Can Brownsburg keep its small-town feel?
If Indianapolis can call itself the “Racing Capital of the World,” the town of Brownsburg, Indiana, should claim a share of that title. Just 20 minutes from Speedway, Brownsburg has almost twice the population, a multiple-use racing facility and more than two dozen race teams that call the town home.
The community of more than 21,000 may call itself a town, but Brownsburg experienced more than a 46 percent population growth between the last two census counts. More than 70 subdivisions comprise the annexed town limits. Still, the Hendricks County community likes being small.
“I don’t want to see it grow too much larger,” says member Mark Beecher, who moved to Brownsburg 14 years ago. “We wanted to find a town that we thought would be comfortable to live in, and Brownsburg fit the bill.” Beecher, who runs a local DJ company, and his wife, Deana, a schoolteacher, were one of the first families to build a house on a nice piece of property in the Lake Ridge subdivision with lots of open space behind where they built a fire pit. “I have Asian neighbors to my left and neighbors from Africa to our right, so it’s kind of a multicultural neighborhood that we really enjoy.”
Proximity to Indianapolis and natural resources also appeal to the Beechers. “One of our favorite things to do is walking the dog,” he says. “Brownsburg has some great parks, especially Arbuckle [Acres]. It’s beautiful and quiet most of the time and has a great walking trail."
According to Beth Adams, a highly rated Realtor with Carpenter Realtors, Brownsburg homes trend toward the traditional two-story ranch with an average resale value of $170,000, and the mostly newer high-end homes can fetch upwards of $5 million.
Moving on up
One of Brownsburg’s highest rated companies reflects the growth of the town. This month, Mowery Heating and Cooling moves into its new location on Main Street. “We’re like the Jeffersons,” says Mowery owner Chip Cochran. “We’re moving on up.” According to Cochran, the highly rated company has been servicing Brownsburg residents since 1970, moving four times, each one of them on Main Street.
He bought the four acres that has stood vacant right in the middle of town since 2009 when General Motors shuttered the former Blanck Chevrolet dealership that had operated since 1928.Taking advantage of a new façade improvement grant, Cochran rehabbed the old building, painting the exterior, adding a new door, sealing the parking lot, landscaping and taking down old lights. The new grant is part of Brownsburg’s comprehensive plan to beautify the town and add distinctive signage to establish Brownsburg’s boundaries.
Like many small-business owners, Cochran lives in Brownsburg. “I love it here because it’s ‘hometown-y,’” he says. “You have a small-town feel, and I can be at a Colts game in 20 minutes.” Of his five kids, one son works with him at Mowery and another son just graduated from Butler University and has started teaching at the high school this fall. Cochran says that son just bought a house on Indy’s Westside, purposely out of town. “Every time he goes to the grocery store or the gas station here,” Cochran says, “he’s having a parent-teacher conference whether he wants to or not.”
Brownsburg annexed more than 2,000 acres that includes Lucas Oil Raceway from Clermont in 2011. In addition to the added tax revenue, the move helped solidify the town’s motorsports identity. The track sees regular use, especially as the 60th annual National Hot Rod Association Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals hit town Labor Day Weekend.
For the teams — like Chip Ganassi and Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing — that have set up shop in Brownsburg, access to nearby specialty and custom auto parts and services is one perk, but for many IndyCar and hot-rod teams, access to human capital is worth more. “It’s not just about wheels and tires and cars and going fast,” says Mike Lewis, senior vice president of Don Schumacher Racing, “it’s about team chemistry and the culture of the people. People gravitate toward Brownsburg if they’re interested in careers in motorsports.”
The operation has seen growth as well. According to Lewis, as Don and Tony Schumacher put the first of their teams together in 1998, they settled into a small shop here. Since then, they bought their current space from racing safety pioneer Bill Simpson in 2004 and built a 100,000 square-foot facility that now houses 14 semis and seven teams.
The mechanics’ mechanics
Talking with Howard Stermer gives a good sense of the town’s makeup. The general manager of highly rated Mears Automotive on Green Street says his shop has loyal clientele from millionaires to regular working class. The shop sees airplane mechanics who work around Indianapolis International Airport and employees of Allison Transmission and Rolls Royce in Indy and Steel Dynamics in Pittsboro.
“Believe it or not, we work on a lot of the race teams’ own cars,” he adds. “A couple of employees of John Force Racing bring their cars here for their regular service and maintenance.”
Every once in a while, owners bring in their restored or street-race cars that race at Lucas Oil Raceway. “We don’t do a lot of it because they work on their own cars,” Stermer says. “But if it gets over their head, that’s when we step in. A lot of times we do setting carburetors and ignition timing.”
All that Jazz
Something must be in the Brownsburg's Gatorade because six graduates of its high school currently make a living as professional athletes. “It’s amazing the number of athletes … who played at the collegiate level and have been fortunate enough to go on and play at the next level,” says Brownsburg High School athletic director Kelli Waggoner. These BHS grads are living the dream in the pros.
- Adam Andretti: ECC Motorsports stock car driver
- Tucker Barnhart: Current Louisville Bats catcher who’s been up with the Cincinnati Reds
- Gordon Hayward: Utah Jazz guard and former Butler star
- Chris Jones: New England Patriots defensive end
- Lance Lynn: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher
- Drew Storen: Washington Nationals relief pitcher
“We know that we’re a small community,” says Grant Kleinhenz, Brownsburg’s town manager since 2012. “But I think that everybody wants to maintain that feeling.” Still, growth is inevitable, even for towns like Brownsburg.
The $22 million extension of the Ronald Reagan Parkway, which will finally connect I-74 all the way south to I-70 when completed in 2016, should open a new route, and even more new opportunities, into the town. Kleinhenz sees it as opening up a new draw for retail and office use, particularly for racing and logistics companies. “We think that’s going to be big for us,” he says. “We’re set up very favorably to take advantage of it.”