In a Nutshell
What: After almost two decades operating without a permanent facility, nonprofit NXG Youth Motorsports is moving forward with plans for the development of a one-of-a-kind youth motorsports complex designed to expose children of color in Indianapolis to potential careers in racing while teaching foundational STEAM skills.
Sector: Youth Services
Location: Indianapolis, IN (Hawthorne/Haughville)
IFF Support: Predevelopment support, including a financial feasibility study
IFF Staff Leads: Donna Sink, Senior Owner’s Representative; Brittany Rasdall, Project Manager
At 29-years-old, Indianapolis native Derrick Morris is living a car lover’s dream as the chief mechanic for Force Indy, a racing team in the Indy NXT circuit. Just one step below the IndyCar Series – the top level of open-wheel racing in the United States – Indy NXT serves as a training ground for drivers and race crews alike, preparing them to make the leap to the sport’s grandest stage. As chief mechanic, Morris is responsible for ensuring that Force Indy’s #99 car is in top shape for every race, capable of competing against a field of finely tuned vehicles that are the fastest in all of motorsports.
A graduate of the University of Northwestern Ohio with degrees in business and high-performance motorsports technology, Morris has been involved with the sport for 17 years through his participation in NXG Youth Motorsports (NXG) – a nonprofit based in Indianapolis that offers experiential learning opportunities designed to cultivate STEAM and life skills among young people while exposing them to career paths in racing. With an underlying goal to increase BIPOC participation in motorsports, NXG has enrolled almost 3,000 youth in its programming since the organization’s launch in 2006. And while Morris – a 2008 NXG alumnus – is among a relatively small group of participants thus far who have advanced to careers in racing, hundreds of others from NXG have gone to pursue careers in engineering or advanced sciences.
Thanks to a transformative facility project now on the horizon for NXG, it’s likely that hundreds more NXG alumni will have similar opportunities – inside motorsports or out – in the years ahead. In September 2023, NXG exercised an option to purchase a 2.2-acre property from the City of Indianapolis that it plans to remake into a $20 million campus purpose-built to support its programming. Once completed, the campus will enable NXG to both drastically increase the number of young people enrolled in its programs and expand its programming into new areas designed to engage, inspire, and educate Indianapolis youth from under-resourced communities about the options available to them in racing or other STEAM-related fields.
“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is arguably the most famous facility of its kind in the United States, but 80 percent of the kids we serve have never been there despite living within a few blocks of the track,” says Rod Reid, NXG’s co-founder, president, and executive director. “I see our new campus as a bridge between the Black community in Indianapolis and motorsports. There are few entry points for children of color to get exposed to racing and all of the careers they could pursue in the sport, and we’re going to bridge that gap while teaching skills that our kids can build on – regardless of the career paths they choose.”
A green flag for a transformational development project
Essential to NXG’s ability to pursue the development project – the first in its history after 17 years spent operating in spaces made available to the organization by partners in the community – was the support of IFF’s Real Estate Solutions team in Indiana. Prior to committing to the purchase of the organization’s permanent home, NXG relied on a financial feasibility assessment and other predevelopment support that provided the nonprofit with a roadmap to achieve its facility goals.
“It was unbelievable how much the team at IFF taught me about what it takes to pull off a project like the one we’re planning, and there’s no way we could have taken this on without that support.”
Given the age of the 90-year-old Tibbs Garage Complex that will serve as NXG’s headquarters, and the fact that it sat vacant for 13 years after the Indiana Department of Transportation relocated its regional facility for highway operations elsewhere, it was particularly important for NXG to fully understand what the redevelopment of the site would entail. Toward that end, each of the four buildings on the property were closely inspected to determine the existing condition of the structures and to gain an understanding of what would need to be repaired or replaced to meet NXG’s needs. Additionally, due diligence was conducted for the entire 2.2-acre property, ensuring that restrictive covenants, zoning guidelines, utility access, and other potential barriers to redevelopment were known to NXG before committing substantial time and resources to the project.
From there, a space needs program was developed – estimating the square footage needed for NXG to achieve its programming goals, as well as how the buildings on the site could be renovated to provide the organization with the requisite space and what it would cost to do so. And, with an operating pro forma developed by IFF projecting how the renovated space would impact the organization’s revenues and expenses a decade into the future, NXG was able to comprehensively assess the potential benefits and risks associated with the project before deciding to move forward with the purchase.
