INDIANAPOLIS – There is no such thing as an offseason for Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles.
Working for IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske can be a 24/7/365 proposition for his senior management team.
“There is a lot to be done, some of which began well before the season finale at Long Beach,” Miles told SPEED SPORT. “We’re at full tilt getting ready for next year.
“You do things like talk to each of your people and do performance reviews, how we can work better together and come up with a detailed annual plan. We’re spending time thinking about the transition from Dan Andersen’s stewardship of Indy Lights to Indy cars and being ready for that. We are finalizing details of the timing of events with NBC and working with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and plans that have to come together for May.
“There is no rest for the wicked.”
The NTT IndyCar Series enjoyed a successful season last year, coming out of the dark shadows of a 2020 campaign that was greatly impacted by COVID. That meant an Indianapolis 500 in 2020 without spectators, doubleheaders at many of its venues in order to ensure a 14-race schedule and other restrictions simply to survive.
The season brought IndyCar out of the shadows of pandemic-stricken 2020 but had to begin the season dealing with certain restrictions including limited capacity for the 105th Indianapolis 500 in May.
The highlight of the year came in that event when a crowd limited at about 40 percent saw Helio Castroneves become the first four-time Indianapolis 500 winner in 30 years.
“It was fantastic,” Miles recalled. “We were thrilled to have 135,000 in the grandstands and 10,000 in the suites. It was a beautiful day. Helio winning was historic and sensational and thrilling. It was huge. But I think it becomes the platform of what we want to accomplish next May.
“Now, Helio wants to be the first five-time winner.
“There is pent-up demand, and our mentality is we want to approach this like we did the 100th running to do everything we can nationally and regionally and in Indiana to encourage fans to come back with a vengeance. We can’t wait until next May and that is building off of this year.”
This interview with Miles took place before the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to force limits on society and postponements in sports. It remains the hope and intention of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials to have full capacity for the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29.
That will be a first for Penske since he purchased the famed facility on Nov. 4, 2019.
“Roger Penske hasn’t seen May from this position when it is fully reopened,” Miles said. “That includes our traditional concerts on Carb Day and the Legends Day and the Snake Pit on Race Day. The reopening of the infield and everything that comes with that.
“I think it’s going to be a year at the Speedway where it is like normal, but we believe pent up demand. It will be a really big crowd and even more anticipation than normal.
“We weren’t too constrained in 2021. We hope to get back to Toronto and go back to Nashville for its second edition. We have an opportunity to get back to normal levels for the Leaders Circle for the teams and the purse at the Indianapolis 500 so that will be great.”
One of the highlights for Miles was the successful debut of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville. To see a first-year street race get off to a successful start is often a rarity because of the unique demands of creating such an event.
“I think every year there are two or three or four inquiries by cities that want a street race or there may be the initiative to explore possibilities with a city,” Miles explained. “But it takes time, especially with a street race. There is more early dialogue than there are new races. We have three or four conversations every year and most of them become dry holes.
“It’s so exciting and important when we find a situation like we had at Nashville.”
Next year will be the final time the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will take place on Detroit’s Belle Isle. Beginning in 2023, that event will return to the streets of downtown Detroit.
“We think it’s fantastic,” Miles said. “Belle Isle has been a terrific, charming place to be. But when you think about the Renaissance Center and right there in that area of downtown Detroit, it will take over the city. It’s impact on the city of Detroit and make a big statement about IndyCar and how it will show off the city of Detroit is a big improvement. We are excited about it.
“Places like Toronto show off IndyCar well. It will be an outstanding example of the best of temporary street racing.”
It also appears that there will be an increase in car count for most races on the schedule, continuing a recent upward trend.
“I think it’s a great endorsement and shows the sport is healthy, growing and can attract international talent, international teams and domestic talent and domestic teams as well,” Miles said. “Part of the answer is value. We work hard to manage the cost for the teams while at the same time we are consistently adding fans that want to follow us and that helps sell sponsorships.
“Another big part of the attractiveness is the competitiveness on the track. Nine winners with 22 Leaders Circle teams shows that nearly everybody can be in the hunt. That’s not the case in other series. The value proposition and the competitiveness on the track are attributes that are pretty compelling.”
Outside of IndyCar, Miles said Penske and his staff are committed to increased growth for the IndyCar/NASCAR Brickyard weekend, which for the first time in 2021 had all three races on the IMS road course.
There is also interest in a possible return of the United States Grand Prix Formula 1 event, but there are many challenges for that to happen, according to Miles.
“It’s really not on the front burner at this point,” Miles said. “We have great relationships with the owner of Formula One and the FIA. But there are various issues including the date. We have May and in Indianapolis, it is all of a month and you promote it far before the month begins. Then, we have the Brickyard weekend, and we want to make that bigger and better every year and that will be in July next year.
“So, where do you squeeze it in? Do you do it in between the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 and that five-week window? Or do you do it after the Brickyard 400 in August and even September? How many weeks do you promote that properly because we want it to be sensational? That takes a window to promote it. We aren’t wild about doing it after the NFL starts because you can’t know from year to year if we would be the same weekend as a Colts home game.
“The windows that would work for us would be a key question not only for us but for Formula One. I don’t think they would want to have an additional swing.
“We love the idea. If we are going to do it, we are going to nail it and make it extraordinary. So far, we haven’t found the right time.”
When it comes to time, there aren’t enough hours in the day to satisfy Penske with his big plans and tremendous vision. But timing has proven to be important because Penske’s ownership of the world’s greatest race course came at a time when it needed someone with power and resources to guide it through a difficult time.
“I don’t know anybody who predicted COVID would strike the first year Roger took over the Speedway and IndyCar,” Miles said. “That took the world by surprise and was huge on all fronts.
“The other aspect of it are the opportunities to grow and improve are not a surprise. Roger’s team, capital, and leadership we believed before we signed the paper would make a huge difference for the future and the future of our sport and that turned out to be true.”