LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2000 - Among the numerous racetracks built during the motorsports construction boom of the mid-1990s, Walt Disney World Speedway holds a very unique place. On Jan. 29, the 1-mile tri-oval...
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2000 - Among the numerous racetracks built during the motorsports construction boom of the mid-1990s, Walt Disney World Speedway holds a very unique place. On Jan. 29, the 1-mile tri-oval will play host to the first major race of the year, the Indy Racing League's Delphi Indy 200. There will be grandstands teeming with spectators, and atop those grandstands will be a control tower housing race officials and radio and television broadcasters who will call the race live for an international audience. Structures within the infield will provide hospitality to guests, medical services, and desk space for photographers, media and team and track representatives to work. Yet before late November 1999, and less than a month after the race, all that will remain is the concrete walls surrounding the track, the asphalt racing surface and a few trailers that serve as offices for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the track's tenant for 11 months of the year. "The track certainly presents us with a unique challenge, since virtually all the facilities required to conduct a major motorsports event are temporary and must be shipped in, built to exceed Florida building code standards, then disassembled," said John Lewis, manager of facilities for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, which conducts the race. Walt Disney World Speedway, which sits just north of the gates to Disney's Magic Kingdom, was the brainchild of Speedway president Tony George and Michael Waggoner, formerly the manager of motorsports for Walt Disney World. The two companies envisioned a season-opening race sanctioned by the Indy Racing League that could be used as a marketing tool for Disney's resorts. The first challenge track designers faced before construction was finding a suitable location, as space on Disney property for such a large facility was at a premium. According to Lewis, the present location of Walt Disney World Speedway was just big enough to fit a 1-mile track. The unique shape of the tricky tri-oval, which features three straightaways of varying lengths and a different degree of banking in each of the turns, was born out of necessity. "The track is surrounded by a Magic Kingdom entrance road on the east, an exit road on the west and the park's southernmost parking lot on the north, so Kevin Forbes, the track designer, had to create an oval that conformed to the existing area," said Lewis. Forbes, the Speedway's director of engineering and construction, is today coordinating the monumental renovation project at IMS that includes construction of a new control tower, media center, Formula One garages and suites, and a 2.61-mile infield road course. The work is being done in anticipation of the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24, 2000 at the Speedway. Ground was broken for Walt Disney World Speedway on June 10, 1995, and the track and safety barriers were completed on time in November 1995, despite a hurricane, four tropical depressions and 75 inches of rain that accompanied Florida's rainiest-ever wet season. Lewis begins preparation for the next year's Delphi Indy 200 in March - a full 10 months before the event. Design of the facility, including the infield offices, grandstands and midway area located behind the main straightaway, begins in September. "By Thanksgiving we are ready to go with setup, and there's a lot that goes on in a very short time," said Lewis. "Bleacher construction takes the entire two months from the end of November to the race, plus we install 10 trailers in the infield that serve as offices, the media center and the medical center. "We design, create and install track signage. We have to cover the parking lot striping in the midway area, then restripe it once the race is over. And I have to apply for a temporary helicopter landing zone with the FAA for our medical helicopter, as well. There are a lot of details." Seating is provided by Sit Down Connection, a lightweight aluminum temporary seating system owned by Canadian-based Scaffold Connection Corporation. According to Lewis, 12 to 24 persons are busy erecting the grandstands at one time, while as many as 50 Walt Disney employees are on site to handle setup of the phone system, electricity, landscaping, parking, security, and event operations and promotions. Lewis puts in an estimated 600 man-hours from Thanksgiving through race weekend alone as he manages the whole process. Once the Delphi Indy 200 takes place, crews have three weeks to disassemble the midway, grandstands and temporary infield offices. What was briefly a bustling, jam-packed entertainment venue becomes a rather barren racetrack shorn of its amenities. The area where the grandstands and midway occupied becomes a parking lot for the Magic Kingdom. The space comes in handy during the park's peak visitor seasons, spring and summer. The only activity at Walt Disney World Speedway from February until Indy Racing testing starts in late fall is the Richard Petty Driving Experience. RPDE, which can be contacted at (800) BE-PETTY, offers the public an opportunity to take laps on the oval in a stock car. "I love this event," said Lewis. "I was told the first year to come down here and take good notes because somebody else would be doing it the next time, and I've been here ever since. I take that as a compliment that we have done a good job. "It's really neat that we can go from nothing to having a facility that can host a major sporting event, and then return the area to looking like nothing happened. I know if you come here during the summer, you would have no clues to tell you how big this event really is."
DELPHI INDY 200 AT WALT DISNEY WORLD SPEEDWAY NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway starts at noon (EST) Jan. 29. Pole qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 28.
Practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Jan. 27, and 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. Jan. 28.
An autograph session with all Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Midway outside Turn 3 at the track.
The USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series 50-lap feature starts at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 29, with qualifying for that event at 2 p.m. Jan. 28.
On the air: The Delphi Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at noon (EST) Jan. 29 on ABC. The debut of "Indy Racing 2Day" will be at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29 on ESPN2.
ESPN2 will televise pole qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 28.
The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29, followed by the live race broadcast at noon. The area IRRN affiliate is WQTM-AM 740, Maitland, Fla.
The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
Tickets: Tickets are available for the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway by calling (800) 822-INDY or by visiting tickets.com at http://www.tickets.com . Ticket information also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.indy200.com .