(Update: Mel has been named senior vice president and general manager of the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. We congratulate him on his new direction and wish him the best of luck. -GSG)
Mel Harder is a motorcyclist. He’s a listener, an observer, and a doer. He grew up in Speedway, Indiana, beginning a lifelong involvement with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2002, he took the reigns as Senior VP of Operations at IMS and later helped secure a deal that brought MotoGP racing to Indy in 2008.
In the garage area, during Nicky Hayden’s test of the newly paved surface (from corners 5 to 16), we found Mel carrying a couple phones and a walkie-talkie. He talked with Nicky, track officials and dozens of people who approached at a constant rate. He’s not frantic or frazzled, but mellow and polite. He looks right at home, which makes sense after learning that his high school was just a mile down the road and that he used to sneak into these very garages when he was a kid.
In 1999, when Dorna (commercial rights holder of MotoGP) and IMS began talking about the possibility of MotoGP racing at the speedway, Mel was the Director of Facilities and the resident “motorcycle guy.” His role was key in what would become a nine-year conversation leading up to the first Red Bull Indianapolis GP in September of 2008. These days, he oversees facility management and operation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course and Inn, construction and engineering, medical operations, credentials, and safety.
Indy has hosted four MotoGP weekends and is preparing for three more in 2012, 2013, and 2014. While there are critics of the layout, it’s impossible to ignore the nostalgia and romanticism of the oldest speedway in the world (its first race in 1909) hosting one of the oldest world championships in racing (starting in 1949). Of course the impact of the event extends far beyond the grandstands and has turned Indy into a motorcycle mecca during race weekend, spawning a resurgence of the Indy Mile, endurocross racing, stunt competitions and more. Though it’s a realm where ya can’t please everyone, Mel is certainly trying. As fellow motorcyclists who want to see motorcycling gain more exposure and public interest in the USA, we’re thankful for the efforts of Mel and his team at IMS.