Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles has a goal each night of calling 10 customers during the 35-minute ride to his Zionsville home.
“No matter how bad the day was, it’s amazing to talk to fans and hear their stories about the Speedway,” Boles said. “It’s cool to find why they fell in love with the place and what it means to them.”
Boles, 51, knows where he gets his love of the sport.
“I grew up in a household where the major thing we talked about was auto racing, in particular the Indy 500 and Indy cars,” Boles said.
After working in publicity at the U.S. Auto Club, his father, Jeff, went to law school and eventually became a Hendricks County Circuit Court Judge, retiring in 2014. Through the years, Jeff Boles has continued working as an observer for the Indy 500 and IndyCar races.
“It’s definitely how I fell in love with the sport,” Boles said. “I talk to my dad every day and usually the first question out of his mouth is, ‘Is there any racing news?’ It’s been a bond we’ve had our whole life.”
When Doug Boles was 10, his dad determined it was time for him to attend his first race.
“That was A.J. Foyt’s fourth win (in 1977), so he got to watch him parade around afterwards with (IMS owner) Mr. (Tony) Hulman in the pace car,” Jeff Boles said.
Many fans have similar stories of family race traditions, Doug Boles said.
“A lot of times people’s parents have passed on, but they’ve introduced their kids and grandkids,” he said. “It’s one of those events that has passed on from generation to generation.”
Even when Boles was choosing colleges, the Danville High School graduate decided to swim at Butler instead of DePauw because it was closer to IMS and he could watch testing sessions.
“I was a journalism major, because I thought if I can’t race, I can write about it,” said Boles, who drove in the Sports Car Club of America series after college.
However, Boles first worked in politics, working in the Statehouse and for then-Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who put him on a motor sports task force.
“Our task was to get racing businesses to relocate to Indianapolis,” Boles said. “Through that I did weekend work for ESPN.”
From 1997 to 2006, he became part of the Panther Racing team as chief operating officer and part owner.
After serving time as a drivers’ agent, Boles, who earned his law school degree in 2000, joined IMS as vice president of communications in 2010. He added the title of chief operating officer in 2013 before becoming president a few months later.
“It’s been the greatest five years a kid from central Indiana could ever have,” Boles said.
All his racing experiences are a boost to Boles.
“He understands all the different sides on how to sell the race and put the race in the best light,” said Kevin Lee, NBC Sports racing reporter and longtime IMS Radio network reporter. “While we think about the president’s role as administrative and all-encompassing, I think Doug would say one of the most important aspects is the promoting aspect. It kind of harkens back, this is a bit like (IMS founder) Carl Fisher was like. He was a promoter.”
Lee said there wasn’t as much need to promote the Indianapolis 500 from the 1930s to the 1990s.
“It kind of sold itself,” Lee said. “But now there is so much competition, not only just in the sports landscape but the entertainment landscape, that you have to be front and center and remind people what is going on.”
Boles has skydived into the Speedway, pulled an Olympic skier around the yard of bricks and camped out in a tent with race fans.
With all the IMS events, including the IndyCar Grand Prix, Vintage Racing Invitational, NASCAR’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard race, Red Bull Air Race and concerts, Boles stays busy year-round.
“We’re trying to find ways to keep a race track that at one point was open only one month a year,” Boles said.
Lee witnesses the long hours Boles puts in, noting Boles’ car is often still there after Lee finishes hosting historian Donald Davidson on a radio show at 9 p.m.
“He’s tireless,” Lee said. “As hard as we think we work, we know the boss is always working a little harder.”
The best moments for Boles are annual.
“Race day and those 30 minutes leading up to the command is always a magical moment,” Boles said. “You couldn’t be prouder to be a Hoosier and have this place on an international stage. I spend 80 percent of the day walking in grandstands thanking people who I want to thank, people that have been coming here for a long time.”
MEET DOUG BOLES
Personal: Boles and his wife, Beth, moved to Zionsville in 2001. They have a son together, Carter, a freshman at Heritage Christian High School, and Beth has three sons from her marriage to former driver Derek Daly: Conor, Colin and Christian.
On living in Zionsville: “I’ve lived there longer than any place else in my life,” Boles said. “I love Boone County. I love the Town of Zionsville. I get on my bike and ride all the county roads between Zionsville and Whitestown and Lebanon.”
Strangest request: A woman from the northeast U.S. sent Boles a letter with ashes of her late husband, a devoted Indy 500 fan, saying she promised him some of his ashes would be spread at the Speedway. State law prevented Boles from doing that. “But I didn’t want to let this lady down. So I walked up in the grandstands and opened up the envelope with a small amount of ashes in a tiny Ziploc bag.” Boles taped the bag to the seat where the man always sat and took a photo to send to the widow.