Relax, NHRA fans. The new CEO of the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway respects you and drag racing.
Specifically: Despite widespread reports in recent weeks that the Speedway might host the 2014 Izod IndyCar series finale on its road course on Labor Day weekend -- the date of the U.S. Nationals at nearby Lucas Oil (Indianapolis) Raceway Park since 1961 -- that's not going to happen.
"Drag racing fans don't have to worry about that," Mark Miles told CompetitionPlus.com Friday afternoon during a lengthy interview in his Speedway office. The 97th Indy 500 is scheduled for Sunday.
Miles became CEO of Hulman & Co. (owners of IMS and the series) last December and inherited the final report of an outside consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, commissioned before he was hired.
"The essence of the BCG work, from my perspective, was we should work to have more relevance and importance at the end of our year, one," Miles explained. "Two, we should end our year Labor Day weekend before the NFL season starts. Three, part of our brand is the uniqueness of racing on streets and road courses. You pull all those together and say, 'What if we have the best version of one of each of those three that we can put together?'
"And then, they said, what we should look hard at doing is using the road course at Indianapolis to really help leverage this asset for the benefit of the series and because it would probably be a profitable undertaking. We looked at that and, within weeks of their recommendation, concluded that whether we would do a road course event to end the season or not, we wouldn't do it Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis because of NHRA."
Miles appears to be the most powerful, influential and credible non Hulman-George family member ever to lead the company. He was hired by the Hulman & Co. Board after an impressive career including as head of the ATP international men's tennis tour from 1990-2005. Miles also led the 1987 Pan American Games and the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl committee.
Miles would also like drag racing fans to know this: Despite references from him and other IndyCar officials that its series is the "fastest," they do understand nitro cars are faster in a straight line. Ed Carpenter's four-lap (10 mile) Indy 500 pole winning qualifying average was 228.762 mph vs. 320 mph seen at NHRA tracks.
"Maybe we should find another way to say it," admitted Miles. "We recognize that on NHRA tracks dragsters go faster. But we think of this as a different kind of racing . . . What our drivers do in traffic is amazing.
"Without intending any offense, I'd like to think of it that fans know what we're saying, whether Formula One or NASCAR or ourselves. I don't know, without writing a paragraph or a longer sentence, how to appropriately make the distinction but we certainly are aware of that."
Meanwhile, Courtney Force visited the Speedway Friday, promoting the Mello Yello series and her Traxxas Ford Mustang team during media interviews. She met three-time winner Dario Franchitti and open-wheel hero Alex Zanardi, the two-time CART series champion, who lost both legs in a 2001 crash.
"I said a couple a months ago, 'I want to go to the Indy 500 just for fun,'" Force told CompetitionPlus.com. "Then we said, 'We might as well do some media, too, to get NHRA out there.'
"I met Scott Dixon (2008 winner) before and we actually had a group conversation in their (team) trailer and they were asking me a lot of questions about the speed, does the weight of the driver matter, how much fuel do we burn, all these questions about drag racing.
"Alex said he was testing (on the road course at Firebird Raceway in Arizona) one time and heard this noise and came over to see what it was and said, 'These cars are so loud. They went down the track and then started backing up and I was wondering what they were doing. It was you guys just warming up the tires.' I said, 'Yeah, that's the burnout.' He said he was amazed at what these (Funny Cars) can do. I thought that was really cool."
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