IRL: Indy 500: Concrete, Steel, & Glass

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY-PRE-SEASON PREVIEW: CONCRETE, STEEL, & GLASS You won't believe what has happened at the grand old speedway on 16th Street in Indianapolis. In the largest construction project in the 90 year history of the longest ...


You won't believe what has happened at the grand old speedway on 16th Street in Indianapolis. In the largest construction project in the 90 year history of the longest running super speedway in the world, the Hulman/George regime has invested tens of millions of dollars into refurbishing and redesigning the plant to accomodate the arrival of Formula One in September.

It isn't that you won't recognize the place if you've been there before. You'll know where you are OK but there's a lot of places you used to go that you will find off limits next September unless you bear a pass to get there. In keeping with that condition, Kevin Forbes, IMS Superintendent of Construction has implemented a number of ramps and walkways which will permit the casual fan an opportunity to look down into some garage areas from viewing opportunities above. This reflects the speedway's intent to keep their product fan friendly.

The new Pagoda is most impressive in form and function as well as being the reinterpretation of an icon from the past. It lacks the sloping roof lines of the pre-1965 Japanese styled tower but it does look more like a glass pagoda than a tower. It's height is said to be right on the limit to prevent interference with airport traffic; however, a cellular tower just east of the speedway is higher.

The main floor of the Pagoda will house timing and scoring in the center with race control in the southwest corner. Above that will be several Hulman/George suites with a commanding view of center stage. The radio broadcast team has the next perch one floor up with a bird's eye view around the track. And safety, security, and various municipal, sheriff, and state police entities will occupy the most commanding position on the top floor.

The largest new structure is the Formula One garages. Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 fans in the tower terrace seats won't be affected by this new building. Those seats, formerly fixed bleachers, will be added back with an identical seating pattern established in temporary bleachers similar to those used at the speedway's sister facility at Disney.

The garages themselves will house no cars for the oval races but will be utilized for other activities such as botiques, food service, and vendor outlets using doors facing the main infield spectator concourse. The entire second story of the garage structure is devoted to suites, all of which will be used at all race events in lease to corporations for their hospitality and public relations activities.

Indy racing fans will see a much wider racing surface on the front stretch because of the addition of the F-1 pit lane immediately in front of the steel roller F-1 garage doors. But to see it you'll have to take a tour bus ride pretty quickly because that space will be consumed by the temporary bleachers for oval events. The oval pits will be sterile during F-1 except for the area in front of the tower where the F-1 pit lane rejoins the front straightaway.

Since the F-1 course runs opposite direction to the oval events, the first turn breaks right into the infield just north of the existing high suites. Should a F-1 car miss that turn, as in brake failure, there is a quarter mile of unbarricaded run off available well into the oval turn four. If the driver just misjudges the turn he can rejoin the road course via a blending lane built for that specific purpose.

The infield course rejoins the traditional pavement below the oval turn two suites at the south chute in a level turn blended to match the grade of the chute. The spectators view of this area from the southeast vista seats will be excellent.

A popular question of Indy fans has been the aspect of the cement walls which have been a part of the 500 since the beginning. How will F-1 react to these walls? Kevin Forbes stated this week that F-1 has never mentioned the walls in the oval turn one area and no plans are currently in effect to attempt to soften that turn's spectator protection. Other turns on the course will be protected by gravel pits and banded tires faced with conveyor belts which have been univerally accepted by F-1 as the best attenuator of G-Forces imposed by a race car out of control.

The time table before the large number of contractors to meet the September Formula One date was very tight. The fact that those construction schedules are being met would be significant were there no other impediments than man hours and weather. But when one considers that all work must stop for not just the largest spectator event in the world--the 500, but second largest, the 400--three months later, make the accomplishment of the refitting of the speedway just one wand wave short of a miracle.

Come and see it. You'll be impressed.

Len Ashburn

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Series IndyCar