|Another huge crowd expected for Indy 500|
There should be little letdown for the Indianapolis 500 following the milestone 100th race last year.
In an exclusive interview with IndyStar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles revealed that he expects a near-record crowd, significantly exceeding the estimated crowd of 220,000 at the 2015 race.
"We'll be well north of (250,000)," Boles said Thursday at IMS. "That is not a problem."
Last year, an estimated 350,000-plus people packed IMS to witness the historic 100th running of the 500-Mile Race. The jaw-dropping crowd was, according to IMS,the only recorded sellout in 500 history and led to the local TV blackout being lifted for the first time since 1950.
But as the track basked in the glow of its century of history and tradition, many wondered whether there would be a massive drop-off for the 101st running.
The answer to that is no. While topping or even matching last year is likely impossible, Boles and IMS are eyeing yet another mega crowd for May 28.
The track president said he and his team have gone to great lengths to retain as much of the boost it got from the 100th running as possible. And their efforts — from revamping their "Race to Renew" ticket renewal campaign to Boles personally calling 10 customers a night to invite them back — have been rewarded. So far, Boles said, "we've kept significantly more than we thought we would."
Among the biggest sources of retention, Boles said, have been the lifelong fans. While that may not come as a surprise to some, Boles said one of the track's biggest fears heading into last year's race was that the fans who had been coming year after year would feel satisfied after "making it to 100," and would stop attending.
That's not happening.
"With a lot of the people we thought were at risk to leave, they walked back in the facility on race morning last year and realized why they love the place," Boles said. "They realized what it really meant to them. … It's amazing the stories I'm still hearing of people who can't wait to come back."
So does that mean that the 101st running could clear 300,000? Or that IndyCar might again consider lifting the TV blackout? It's too early to know, Boles said, but nothing has been ruled out.
"I don't know that we get to the (2016) level," Boles said. "That's a tall order … But we'll definitely have a really good crowd. I think people are going to come in and notice it's much better, with the exception of last year, than any other year where they've been."
If that's the case, IMS could, in fact, be looking at 300,000 in attendance, since there were reports of that many fans showing up in 2011 for the 100th anniversary of the 500, which ran its first race in 1911.
The 2011 race marked a significant improvement in attendance at the 500, and it also marked what Boles describes as the "new normal" for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
"We had a great lift in our attendance in (2011) and have had a steady increase since then," he said.
As for what fans can look forward to at the upcoming race, Boles said a blend of old and new.
While the focal point of the 100th running was a look back at a century of history, this year will begin to look toward the future.
"IndyCar is really focused on what's next," Boles said. "What's the next generation, but what makes (IMS) so special and different is our history and tradition. … So while last year was a great opportunity for us to really celebrate our history, this year we're going to celebrate our history, but it's also the beginning of what's next. And we'll continue to focus on what's next. And that's what so powerful about this brand: It's able to live in both worlds." Jim Ayello/Indy Star