Important News From IMS

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Last week brought big news regarding the Indianapolis 500. No, I’m not talking about the announcement that Kurt Busch will do “The Double” for Andretti Autosport. Nor am I referring to the revamped qualifying procedure that was finally announced on Friday. I’ll discuss my thoughts regarding that on Wednesday. No, what I’m talking involves food. That’s what makes it so important. The news is that the concessions, both food & beverage, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be run by a new company – Levy Restaurants.

This is a first for IMS. In the past, they have always sought to have total control of the concessions and keep everything in-house. Their decision to outsource this while they are seeking to cut costs, is curious.

Like everything, I see pros and cons in this. Most of the food at IMS has been hit or miss. The Track Dog is just a regular overpriced hot-dog like you might find at any sports venue. It is wrapped in foil, sitting in a bin under some heat lamps. Its freshness is always in question. It is not disgusting, nor is it the best dog you’ve ever eaten. It’s just there and serves the purpose to put something in your belly, while you enjoy all of the ambiance that the track offers.

While the Track Dog is unremarkable, the burgers at IMS are below average. Keep in mind, my idea of a good burger means the more unhealthy it is the better. Greasy beef has flavor, but most health-conscious individuals find it revolting. I’ve always found the burgers at IMS to be dry and flavorless.

Not only has most of the food at IMS been just so-so, there is not a huge selection at most of the concession stands. If Levy Restaurants can offer a broader range of food to the consumers, I’m all for it. They manage food & beverage concessions at multiple sports venues such as Churchill Downs, Wrigley Field, Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Purdue University and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. They also manage the concessions at Bridgestone Arena here in Nashville for the Nashville Predators. If they can do for IMS what they have done for making a Predators game more enjoyable –this will be a significant upgrade.

But there was one nagging question that I did not see addressed in the press release – what about the breaded tenderloin sandwich?

Being from the south, we are not exposed to this Midwestern classic. In fact, I had never even heard of a tenderloin until I had one at IMS many years ago. I have mentioned the tenderloin to some of my southern friends and they thought I was referring to beef tenderloin instead of pork. While a filet mignon sandwich sounds good, it doesn’t quite go with a racetrack in front of you. The closest I can get to a tenderloin sandwich in Nashville is at Culver’s – a Midwestern chain but they are decent at best.

For the past few years, I have found myself on a quest to find the best tenderloin in Indianapolis. Since I normally only visit in May, I don’t have time to venture too far from IMS. I have been told by several that the best in town is at Edward’s Drive-In on the east side. I never get to the east side of Indianapolis, so I’ve never been. But more than one person has proclaimed it the best.

I have tried the tenderloin at the Mug-N-Bun, Dawson’s on Main and Charlie Brown’s Steak and Pancake House. Each of those places have unique aspects that make me want to keep going there, but I have never walked away thinking that theirs was the best I have had.

Whether it is because I am seated within IMS or if they’re really that good – I am still hard-pressed to find a better tenderloin sandwich than the one served at IMS. Maybe it is because it is a top-seller, but they always seem to be hot and fresh, just out of the fryer. They are seasoned perfectly and the flattened bun seems to go with it perfectly. It has become a ritual that one of the first things I do when I first arrive at IMS is to head to the concession stand at the Pagoda Plaza and get one. That doesn’t mean once a year – that’s every day that I get there.

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This year, I will be spending a total of nine days at IMS. That means at least nine tenderloins at the track. I’ll generally eat at most of the aforementioned places outside the track during our stay. Chances are, I’ll have a tenderloin at one of those places as well.

That is why I was concerned to see that the concessions had been outsourced. Would they be bringing in generic homogenous fare that you can get at any ballpark, or would they keep some local favorites? I read and re-read the press release. I saw nothing. I got scared. I’ve seen many Indianapolis 500 traditions fall by the wayside over the years, I was afraid another one was about to bite the dust. It bothered me so much, that I contacted IMS President Doug Boles directly. Being a native Hoosier and an rabid fan of the Indianapolis 500, I figured he would already know the answer. He did.

This site is mostly about opinions – more correctly, my opinions. I rarely do much interviewing and I almost never have any type of news scoop – until now.

Doug Boles responded to me very quickly to assure me that they are, in fact, keeping the famous IMS breaded tenderloin sandwich. So rest assured, race fans. When we head to IMS this May, we’ll still be able to enjoy the unmistakable, mouth-watering goodness that is a tenderloin. Just remember, you heard it here first.

George Phillips

Shameless plug: For those that listen to Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee – tonight is the somewhat annual Blogger Night. You’ll hear myself and my fellow IndyCar bloggers discuss timely issues with Kevin and Curt, as well as promoting our respective sites. Tune in here and click the “Listen Live AM1070” button tonight from 8:00 to 10:00 Eastern; 7:00-9:00 Central.

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7 Responses to “Important News From IMS”

  1. Several years ago the prices were very reasonable. The track used volunteers who made money for their particular organization. That ended several years ago when they brought in the first company to run things. I think that might have been the original outsourcing. It has not been as good since. This is just another step in that direction. Look for much higher prices. At least we can still bring in food and beverages. At least for now.

  2. While the tenderloin itself is good, the bread is average at best and could use an upgrade as your picture clearly shows. An upgrade would be justified given that the price will surely go up.

  3. A great sandwich that would have made a great trophy. What’s the least fun option? That’s what IMS will choose based on their recent track record.
    Jumbo tenderloin? Naw – jelly sandwich.
    Biscuits and gravy? Naw – plain oatmeal.
    Beer? Naw – apple juice.

  4. Your critique of the hot dog lacks creditability. Go to another track and see what you pay for a hot dog. Last time I was in Kansas with INDYCAR, it was the better part of $7.00 for a hot dog. Be careful what you wish for.

  5. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    The tenderloin and all other sandwich options will be made Saturday, but the order of where it will be available on raceday is set on Sunday. The aggregate of the two day sandwich making will determine if you get a tenderloin where you want it or not. This will inject some excitement to Sunday’s sandwich search.

  6. This is welcome news because I’ve always found the selection of food at IMS to be sub-par. There are no guarantees it will be better, but there is a good chance that it will be. The bar is pretty low. Related: IMS is the only entertainment venue I go to where you can bring in a cooler. I understand it’s a racing thing (although not at Iowa Speedway or Knoxville Raceway), but I have never understood the cooler policy. That is a crap ton of revenue they are letting go of there. I’d like to see two ticket prices: one for people who bring coolers (perhaps the current price) and one for no coolers, perhaps $10 less, or whatever. Yeah, nightmare to administer, I get that. Still, I feel like I HAVE to bring a cooler to get full value, and I don’t want to. Finally: those of us with races outside of Indiana appreciate the Indy 500 attendees’ forking over more cash for more events at IMS. I figure it just helps subsidize races for those of us outside Indiana, and we appreciate your support.

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