IMS sees huge attendance jump with new May events

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Ryan Hunter-Reay was not the only winner of the Indianapolis 500.

A race that's been losing interest and losing fans appears to have turned a corner in the other direction.

After the second closest finish in 500 history and a made-for-TV stop in Victory Lane, Hunter-Reay and his family appeared on the nationally-televised NBC TODAY show.

"It was a dream come true. It was a hard-fought finish," Hunter-Reay said.

His 500-mile-wide smile was mirrored by Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles.

"We feel really good," Boles said.

His gamble to mix up the month of May with additional races, concerts and other attractions appears to have paid off.

"We've had more people on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday, Saturday and Sunday this past weekend than we've ever had," Boles said.

Opening the month with the first-ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Boles says, contributed to a late spike in ticket sales.

Friday's final 500 practice attracted a huge crowd. Saturday night's concert drew thousands of fans, many of whom the Speedway's research showed had never been to the track before.

Race day attendance was up and national television ratings increased almost 10 percent.

"Anytime you can measure growth, one percent or ten percent, it's a big deal. You are going in the right direction," Boles said.

For years, the 500 had lost its direction. Attendance and viewership fell and younger fans lost interest. This year, longtime fans saw something different.

"Even just our grandkids. They didn't use to talk about it as much and now, 'I can't wait for the race. I can't wait for the race," said Mary Kassen.

But we will all have to wait to see which way the Greatest Spectacle in Racing turns next year.