On Track | Butler Stories
Doug Boles ’88

On Track

Marc D. Allan, MFA ’18

from Spring 2019

Doug Boles ’88 is right where he belongs—in the corner office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with windows that look out on the back side of turn 1 and the entry to the short chute on the south end.

“It’s not the greatest view in the world,” the Speedway President says with a smile. “But it’s not the worst view, either.”

A lifelong auto-racing fanatic, Boles is a guy who chose Butler University in part because of its proximity to the track.

. . . Who, when he would hear cars testing their engines, would finish his classes, grab a burger, head to the track and do his homework in the Speedway museum parking lot.

. . . Who created a Motorsports Task Force when he worked for Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

. . . Who helped start a racing team, Panther Racing, which won 15 races and two championships while he was part of it.

. . . Who cares so much about the Speedway that—well, we’ll let three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser tell you that one.

“I’ve seen him on what they call the Coke Lot and he’s down there picking up trash,” Unser says. “I could not believe this. Not with a stick, not with some guy who works for him following him. No, just doing it himself. He’s that way. He’ll stop and talk to you. He wants to know how you are. Who would ever, ever, ever do that? This guy’s the boss, and he isn’t doing it to impress somebody. He’s doing it because it’s his track to run. I thought that was more than amazing. Nobody’s like Doug Boles.”

Boles traces his influences to a home where auto racing and Butler University were the cultural touchstones. His parents, Jeff and Susie, and a great aunt are Butler alumni. So are most of his parents’ friends. Both of his sisters went to Butler, as did their husbands.

Still, Boles was preparing to attend DePauw University when Butler swim coach Bob Waymouth offered a partial scholarship.

He joined Lambda Chi, the closest fraternity to Hinkle Fieldhouse (“With those 5:00 AM swim practices, you could sleep in five minutes longer”), worked as a campus tour guide, and majored in Journalism. An internship on the Indianapolis Star obituary desk convinced him that “I’m not sure this is for me,” so he followed his other love—politics—into a job doing public relations for the Indiana House Republicans.

Boles went from the Statehouse to the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office, where he worked as Director of Governmental and Corporate Affairs, and on the side managed the Indianapolis Motorsports Task Force. In that role, he met ESPN producer Terry Lingner, who hired Boles to be a producer’s spotter on the weekends for ESPN Racing.

Through that job, Boles met a mechanic named John Barnes, who proposed the idea of starting a team.

After help from attorney Jack Swarbrick (now Athletic Director at University of Notre Dame) pitching Pennzoil sponsorship, Boles became part of a team along with Barnes, Lingner, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, and auto dealer Gary Pedigo.

Boles spent 10 years with the team—and earned his law degree from Indiana University in 2000—but the travel and constant workload began taking its toll. He sold his interest in Panther Racing to spend more time with his wife, Beth, and family. He worked as a consultant for three years, then joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2010 as Director of Communications.

That role expanded to Director of Communications and Vice President of Communications for all of Hulman & Company—the Speedway, the IndyCar Series, and Clabber Girl. In 2013, he became Chief Operating Officer (COO), and that summer he was named President—a job that typically had gone to ownership or family.

It seems like the culmination of a lifelong dream, but as Boles tells people, “You couldn’t dream about this job because you never would have thought it would be an opportunity.”

It’s worked out well for him, the Speedway, and Butler. Danny Kibble, Butler’s Executive Director of Alumni and Engagement Programs, says the University is “fortunate that someone such as Doug, who has achieved such incredible international success, continues to remain involved with Butler University.”

Looking back at his achievements at the Speedway so far, Boles is most proud of his team’s effort to sell out the 100th running of the 500 in 2016 (a crowd of 350,000-plus), bringing in the Rolling Stones for a July 4, 2015 concert that attracted 55,000 fans, and spending roughly $120 million on grandstand upgrades and infrastructure improvements.

He keeps reminders of the renovations in his office, including a rusty beam that had collapsed into the grandstand and a “core sample” of the track that includes an original brick along with all the layers of pavement that had been added over the years. The thing looks like a bricks-and-mortar lasagna.

Beyond racing, for the past three years now, the Speedway has presented Lights at the Brickyard, an event that lets cars drive around the 2.5-mile track and look at some 3 million holiday lights. More than 150,000 people took the opportunity in its first year, 2016—and about half of those had never been to the track.

Boles’ efforts have earned the admiration of his peers.

“Doug’s passion and energy around motorsports is infectious,” says Chip Wile, President of the Daytona International Speedway. “He is always thinking about ways to be innovative at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and create an exciting environment for fans when they visit his iconic track.”

Boles says that’s the challenge he faces—to stay relevant, grow new audiences, and make sure the IMS is active beyond the month of May when the Indianapolis 500 takes over.

“We’re the Hinkle Fieldhouse of racetracks,” he says. “The question is: How do you take what is essential to your DNA and promote that? You can make subtle changes,” Boles says, “but you can’t walk away from who you are.”