Paint It Black
“I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes” 
Judging by the outcry over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s decision to paint an advertisement in the Turn One infield grass, you would think the marketers at IMS had just sold naming rights to the Pagoda. Oh, wait. They did that a few years ago with Bomdardier, didn’t they? People are acting like they put a sponsor on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Wait a minute. Sorry. Well, you would think they partnered with Coca-Cola to be the sole supplier of soft drinks at the track. What? Really? Well then, you would think they entered into a deal with Cholula Hot Sauce …Tag Heuer…Shell V-Power…Apex Brasil…Peak Performance…Miller Lite…IZOD. Oh, they DID enter into marketing agreements with all of these companies? What do you know, IMS is acting like it is a business trying to make money.
The traditionalists want nothing to change. They want the new ad painted in Turn One painted black, like the Rolling Stones lyrics suggest. They can’t fathom ads on the walls. Really? You have a problem with money? Maybe a short history lesson is in order. If you want tradition, look no further than Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl Fisher. To drum up business for his car dealership, he attached a car to a balloon and had it fly across Indianapolis. THAT’S a promotion, and promotion is why he built the track. He wanted to sell cars and headlights. He understood that you had to advertise to make money. And I guarantee if painting the infield was worth a dollar to him, then the infield would have been painted.
After Tony Hulman bought the track, the cash cow that was IMS was only milked once a year. For years the Hulman family did not own a racing series, did not build a road course, did not pay F1 a sanctioning fee, did not host NASCAR, did not host MotoGP, and did not own a Pete Dye golf course. They became rich selling Clabber Girl Baking Powder and hosting the 500 in the month of May. But when the Hulman-George family did do all of those things, they spent a substantial amount of money, possibly enough money to cause a restructuring of the board of directors. Suddenly, making money, or at least not bleeding money, became VERY important.
Things changed at Indy when making money became the primary objective. The marketing types suddenly were looking for ways to increase revenue. If you wanted to produce the ring for the winner, you had to do more than just make the ring: you had to pay for the privilege. That’s the way they do it in the real world. The Pagoda, the video boards, the upgrades to seating, the yellow shirts, and the maintenance to the facility are costs that continue to increase. A business has to make money; people have to get paid. If a few ads keep my ticket prices down and the sponsorship up, then I’ll be happy.
And the last time I looked at the cars, they had sponsors on the side. What’s the difference? I hear no one bemoaning the sanctity and tradition of the car. You don’t expect the cars to all be painted black, do you?
“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a new born baby it just happens ev’ry day”
Some fans consider the Speedway to be a somber matron dressed in subdued colors. How many somber matrons do you know who get any attention? Matrons today are ditching their drab and dreary attire. You stay young and vital by acting that way. So let the old girl put on some leopard print pants and high heels. I say strut your stuff, Indy. You’re only as young as you feel. If your make-up includes a few ads, so be it. We are all walking billboards for designer clothing companies, anyway; I proudly sport my IZOD logos.
The tradition of Indy is alive in its history, pageantry, and tradition. And the tradition includes having a viable family business that stays in the family. I don’t begrudge the Speedway creating a little more cash flow. Consider the possibility of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway being sold to some faceless multinational corporation because of financial issues. Now that’s a picture that is truly painted black.
1. Like the Rolling Stones? Here’s the song “Paint It Black” along with the lyrics. I love the intro. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Egt1Hq4wpE