By Dave Lewandowski
Published: Apr 9, 2015
AVONDALE, La. – Thousands of fewer emails, hundreds of fewer hours of planning and zero contracts to review is on Kristen Engeron’s horizon as she organizes her next big event — a first birthday party for her son, Evan. Her immediate future, however, is booked solid.
The past few months of the president of NOLA Motorsports Park, which hosts the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 10-12, have been consumed by concessions, parking and the logistics of portable toilets.
“Events of any kind are very chaotic by nature. We have no expectations that everything will go off perfectly, but you don’t learn if you don’t make mistakes,” she said.
It was in 2013 that Dr. Laney Chouest recruited Engeron to run NOLA Motorsports Park, which she initially viewed as 750 acres of blank canvas.
“I mulled it over for about two months. It was a big step for me. When Laney painted the vision that he had for the park and the type of impact that he wanted to make for the state, I said when am I going to have a chance like that in my lifetime,” said Engeron, who had been attending to individuals’ long-term visions as a financial consultant.
Click it: The visionary behind the facility
Engeron came on board with a fresh perspective and the fiscal acumen to pave new commercial roads for the venue, which regularly has hosted corporate and automobile manufacturer – Bridgestone demonstration of its run-flat tire, the unveil of two Lexus prototypes and a Coca-Cola regional manager’s meeting as examples — functions as well as karting competitions since opening in 2011. A 32,000-square-foot multi-level, multi-function building is the focal point for instruction and gatherings.
Chouest, the entrepreneur who invested upwards of $70 million designing and building the facility, then broached the idea of hosting a Verizon IndyCar Series race with tens of thousands of guests and potential commercial partners in tow.
“When Laney first came to me and said he wanted to do this I thought this is a fantastic opportunity for us,” she said. “It basically has the same economic impact as having a men’s Final Four except we don’t have to bid it out every year. Laney, myself and a few others from our team went to INDYCAR and said we have this facility and we would love to partner with you and bring the first-ever IndyCar race to Louisiana.
“What we sold INDYCAR on was our vision that in the next five to 10 years we want to become Indy south just like we are Hollywood south (an active film industry). New Orleans is known for food, culture, music; wouldn’t it be great if the next adjective we add to that list is adrenaline and speed.”
The event, which was announced in August 2014, is governed by the NOLA Motor Host Committee, Inc., of which Engeron is the president. Tim Ramsberger, former president of the Verizon IndyCar Series event in St. Petersburg, Fla., joined event promoter Andretti Sports Marketing as general manager.
“Everybody told Dr. Chouest that you can’t build a racetrack in a swamp and he did,” Engeron said. “For us, we see it as long term because there is this amazing facility that changes the game for New Orleans and the state. It’s an economic development play for us. The state and all of our citizens would be the beneficiaries of this through many different ways. We’re talking about the major decision-makers (of companies) that will be here for a minimum of three days to see why this is a place they need to invest in.”
Watching the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on the course during a February test session, Engeron enthusiastically quizzed INDYCAR personnel and drivers about all sorts of aspects of the technology, speed and especially the racetrack. She’s hooked.
“We know how to do festivals in south Louisiana. We have festivals for everything. This is a racing festival and it’s affordable for the whole family. Unlike football or basketball, you can buy a three-day ticket, bring the family out and you can literally walk up and meet these drivers.
“It’s not often you can buy a ticket to a Saints game, walk onto the field and shake Drew Brees’ hand. We’re bringing the Indy 500 to South Louisiana.”