“I didn’t start NXG wanting to be a real estate developer; my interest was in helping kids,” explains Reid. “It was unbelievable how much the team at IFF taught me about what it takes to pull off a project like the one we’re planning, and there’s no way we could have taken this on without that support. It was really instrumental in helping us get to the point where what we imagined for the property seemed like something we could actually accomplish.”
A dedicated youth motorsports complex doubling as a high-tech community center
Currently serving roughly 250 young people per year while operating in a 1,200-square-foot office it shares with Reid’s design firm, RLR Associates; using a 900-square-foot storage space provided free of charge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and renting local venues that can accommodate go-karts, NXG offers three programs with distinct goals. The first, an introductory youth motorsports academy, consists of experiential learning courses using go-karts as a teaching tool. Designed for children ages 11-15, the program is structured as a five-level course aligned with middle school academic standards in math and science – with each course consisting of eight hours of hands-on classroom and on-track training meant to develop self-discipline, decision-making, and communication skills while learning the basics of motorsports.
“The concept for our new headquarters is to create a true motorsports campus where young people can learn all about science, technology, engineering, art, and math in an experiential way that opens their eyes to the possibilities that are out there for them.”
“The cost of getting into racing is high, and most of the families we work with can’t afford that,” says Reid. “With the academy, the average family pays $50 to enroll and sponsorships cover the rest of our costs. The kids get exposed to the fundamentals of racing and potential careers in the automotive industry, but they’re also picking up life skills along the way. By teaching how to calculate tire pressure, for example, the kids are learning basic math. The entire curriculum is set up like that, with skills taught that are relevant to motorsports but transferrable to a wide range of applications.”
Young people who graduate from NXG’s introductory academy are eligible to participate in the Grand Prix Championship, the organization’s second program. Offering a competitive go-kart racing series in a controlled environment, the program hosts six to eight races per season that enable participants to hone skills learned during the introductory academy experience. NXG offers a third program called Path-to-Pro targeted to 16-to-21-year-olds that provides developmental opportunities for aspiring mechanics, engineers, managers, and drivers. With a goal to foster career-oriented relationships between professional race teams and NXG graduates, the program helps facilitate internship and apprenticeship opportunities while forging connections with universities and technical schools.
Once redeveloped, NXG’s headquarters will enable the nonprofit to nearly triple the number of young people enrolled in its programs, while also offering each of them a plethora of new opportunities to engage in experiential learning. To accomplish this, NXG will overhaul the existing campus to create 24,000 square feet of indoor space optimized for its needs – rehabbing each of the four historic buildings on the site while also transforming asphalt and concrete areas outdoors into functional greenspace. Doing so will enable the organization to stage remote-control car races, facilitate drone soccer, and teach hands-on engine building, among other new activities, while also offering for the first time a computer and arts lab and racing simulation machines.
“The concept for our new headquarters is to create a true motorsports campus where young people can learn all about science, technology, engineering, art, and math in an experiential way that opens their eyes to the possibilities that are out there for them,” says Reid. “We’ve needed more space to expand our programs for quite a while, and this campus will give us that. But it’s also an opportunity to convert an unused industrial space on the west side of the city into a safe place where young people can spend time where they feel like they belong. We can create that here and do it in a way that offers an experience unlike anything currently available.”
Revitalizing the Central State Campus
NXG’s project will produce significant impact in the near west side neighborhood where it’s located, but it’s just one component of a much larger plan to repurpose a 160-acre site known as the Central State Campus. Learn more about the development plans for the site in this 2022 story from Fox 59 Indianapolis.
In addition to hosting activities for young people, NXG is intent on creating quality spaces that can serve the broader community too. Located along a public transport route, the campus will be an accessible location to offer resources and support – whether provided directly by NXG or partner organizations. Initial plans for the campus include opening the computer lab to those in the community in need of high-speed internet, making portions of the complex available to community groups for special events, offering nutrition programming, and hosting a local farmer’s market, among other ideas.
To realize its vision for the campus, NXG is currently engaged in a capital campaign and is exploring the possibility of applying for tax credits for the redevelopment of the site. And while a $20 million price tag is a formidable goal, NXG has already secured several large donations and is well on its way to breaking ground on a project that will fundamentally alter the trajectory of the organization and the young people it serves.
“Going through our due diligence with IFF and having a feasibility study that shows people that we’re being fiscally responsible as we pursue this project has been hugely helpful as we meet with potential donors,” says Reid. “You’re perceived differently when you have a brick-and-mortar location, in that it creates a sense of permanence and sustainability for the organization, and that’s what we’re working toward. There’s still quite a bit of work left to be done before we break ground, but there’s also momentum.”