IMS offers a new addition to Indy’s Light Display Industry this Holiday
The new light show at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is bringing a new tradition to Indianapolis and causing chatter among local light displays.
Lights at the Brickyard celebrates its first year this holiday season with over two million lights, 400 displays, and 40 scenes. At $30 per car ($60 for a fast pass to skip the line), it’s the most expensive light display in Indy. For decades, small and local light displays including Reynold’s Farm Equipment and Sharpsville Lights have operated on their sheer dedication to not only the Christmas spirit, but also to giving back to their communities, and remain unconcerned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s new holiday implement.
The family owned Reynold’s Farm Equipment in Fishers is the only one of its five branches to provide the community light display and celebrates its 24th year this season. Mike Lawson, grandson to the late founders of the company, is proud to accommodate an estimated 3,500 cars on a busy weekend at Reynold’s — a number that appears to steadily increase as Christmas approaches. In fact, due to the sizeable increase in attendance over the past couple of years, the store was ordered by the city of Fishers to design a new layout in order to accommodate the influx of traffic. Despite its popular status and success, Lawson refuses to advertise for his family’s business or accept donations to help cover the cost. “We are careful to show that this is only for fun,” Mike says. “My late grandparents absolutely loved Christmas lights, and that’s why we do this, because we also love Christmas lights.”
However, the Reynold’s owner does encourage generous attendees to direct their donations towards Fisher’s The Come to Me food pantry program that accepts monetary and non-perishable food donations during the ten days they visit the display. “If you feel like donating, that’s where you go,” says Lawson. When asked about Lights at the Brickyard, the Reynold’s owner was quite familiar with the new addition as a friend Beth Boles, and wife to IMS president Doug Boles, had shared plenty of details. “A couple months ago,” says Lawson, “I heard Doug speaking on one of the sports stations, and he said that Reynold’s has been doing it for years, so we’re going to do it too.” Yet, Lawson remains unconcerned and admits that there are plenty of great light displays in Indy, and it’s not a competitive market.
Yet, the $30 admission fee to Lights at the Brickyard makes Lawson leery of the IMS’s success in the industry. “I had a coworker a few weeks ago who paid $40 for the speedy pass to get into Lights at the Brickyard. It boggles my mind thinking that you’re only going through a 1.7 mile display for that price,” Lawson says. “But if you think a 1.7 mile display is worth the money, then go for it.” Lawson isn’t alone in his belief either; one light display fan Emily Sampson attends at least two free shows each year but still isn’t willing to pay the Lights at the Brickyard’s price. “I don’t think I would ever spend that much on lights personally.” Another Indy native, Hannah Matthies, isn’t a fan of the light display tradition and admits to not attending any light displays as part of her Christmas tradition, but if given the choice, “I would choose the smaller and shorter show that’s for free rather than pay the Brickyard’s prices,” she says.
Sharpsville Lights is another staple in the light display community with some attendees traveling over two hours to see the show and a recorded attendance of about 7,000 visitors this past 2015 season. The married duo and founders of the display, Michael and Janet Poulimas, are currently presenting their ninth annual light show for the community this season. As one of the largest computerized displays in Indiana, the community installment prides itself on the unique style of the display as the lights are synchronized to the customized Christmas playlist along the drive. The playlist is created by Michael himself, and each song can sometimes consume five weeks of his time in order to properly coordinate the lights with music. The finished playlist is then broadcasted by a shortwave transmitter so that attendees can listen within their cars. With over 120,000 lights present in the display, it’s no small feat programming the music let alone the display itself. The Poulimas begin set up in October and finish the clean-up in March.
Though it’s over an hour drive away, the reach of Lights at the Brickyard hasn’t gone unnoticed this season. “Several guests have mentioned the event,” says Michael. “Most of the feedback is the high charge. Many families are struggling, and $30 is a lot.” Another Christmas light display guru, Tabitha Farkas, attends over two displays each year and points out the Brickyard’s pricing isn’t unreasonable if they offer a good show. Yet, she remains concerned other Hoosiers won’t share the same sentiment, “People don’t like to pay for anything. Especially when there are other free options to consider,” she says. The Sharpsville display owner suggests IMS lower the cost in future years in order to give back to the community for their business during the year.
Though the couple funds and operates the Sharpsville project on their own, all donations are funneled into local charities including WeCare and Jubilee Christmas. “Our display is our gift to the families in the community,” says Michael. And the gift has certainly not gone unnoticed as Sharpsville Lights is slowly becoming a community event rather than just a local display. Michael is proud to recognize a local Church handing out hot cocoa and free cookies, Santa volunteers, and Christmas Carolers that are present at the display some nights. “When we see the children’s faces and hear about families coming back each year, that is what inspires us to put on the display.”
Lights at the Brickyard isn’t an idea that hit the table just recently, the idea has been contemplated for the past two years and became a reality this past November. The home of the Indy 500 began evolving towards a year round presence last year with its debut of the Red Bull Air Race in October and this year the holiday light display, Lights at the Brickyard. Alex Damron, Director of Communications at IMS has shared a role in organizing Lights at the Brickyard and is pleased the IMS can offer race fans an opportunity to visit the track in its off season, “We view the IMS as an important community gathering place,” Damron says. “We know that our fans love to be here as much as possible.” Indeed, fans continue to demonstrate their love for the venue as Damron recalls February’s Midnight on the Yard of Bricks celebration where an expected attendance of 500 was quickly surpassed to an estimated 2,000 people. Indy seems to be opening its arms with the same enthusiasm towards IMS’s new light display this season as Damron reports an attended 50,000 people between the November dates and beginning days of December. Despite the month-long process required to assemble the display, the director of communications admits the turnout is already more successful than IMS originally expected.
The display course is a 20–30 minute ride where viewers can drive down the front stretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, through Gasoline Alley, and get an up-close peek at the lit Pylon. Being the largest light display in Indiana, Lights at the Brickyard offers an array of racing and Christmas scenes including stock cars, Indycars, reindeer, and even a waving Santa from Victory Podium on weekends. “The most notable scene is the IMS Wing and Wheel display with the pagoda in the background. Fans love that one,” says Damron. Viewers are also encouraged to tune into radio station 100.1 for Christmas tunes and messages from IMS drivers and President Doug Boles along the ride. Despite reservations regarding its pricing, it looks like Lights at the Brickyard is a new Indy tradition here to stay. “We are thrilled with the event this year, and we’ll continue to improve it. You will see some tweaks next year in the light display, but overall we are very happy with how the event has turned out this year.”