Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles was on-hand for the Verizon IndyCar Series Media Day, and discussed some pointers towards how the track continues to prepare for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.
“The biggest challenge is balancing what makes us special, which is the history and tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” he stated. “I’ve often said if Wrigley Field decided to leave the grass and tear down the stadium and build a new stadium around it, it’s no longer Wrigley Field.
Over the past three years, the track has been making improvements. They began in 2013 and 2014 with modifying the road course, followed by the new scoring pylon in 2014 and 20 new high-def video boards around the speedway last season. According to Boles, they have invested $50 million thus far, and by the end of the project will be investing a total of $92 million.
While many tracks have noticeably been removing seats from their facilities, IMS in the process of adding about a thousand seats. Through the changes, the biggest thing that fans will notice is the new roof structure over the paddock penthouse, beginning with B, followed by A. Boles noted that the E Penthouse will remain the same, with stadium-style seating. The section is currently in most demand on the facility, in which Boles noted that they were able to add some seats to accommodate the demand.
“Overall when you look at the construction, the roof structure itself is about 17 feet taller than the previous roof structure. The overhang goes all the way out to the end of the seating. Before it was a smaller overhang, didn’t stretch all the way out over the top of the seating,” Boles explained. “What you see on the north end, you can see the three new rows that have been added above the old sections there. They’re throughout most of paddock A and B. There’s nothing in the Penthouse, although there will be places throughout where you won’t have those three rows, because of existing concession stands.”
Notably, despite the roof receiving improvement, it will remain the same industrial steel color that fans have grown used to through the years, as Boles doesn’t want to change what make the track special.
“While it will be different, it’s not going to feel like a brand-new stadium, it’s going to feel like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when they come here,” he said. “That’s been one of the balancing acts and one of the things that is most important things to this project, adding amenities but not changing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that felt uncomfortable for folks.”
Boles is also in the process of making the track more accessible, making a section for people in wheelchairs on the paddock penthouse decking.
“That’s a decking area you see right there that’s going to allow folks with wheelchairs and a companion seat there,” he explained further. “In order to do that, we had to eliminate three rows of seats in each of those sections. There were people sitting in those sections for many years that we have to relocate. That was a conversation we didn’t want to have, especially if we didn’t have a place to put them. Folks were able to relocate into those new three rows, maybe some of the new three rows in B stand, which are spectacular seats. Now not only are we able to accommodate folks with disabilities, but we added a thousand seats in the highest demand in our facility.”
The process has allowed fans to upgrade whom have been waiting for an upgrade for a long time. Though with the changes, many things will remain the same, such as the seat coloring. Rather going to the colorful rainbow seating that was used at Daytona International Speedway, the track will remain with the industrial grayish green seating.
“We talked about that, but are uncomfortable with how that will look when those seats aren’t sold,” he explained.
The seating isn’t the only section that has received changes and adjustments thus far, as the track has changed the fencing. The new fence features a mesh with a smaller filter than the previous fence, which will allow fans to be able to see easier through it.
“The old fence was rusting, had the surface rust, which caused a lot of the rust you see on the backside of the walls. We didn’t want to add to that rust,” he said. “The other thing that’s great about it, an accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the next day you come in, those walls are white again, the fence will be the same. If there’s an issue where we have to repair the fence during race day or practice day, we can patch it. Overnight we can actually come in and replace it with a new mesh. If you look at this fence, you can’t tell where that starts right to left, or top to bottom. We’ll have that uniformity as you look around the entire racetrack.”
The safety improvements go beyond just the fence, but also adding a SAFER barrier that begins in the west, and curves itself back out to the northwest.
There are also changes taking place outside of the track, including taking out the roundabout at 16th and Georgetown, and expanding Gate 1 to accommodate more people through the gates to reduce some of the lines.
“Once you get inside, it’s a lot more expansive, more activation zones, more opportunities for fans to meet folks,” he explained further. “We left the trees that everybody is used to. The construction will build around the trees we have. We’re excited about what that entry is going to mean not only on race days, but the rest of the year.”
Other changes include the Hulman Suites getting re-purposed to be used for smaller organizations that need a spot for four to 10 people, versus a large suite that’d accommodate 80 people. They have also added an elevator to the north end nine suites, the walkway from Hulman to the paddock being allowed for people with disabilities to use, upgrades to the upper level concession experience, and upgrades to the restrooms.