You may know Tom Dunmore as the director of marketing for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But we first met Tom as part of the team that launched Indy Eleven Professional Soccer in Indianapolis in 2013. We also know him as a family man, vegan, proud son of Brighton, England, and co-author of Soccer for Dummies—and an all-around good guy to have a beer with.
We caught up with Tom recently at Big Woods Speedway for a pint and a bit of Q&A. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
How is working at IMS different from your work at Indy Eleven?
With Indy Eleven, we were dealing with a start-up. We had the ability to shape everything from the beginning—the team’s name and logo, who we hired, what we did on game day, et cetera. It’s the opposite at a place that has, arguably, the most tradition of any event in the U.S. and one of the most storied venues in the whole world. You don’t want to mess up people’s traditions about the race.
Also: In soccer, you have that rhythm of a game every week, and you’re constantly thinking, “Okay, this game’s over, let’s start thinking about promotion for the next one.” You can adjust as the season goes on, make some changes. The 500 is one event. We have a lot of other events—the Brickyard and the air race, and lots of other things leading up to the 500 in May. But we spend most of our time getting ready for that one event. You have a checklist of seven million things that need to be done for one day, and if we forget one or two things, we’ve messed up on something we can’t fix for another year. You have one shot every year to get it right.
What’s similar about the two jobs?
On the marketing side, a lot of the principles are the same. It’s about having a campaign that feels, and is, genuine to the fans—that isn’t just an artificial concept being dreamed up in a marketing agency that has no connection to what fans live and breathe every day.
I try to make sure I think about racing fans the same way I’d think about soccer fans. Fans of the 500 are as passionate about the sport and the traditions, all the ins and outs and the details, as I am about my teams in soccer, and it helps to have that fan mindset. At Indy Eleven, I was lucky to work with Peter Wilt, who has that fan-first mentality. Peter would always be at the tailgate talking to fans. And now I’m lucky to work with Doug Boles at the Speedway, who’s very similar to Peter. Doug is out talking to fans, because he loves the sport, he loves talking to the fans and getting to know them and understanding their passion.
What do you think of Indy Eleven’s push to build a new stadium?
It’s a tremendous testament to Ersal Ozdemir’s determination. Never underestimate his relentless pursuit of what he thinks is right for the community and the city, as well as, quite rightly, his own business interests. A lot of people would have given up, given the challenges of the stadium and the league and the amount of money he’s had to invest. But he has a unique level of commitment to what he thinks is right. So I’m really excited for him and the team and the community that’s supported it.
The same is true of the supporters, too. Many of them could have gotten frustrated and given up with all the things that happened over the years with the league, playing in different venues, and some seasons that were quite poor on the field, as well. But the fans have stuck through it and have been so committed.
What’s your favorite thing about living in America, and what do you miss about living in England?
What I love about America is discovering the different cultures, the different ways of life, and the positive—it’s a cliché, but the positive, can-do attitude of America is great. I love England, and I love going back there—but it’s generally a cloudy day in England, in both the weather and the culture of the country. People tend to be a little negative, can’t-do instead of can-do. Especially when you work in marketing, it’s great to be around people who want to find ways to make things happen.
The great thing about England is that it’s quirky. Indy is a great city; it’s very logical and easy to get from Point A to Point B. It can be pretty fun in England trying to get from Point A to Point B because no road layout makes any sense at all because of the hundred million different reasons streets popped up wherever they are, and it was never thought through as a system. You never know what you’ll find in England, which is why I think Americans like going there.
There’s also a very dry sense of humor in England that’s not quite so prevalent in the U.S., and sometimes people struggle to keep up with my humor. So it can be nice to be back where I immediately make sense.
This is the 50th anniversary of Monty Python. Who’s the funniest Python?
I’m a big John Cleese fan. In fact, my favorite comedy series of all time is actually Fawlty Towers.
What’s it like being a soccer fan in America today?
I think we’re really lucky to be living in the era we’re living in. When I moved here in 2001, you had to seek out the most obscure places to watch the World Cup or the Euros—like the Italian restaurant somewhere that would stay open. I paid $200 to watch the 2004 Euros on pay-per-view. I was watching the England match against Portugal, and it went to penalty kicks, and we do not have a good record in penalty kicks. So I was watching it on my TV at home, and the broadcast just ends—because the time window for pay-per-view had ended and nobody had thought about the contingency of penalty kicks. So I had to go online and see what was happening…and we lost. And it was like, I’ve paid $200, England has lost, I was cussing out pay-per-view, this was like the worst thing in history—and now you can go to any bar, and if there’s any big tournament, they’ll have it on TV. In fact, you can watch more games here than you can in Europe. So we’re lucky it’s a sport on the upswing. The demographics are right: Millennials, new Americans, families. Soccer has a great trajectory. It’s almost hard to imagine where it’ll be 20 years from now. But it’ll be cool to find out.
When you’re all alone, in your head, is it soccer or football?
Actually, soccer is a British word that was invented because we had two forms of football in the UK. We had rugby football, and we had association football, or soccer, and for the same reason you need to differentiate American football—the game you play with your hands—from the kicking version is why the word soccer was invented. Rugby football was abbreviated to “ruggers,” and association football was “soccer” from the “soc” in association. If you look back to the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, a lot of English publications used the word soccer. And I think it was actually a bit of British arrogance in the late ‘70s and ‘80s when they saw soccer catching on in the U.S. that they got a bit snobby and said, “Hey, we’re not going to call it what the Americans are calling it,” even though it was a British invention to call it soccer. So it’s not an American word, it’s one that people like to create a division over in England to feel superior to Americans, which is a bit sad, if you ask me. I’m quite happy to call it soccer. If British people want to make fun of me, fine.
What’s the last good book you read? Besides Soccer for Dummies?
That’s a good book. You should buy that.
The one I’d recommend is Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez. It’s a no-holds-barred memoir by a guy who worked at Facebook. I have a lot of interest in technology, and it’s a really telling insight into the culture at Facebook and the stuff that’s come out in the last year or two. They’re about to be fined billions for various transgressions, and this memoir gives some insight into how their decision-making could have been that poor. But it’s just kind of a fun, rip-roaring page-turner, which you don’t really expect from a geek insider.
Where can we get a good vegan meal in London this summer?
You should drive 56 miles south to Brighton, since it’s the best city in England. You’ll find it’s the most vegan-friendly city in Britain, maybe in Europe. You can buy vegetarian shoes there at the vegetarian shoe shop. You can go to vegetarian-only pubs, and almost every place you go will have a fantastic selection of vegetarian and vegan foods. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan, interesting, fun cities in Europe. I know I’m slightly biased, but it’s also true.
Brexit: Remain or leave?
I need another beer for that one. It’s a classic British disaster.