Imagining America's 'Ferrari World'

December 4, 2018, 9:29 PM · Earlier this week, I wrote about why several big cities in the United States never developed an enduring theme park. In the post, I wrote that a lack of availability of both land and IP licensing stood in the way of new park development, as both are hard to come by in the United States... at least at a price that would make a new park economically viable.

I also wrote that Nashville among all cities with a park probably would have the best chance to support a new, outdoor theme park, given its existing popularity with tourists, reasonably accommodating weather, and recent economic growth. But a Nashville park's success likely would come only at the expense of Dollywood, which today pretty much has the Tennessee market to itself. That would probably keep most developers on the sideline.

But there is one more community more among the country's top 10 media markets without a theme park that could put together a potentially winning development. It probably wouldn't work as a traditional theme park, given the existing competition in this city's region, but could succeed as an alternatively themed entertainment attraction.

That city? Indianapolis.

Hear me out. The biggest problem facing theme park developers in the United States is finding affordable land close to existing tourism infrastructure. Then, in climates with less than ideal weather for at least eight months of the year, an IP partner would be needed to populate an engaging indoor park. But Indianapolis would be unique among theme-park-less cities in having a player in town for whom having land and compelling, world-class IP is not a problem.

What player would that be? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest annual one-day sporting event in the world, attracting more than 300,000 fans to the world's largest permanent sporting arena on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend each year. The IndyCar series races throughout the United States and Canada, with drivers from around the world, including F1 veterans Fernando Alonso from Spain (racing the 500 again next May), Sweden's Marcus Ericsson (coming over full-time from Sauber next year), Japan's Takuma Sato, and America's Alexander Rossi, with the latter two both having won the 500 already.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has established the template for a motorsports-themed park, and if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever wished to get rid of its 18-hole gold course, it would have enough room to build a Ferrari World-sized indoor park on its property. Here is how big the Speedway is: its infield alone could house all 14 Big Ten college football stadiums, or all of Churchill Downs, the Rose Bowl, the White House, Rome's Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, Yankee Stadium, Liberty Island... and Vatican City. (Image, and Snopes Fact Check.)

Even keeping the golf course, the Speedway would have adequate room to build a substantial expansion to its infield museum that could include multiple new interactions and attractions, at far less than the reported billion-dollar-plus cost of Ferrari World. The current museum is a fine destination, but it's a 1970s-era marble box. It lacks enough space to display the Speedway's collection of historic race cars, including many 500 winners. And it lacks the interactive elements that can make modern museum exhibits as engaging and entertaining as many theme parks.

It's no secret within the industry that many of the top themed entertainment design firms work on museum projects as well as theme parks. A museum expansion inspired by Ferrari World could extend Speedway's popularity as a year-round attraction and expand the visibility and appeal of the 500 and the IndyCar series. An IMS Museum expansion should create multiple attraction where visitors could discover what it is like to take the wheel of an IndyCar, work on a pit crew, and to engineer a race team to Victory Lane. It should celebrate the love of speed, the joy of discovery in engineering, and camaraderie of teamwork.

Lifting straight from Ferrari World, the IMS "theme park" could include a tire changing competition, using the IndyCar Series' Firestone tires. It also should include an indoor go-cart track, celebrating the way that almost all current series drivers got their start behind the wheel. And it should offer multiple racing simulators, including options to drive cars from multiple eras of Indy history.

A race through the history of the Indy 500 could provide the inspiration for a unique thrill ride at the facility. Imagine climbing into a race cockpit, the pulling on your helmet, which includes a VR headset. Suddenly, you are at the starting line of the first Indianapolis 500. The pavement is brick and the stands look as they did in 1911. You grab the wheel of Ray Harroun's Marmon Wasp, and begin your lap around the track. The first lap takes about two minutes, as you are driving just 75 mph. But as you pass the starting line, the Speedway and your car transform into Louis Meyer's winner from 1936. Your speed is now up to nearly 120 mph, and you begin to feel G forces in the corners.

