Indianapolis officials planning to renovate track

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in a race against time.

Officials are planning to renovate the historic track in time for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 next May. That doesn't leave a lot of time, given that there are races scheduled at the Brickyard in July and August and the construction won't begin until after those are run.

"It's intensive," Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said. "There's some things that we can do in the beginning stage to get ready, but basically all of this work has to be done from the end of this racing season this year before May of 2016. It's a lot of work to do."

The next phase of this roughly $90 million project will improve gateway entrances, grandstand seating, and the overall fan experience. It's all part of a broader plan to modernize the facilities.

Upgrades started last offseason with the installation of large, high-definition video boards and a new LED scoring pylon on the main straightaway — all part of the track's historic image that officials are trying to preserve.

"It sort of signaled that we can keep the traditions, but improve them and modernize them without substantively changing the feel of this place," Miles said.

Now the plan is to replace the upper-deck bench seating in the front straight with seats with backs and add better wireless internet capabilities. Miles wants what he describes as the most iconic real estate in motorsports to give fans the kind of comfort they associate with watching NFL or NBA games.

An estimated five elevators will be added, too, for better handicapped accessibility to the sections overlooking the area between the start-finish line and the first turn of the 2.5-mile oval. Miles also said there are plans to change some suites near the fourth turn to give them a more club-level feel.

"You don't have to buy an 80-person suite," Miles said. "You can get your two seats and go up there and share the club-like hospitality with whomever else is in there."

The track's entrance gateways will receive a makeover, too, including the gate between the first turn and the street outside the ticket office. That's where fans set up an impromptu memorial to the late Dan Wheldon after he was killed in a 2011 crash at Las Vegas.

"We want that to be an iconic front door to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," speedway president Doug Boles said. "We have people 365 days a year that stop by Gate 1 and have their picture taken."

Both entrances will have large, colored pylons and a structural look that gives the entrance a historic feel.

Miles said that over time, with the changes to and around the track grounds, Georgetown Road where revelers have long partied on Saturday before race day could eventually become part of the track and be closed to all vehicles and foot traffic outside the track fences. That part of the plan isn't expected to take place within the next year.

Right now, that part of the facility can become crowded and event organizers are limited on what they can do in terms of fan amenities.

But modernizing the historic Brickyard is never easy.

"It's a balancing act," Boles said. "But it's a balancing act that we all feel is very important so we work really hard to make sure that we pay attention to what's important and the historic feel of this venue, but at the same time give our fans a more modern experience that they expect when they come to a stadium."

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