By Ann Marie Shambaugh
All eyes will be on the 33 cars circling the historic oval during the Indianapolis 500, but a bigger fleet of much slower vehicles are just as important to pulling off a successful event behind the scenes.
The many teams that make the Greatest Spectacle in Racing a reality frequently rely on golf carts to efficiently get them from one end of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the other. And one Carmel-based company has provided several of them.
Zionsville couple Mike and Pau Nelson are the owners of ProCartz, and they expect to have more than 20 of their golf carts at the IMS on race day. Many basic models are rented to move race-day staff and guests quickly around the grounds of the 2 1/2-mile oval, while others have been customized for current and former drivers.
ProCartz sponsored a cart for Andretti Autosport IndyCar Series rookie driver Alexander Rossi, a California native who now lives in Indianapolis. The cart is black – like his Honda racecar – and features his name and number, 98.
“Obviously, the facility here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is pretty big, and it’s a busy schedule here. You’re kind of all over the place,” Rossi said. “To have something that’s functional and looks cool at the same time is great.”
The start line
The Nelsons have been in the business since 1999, when Mike founded Pit-Pro to provide top-of-the-line, customized carts for race teams. When several central Indiana municipalities began allowing golf carts on public streets in recent years, their demand and client base spiked. In 2014, they changed the company name to ProCartz and opened a showroom at 9850 N. Michigan Rd. in Carmel.
“Golf carts have exploded on the north side of Indianapolis, so two years ago, we brought the shop up here, and it has absolutely taken off,” Mike said.
Carmel and Zionsville do not allow golf carts on streets, but the Nelsons hope that will soon change. As cities and towns promote walkable, sustainable developments, golf carts offer a great transportation alternative, they said.
“One of our ulterior motives is to get Zionsville to ultimately look at allowing golf carts on the street. It’s the perfect town for it,” Mike said. “We have parking issues in Zionsville, and therefore any cars that we can eliminate – and park three golf carts instead – would be a better thing.”
ProCartz offers carts that range from basic models to street-legal vehicles, which are required to have a license plate, seatbelts, turn signals and other safety features. Their carts can be customized in a variety of ways. They’ve created carts that look like old Chevrolet trucks, New York Yankees uniforms and a pirate ship.
“It’s not about what I can do, honestly. It’s what your checkbook is going to allow me to do,” Mike said. “The sky is the limit.”
The month of May is among the busiest times of the year for ProCartz, as warmer weather urges clients to bring in their carts for maintenance or encourage others to buy one. This year – with the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – has been especially busy, Mike said.
After spending so much time helping others prepare for the big race, Mike plans to enjoy it as a fan, as he has most years since he was a boy growing up in Logansport. Pau, who grew up in Mexico, has also attended the race in recent years.
“It’s just very exciting to see the final product after being involved,” Pau said. “I go more for the experience than for the actual race. It’s just so exciting, and the people are so wild.”
Mike and Pau met through Up With People, an organization that provides opportunities for travel, service learning, performance art and more. They’ve been married for 20 years, but when Pau first told her friends and family she was moving to Indiana, they gave her a blank stare until she mentioned the Indianapolis 500.
“It has such a history and such a following,” she said. “That’s how people knew where I was going.”
Carmel says no to golf carts – for now
Many cities, such as Lebanon, Noblesville and Westfield, have adopted ordinances in recent years to allow golf carts on public streets. At the May 16 Carmel City Council meeting, a resident of the Village of West Clay asked the council to consider a similar measure.
Councilor Carol Schleif said that she had spoken with the Carmel Police Dept. about the issue and planned to speak with the city attorney about what a possible ordinance could look like.
“We don’t want somebody to get hurt and not have their insurance pay for it,” Schlief said.
Mike Nelson said he expects more Indiana municipalities, including his hometown of Zionsville, to embrace the trend in the coming years.
“(In) good old Indiana, we’ve never been one to adapt to things fast. We let everybody else play out and see how it works,” he said. “It’s a matter of (time) in my opinion. It will happen; it’s just got to get there.”