On the next lap, you are riding with AJ Foyt in 1961, when the speeds approached 150 mph. The stands around the track have grown, and the track is mostly asphalt. The next lap puts you into the 1982 500, considered by many fans as the most exciting ever, with the first in-race lap over 200 mph as Gordon Johncock battles Rick Mears for the win. Your final lap has you riding in Alexander Rossi's Dallara from the 100th running of the race, at a top speed of more than 225 mph.

With each lap, your seat leans back a bit more, the restraints around you tighten, the wheel gets heavier (IndyCars do not have power steering), and you feel more and more Gs in the corners. This is a VR attraction, but the need to replicate the force of more than 3 Gs likely would require this to a centrifuge-style attraction. It wouldn't be cheap install or run (or to create the 360-degree, full-lap VR media from five different eras), but this would be a unique experience that could attract many thrill ride fans.

Another attraction would give visitors a taste of the engineering decisions that teams make when racing the 500. You can select from various options for wing angles, weight distribution, and tire configurations to minimize your driver's time around the track. Pick your options on the screen in a recreated pit stand, then pull on the headset to hear your driver react to your choices on their lap. Choose correctly, and your driver praises you for giving them a winning car. Choose poorly, and your driver complains non-stop about having to lift off the throttle in the corners (and lose speed) to avoid putting the car into the wall.

Of course, historic cars would remain a centerpiece for the facility, however, an expansion could better highlight them with supporting multimedia displays. The museum's Hall of Fame also could provide a more engaging experience where fans can learn more about the legends of the sport. And there would have to be a "Victory Lane" restaurant that serves bottles of milk, too.

Sure, I would love to see Indy go for it all and build a record-setting high-speed roller coaster at the Speedway, too, but the memory of Nürburgring's Ring Racer and its failure likely would scuttle that idea. But it shouldn't detract from the remaining possibilities for this site.

As much as fans crave news about new parks near them, there exists around the United States many more opportunities for themed entertainment attractions on a smaller scale, such as the hypothetical Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum expansion that I have described. Even cities that might not have hit the window for developing a major theme park can support new museum exhibits, live shows, fun parks, and other types of attractions that can become compelling tourist destinations.

The question should not be, "when will my city get a theme park?," but "what kind of great themed attraction could my community support?" In this case of Indianapolis, I think that the Speedway — if it were so inclined — could create something very, very cool.

Replies (8)

December 5, 2018 at 1:25 AM

I think something along the lines of an “Indy Experience Center” might do well. Do remember that both Holiday World and Kentucky Kingdom are relatively close by, so a plain old vanilla park isn’t going to have an easy time.

December 5, 2018 at 6:41 AM

I’m not sure how much of this you were aware of in writing this but there is indeed a significant overhaul planned for the IMS museum, some of which is pretty closely aligned to what you proposed. The scope I’ve heard places this well above “general remodel” and below “full Ferrari World West”. The simulator through the eras is almost verbatim a pitch that I’ve heard seriously floated. Recent news reports mention a glass floor to see into the basement holding cars not currently on display. A general move from static plaques in front of static cars to an interactive educational experience is he main thrust.

There are some problems/challenges to note: the museum is technically a separate entity from the speedway itself. Technically, Doug Boles could be made to pay admission if he wanted to enter the museum (he isn’t asked to, but that’s a voluntarily nicety). So the chances of any expansion that would impede on the golf course or the infield road course, both of which are significant parts of the speedway’s business model, is slim. Downtown Speedway has Sarah Fisher’s indoor kart track just two blocks away and her relationship to the track and series makes me think they would respect her business and not compete with an indoor track of their own. And the Children’s Museum has elements like the pit stop challenge and engineering exercise (albeit with answers I disagree with but it is a kids attractions so...) in the motorsports section of their permanent Sports Experience.

