Lights At IMS On The Table, But Does It Make Sense?

INDIANAPOLIS – Now that Roger Penske and Penske Corporation own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the biggest topics that has come up is if the famed track will add lights.

Since the place opened in 1909 and as it sits here today, the only time lights have ever been installed inside the grounds was for the BC39 Midget race the last two years inside of Turn 3.

Everyone keeps wondering when a shift to lighting the entire place is going to take place and wonder now that Penske is in charge, if it will happen.

“Well, I think we have to look as is the investment in lights or is the investment in something else we can do here to make the speedway and (INDYCAR) a going entity which gives us the results we expect,” Penske said on Monday on the prospects of adding lights to IMS.

This isn’t the first time lights have come up though. Most have thought that the biggest impact that the speedway can have in terms of adding an allure back to the Brickyard 400 is to make it a night race.

Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t tone deaf. He’s heard the same things we’ve all heard from race fans wanting lights. But, even before Penske bought IMS, the topic of lights has been discussed. Initially, the budget was around $25 million but a recent quote came in a bit cheaper around the $20 million price tag.

That’s a lot of money for a one time use.

“I’ve been there for nine years and I’ve been in this position for six, and over the last several years, we’ve often talked about things we could do to invest and make this (track) way better,” Boles said to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday.

“Lights are one that we’ve had a serious conversations about. But we’ve never really been able to sit down and think about, ‘Ok, does this make sense? How can you invest this and really make it pay off?’ Or how can we look at it and say ‘This is what the investment would be and there’s no way that it ever pays off. So let’s move on.”

Boles, admitted though that having Penske onboard now could change those conversations.

“Having Roger Penske, the Penske organization, the deep bench that they have to help you understand, look at data, understand how you get from Point A to Point B or how you say, ‘Look, we don’t want to go from Point A to Point B because it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to pivot.’

“That’s what he brings.”

Penske, didn’t balk about the idea of updating IMS even more. He said as much on Monday too. In fact, Penske wants to turn IMS to not just a racing venue but an entertainment venue, which in turn they can add more events at night which could add more revenue to pay for lighting the place up.

“It’s also a great business opportunity for us to grow it to the next level, and we look around this thousand acres and we say, can this be the entertainment really capital, not only the racing capital of the world but entertainment capital of the world in Indiana, and be able to support the state, the governor, the region, the city, the town of Speedway, and continue to grow it.

“We’re going to invest capital. We know the economic benefit today that this race brings to the region is amazing, and we want to grow that. It’s important to us.”

Penske also noted on Monday that he’s interesting in adding more races to the IMS calendar and one of which was a 24-hour race. In order to race for an entire length of a day, you would need lights.

“I think we look at the speedway itself, the investment with the 100 million dollars that was put in a few years ago before the hundredth, I think you’ve seen a tremendous change, and we want to add capability as there are more fan zones, what can we use this for, can we run a 24-hour race here, can we run a Formula 1 race here. What are the things we can do? This is a great asset.”

But, the main thing if lights are added would benefit has to be the Brickyard 400. The race has moved back to July again and will take place on July 5 next year. We saw how the crowds diminished when the race was run in July before. After all, that’s the biggest reason as to why the race was pushed back to September the last two years.

Having a night race on Fourth of July weekend in the future makes more sense and Penske is all behind making the Brickyard relevant again.

W”ell, I think you look at 27 years, there’s no reason to break that string of races,” Penske said of the Brickyard’s future. “I had a chance to talk to Jim France late last night to tell him that we were going to have this conference here in the morning, and he obviously was excited. We’ve worked together. We were partners with ISC at Homestead. We actually sold our business to them back several years ago. So we have a very close relationship and certainly with Jim and with Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell and the entire France family. We would expect to take this for many, many years.

“They need to run at Indiana. We want them to, and there’s no question that we’re going to look at opportunities to expand the relationship with them in the future.”

Boles, noted that he and Penske didn’t leave the IMS property until late on Tuesday night and that the topic of lights did come up.

“We didn’t leave last night until it got too dark to see in some of the buildings that we’ve turned the power off in different places around the facility (to save money). Musco’s really helped us understand what it would cost to light not just the race track, but the rest of the facility. So (we’re) walking through those studies at a really high level with Roger and his team so at least that seed he’s sort of planted in the announcement, he can start beginning to look at and decide if it’s something we should move forward with.”

But, Boles further added, in order to add lights, the ROI has to be there.

“There’s ROI (Rate of Investment) impact,” Boles said. “If you invest $20 plus million dollars in lights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, how long does it take to pay that off? Not only is Roger passionate about motorsports. He’s a great businessman and he’s going to make an investment that makes sense for everything. So we have a lot to look at. I think that’s something we’ll definitely keep looking at and his team will keep looking at and we’ll see where it goes.”

In terms of if there would be a hurdle with the town of Speedway, Boles doesn’t necessarily think so unless they went down the road for an endurance race. But, the track was there long before the neighborhoods around it and the people living near the track are likely there for a reason – they’re race fans.

“The nice thing about our community though is Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in a corn field and the neighborhood has come up around it,” Boles continued. “Most of the people that live in and around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway live there because they love it. So we have a base there that wants to be supportive of any of our events.”

I know that there is a noise ordinance in the area for around 11 p.m. ET, so if there happens to be a night race, they’ll have to get it in before that point. The biggest hurdle, even if the community is behind a night race is, having the neighborhoods lit up enough for hundreds of thousands of people to roam them after the completion of the event.

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