me a broom and a trash can and a crew of people. And my job was to make sure the restrooms stayed clean the whole weekend, because he didn’t want the Wally Parkses of the world to walk into the restroom and go, ‘What’s this about?’” he said, referring to NHRA founder Wally Parks. “I was worn out the whole weekend. Lex was thrilled. Then the day after I got back to work, Wally Parks actually called to say thank you. I’m sure Lex had him call. But it was just one of those moments.”

As for himself, Boles said, “I collect trash. That’s what I do. That’s my job. It’s not sitting there, having a drink in the Pagoda. I’m in the Pagoda on race day for maybe 10 minutes. The rest of the day I’m out talking with our fans and working with our people.”

He likes mingling with the crowd at the U.S. Nationals, too.

“I always go to Friday night qualifying. It’s one of the coolest things all year long,” said Boles, who says he also enjoys a burger (and probably the notion he doesn’t have to clean the restrooms anymore). “There’s nothing like sitting in the grandstands and watching a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster do a three-point-something run at 300 mph. It’s craziness.”

And the stories he hears there among the drag racing fans are like the ones he hears every night on his way home from the office.