December 5, 2018 at 7:32 AM

I love your idea Robert! I live in the Indianapolis area and have been fortunate enough to have a career in racing. 2019 will be my 25 year in a row working as a race engineer for the Indy 500. Although I don't believe IMS will ever get rid of the Pete Dye designed Brickyard Crossing course because too many drivers and sponsors love the game and convenience, I do very much agree that the Speedway Museum has a lot to be desired. I have also been fortunate enough to have a private tour of the museum basement. The collection in the basement is amazing and the general public never gets to see 90% of it! They rotate cars from the basement to the main museum upstairs. There are cars in the basement that will never be displayed to the public though. Most notably, they have many cars that were involved in fatalities that have been fully restored. Between the basement and the upper floor's media archives the general public doesn't have access to most of the already small building. In the right themed entertainment hands they could make something truly fantastic out of it. How can we get this done Robert?

December 5, 2018 at 8:44 AM

Indy 500 already has a museum on its property to appease the hardcore fans, a full fledged theme park that needs hundreds of thousands if not millions a year in attendance to be profitable is just not going to happen. Indianapolis does not have the draw to make something like this successful. In my observation big one-IP driven parks have to be located in really touristy destinations in order to generate the kind of attendance to make them last. The USA's theme park destination market is tapped out: a family has lots of places to choose where to vacation and between Orlando, Anaheim, the National Parks (and on a smaller scale Cedar Point and Dollywood) people don't have the time or money to go driving all the way over the Indianapolis to visit some random theme park of some IP like indy car driving.

Also let's be serious pretty much everyone that's been to Ferrari World agrees there is little to no re-visit value and other than the coasters the place is boring. Even Doug Demuro the most well known car reviewer on the internet thinks its a big joke.
https://www.autotrader.com/car-news/ferrari-world-abu-dhabi-massive-disappointment-271289

I do think Indy has grown big enough to have its own regional park (a small one like Worlds of Fun or Kentucky Kingdom), but Holiday World is looming in the shadows right there and has a big head start, so unless CF is interested in building another small regional park from scratch I just don't see it happening.

December 5, 2018 at 9:38 AM

Disney proved that Indy League racing and theme parks do not mix.

Indy League races are adult, alcohol-oriented events. I believe you overestimate the interest of the fans in interaction.

December 5, 2018 at 2:57 PM

209...

The IRL hasn’t been a thing in a decade now. Time to move past The Split.

My second daughter attended her first 500 at 3 months old. My older daughter won a pair of gloves from Simona De Silvestro, and we’re stopping by the Roar on our way back from our next WDW trip to see her and the rest of her team test (yes I know that’s sportscars but Simona used to race Indycar). My girls watch races on TV with me anytime they’re on. They ask me to take them to dirt tracks. They climb in my simulator mock-up and sometimes I let them “drive” while I work the pedals. If we had money my older one would be in karts. The alcohol consumption at races is hardly different than any other sporting event, and WDW has their sports complex. If nothing else the overwhelming popularity of the Hot Wheels and now permanent racing exhibit at the Indy Children’s Museum proves the draw.

December 5, 2018 at 5:46 PM

I am beyond thrilled to hear that the museum is considering an expansion. Knew nothing about it beforehand - this post was the result of a tangent I started down when writing the previous post, when I realized that IMS could solve the land/IP problem on its own.

So I pulled all this from that post, finished my thoughts and posted them here in this piece.

And, FWIW, I also loved watching Simona.

December 6, 2018 at 9:45 AM

I think a facility that is already a point of interest for tourists and locals would rarely be able to support a theme park. I think you can add theme park like elements to the experience, but to suggest building a full blown theme park would diminish the importance of the site. I think you can put theme parks nearby these places (I'm thinking Kentucky Kingdom, which is pretty close to Churchill Downs, Greenfield village/The Rouge, Colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens, and obviously Hersheypark, which is next door to Chocolate World, essentially a factory tour), but to have the experiences directly linked to each other would hurt both.

I think we're seeing more and more crossover between theme parks and museums, but I don't think you'll ever see a full hybrid that becomes a full-day experience. The expansion of VR attractions is the biggest driver of the crossover of museums into more themed entertinament, but theme parks will always exist on a different plane from museums and facility/factory tours.

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