A Trophy and a Concert

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on OpenPaddock.net on 2/13/2014. My writing at OP will all be archived here to keep my work compiled in a single location at least one week after originally appearing at OpenPaddock.net.)

I must commend IMS and INDYCAR for the bold design of the trophy for the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The trophy, although not a physical creation as of yet, looks to be another polished silver beauty that has come to define Indycar championship hardware.

The futuristic look for the trophy dazzles me; high-tech and aspirational were the two words that come to mind as soon as I saw the hardware. Plus, the trophy has absolutely no historical connections, and I feel that was the correct decision, and important to building the foundations of a successful event. This race isn’t The 500, why would we connect 500 iconography with it?

Instead of attempting to coalesce some sort of esoteric historically relevant icon with a race and trophy that has zero historical importance, IMS and INDYCAR have created something that looks like it is straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. The trophy isn’t adorned with a tiny Pagoda, or a bronzed tenderloin, and for good reason. No one has attempted to fake history to make this race more attractive to potential attendees. The trophy is a physical representation of the awareness of everyone involved that this is a brand new race.

When placed next to the historic Borg-Warner trophy, the new-take-on-and-old-tradition of the Triple-Crown trophy, and the historic-but-more-or-less-connectionless-with-modern-Indycar Astor Cup, The GPoI trophy will look right at home. This is new and old living together, and that is the very definition of Indycar racing.

For once, instead of shoehorning something new into history, IMS and INDYCAR have finally turned an eye to the future. The race is new and the trophy design is fresh. With that said, the main complaint about staging such a race still heard today is: Won’t you think of the tradition?!

What tradition? This race has nothing of the sort and respectably, the powers that be have treated it as such. Personally, I hope there is no milk in victory lane, and that the winning team does not kiss the bricks. This is a new event; we should be looking to make new traditions.

You don’t like the idea of running Indycars at IMS on another weekend besides Memorial Day? For better or worse, the sanctity of 16th and Georgetown was already erased in 1992. It’s time for IMS and INDYCAR to leverage that huge piece of capitol that is more ghost town than social hub for most days of the year.

Continuing down this path, IMS has inked a deal with country singer Jason Aldean to play a concert on the evening before the 500. That is a day when The Speedway should be a social hub, but currently looks more like that ghost town so many are afraid of.

Sure, the Firestone backing could have been used in another location to bring what could be 50,000+ concert goers to another facility on the schedule. But this felt more like a direct deal with IMS. Which is, in case we forgot, an important neighbor in Indianapolis society. Would Mr. Aldean have really played in the middle of nowhere Mid-Ohio or Barber? Would he really sign up to play at Milwaukee where the total capacity is a paltry in comparison 37,000 people?

No. The local track is simply trying to make use of its facility for more than a few weekends a year.

From an Indianapolis prospective, I hope this is the start of something more regular. As one of the largest small market cities in the nation, Indianapolis has no mid-sized or super-sized outdoor concert venues. To the north we have the Klipsch Music Center with a capacity of 24,000 and downtown we have The Lawn at White River State Park with a capacity of 6,000.

Could IMS be trying out a plan to plant a permanent concert facility in turn four? I hope so. Add a few fences and ticket gates and only a standard parking and concert venue work force would be needed to man the event, instead of an ocean of yellow shirts that usually accompany open gates at The Speedway.

As a city, we miss out on mid-sized acts that are too small to sell out Klipsch, but too large to play at the Lawn. This would be the perfect location to file 15,000 people in on a regular basis while still allowing a place for the biggest acts in music to finally make Indianapolis a summer stop on the tour schedule. This could very well fill a much needed niche in the Indianapolis leisure activities department. Believe me, we are all tired of driving to Chicago to see world renowned acts.

Sure, this could be seen as INDYCAR and IMS thinking inside of 465, but it could also be a local business trying to improve the way Indianapolis is seen on a national level. I do not believe that a concert at a racetrack has anything to do with the health of a national racing series. Nor should it be used to gauge INDYCAR’s commitment to growing the series nationally.

It’s often hard to separate IMS from INDYCAR, but this just a concert happening at a place we all happen to love and is inextricably linked with the bigger idea American open-wheel racing.

Without the availability of IMS, I doubt Mr. Aldean would have made a stop in Indy. There just isn’t the venue to hold an act of his caliber, and many people in central Indiana will be pumped that he is actually making an appearance here. And who knows, maybe some of those concert goers will accidentally see some Indycars. Where was your first exposure to Indycar racing? I bet it had something to do with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Eric Hall

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