When Roger Penske and the IMS team announced the planned renovations and upgrades to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nobody thought that fans would have to wait two years to see the changes.
Oh, but it’s so been worth the wait!
A little over 300,000 lucky fans will get a chance to take a peek at the updates during the Indy 50 at the end of May — but we’ve got all the details right here.
Earlier Repairs Helped Get the Speedway Up-to-Date
Previously, loans funded by the Indiana General Assembly gave the track some much-needed renovations. “Project 100” was a $92 million facelift that started in 2013 and ended in 2016, right before the Indy 500’s 100th run — but representatives of IMS say that they were really just upgrades that modernized the speedway without diminishing its historic atmosphere.
Many of those repairs and renovations were long overdue, and they were a necessary step toward preserving the speedway for future generations — and $92 million doesn’t actually go that far when you’re trying to make renovations to a facility that covers hundreds of acres.
Ultimately, Project 100 included $30 million in renovations to the front-straight stands, including new elevator banks, a higher roof, the addition of almost 3,000 seats for fans and $10 million worth of new video boards to improve the fan experience. The rest of the money was poured into things like concession stand upgrades, new fencing and a new scoring pylon.
As impressive as that may all sound, it’s just a start on what needs to happen to the speedway to preserve its legacy for future generations.
Roger Penske Steps In and Steps Up
In 2020 Roger Penske and the Penske Entertainment Corp. acquired IMS from Hulman & Co., which has owned the speedway for the last 75 years. The Hulman George family felt that they had taken their stewardship of the speedway as far as they could and that Penske would be a natural replacement given his considerable standing in the industry and his considerable business acumen.
Penske’s love for racing and love for IMS is clear. It didn’t take long before Penske picked up where Project 100 left off, pouring both heart and money into renovations that are designed around the ultimate fan experience.
One of the most critical things Penske has done is address the growing problem with the human bottlenecks at the Georgetown Road entrance behind the main straightaway stands both immediately before and after the races. Now, a massive extension of the western edge of IMS has opened up the space and alleviated the crush.
Fans who are lucky enough to go inside IMS soon are bound to notice the brighter, more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, helped, in part, by the addition of lots of LED lighting, a coordinated paint scheme, brighter signs and more. Penske Entertainment Corp. also did a complete overhaul of the restrooms, added 5G wireless, power-washed everything in sight and even added 75 metal picnic tables for the fans to use.
But that’s not all they’ve done in the last two years.
Penske took note of feedback they’d had from fans who complained that while they could see the pit action from the straightaway, they found it difficult to follow their favorite drivers or see who was in the lead. With that in mind, there are 30 new LED video boards along the main straightaway grandstands, new ribbon boards and a 100-foot screen behind Pagoda Plaza.
Penske’s team is also experimenting with the communication style used on the ribbon boards, tweaking the delivery method so that it’s the best combination of rolling results and live video for the fans. The fan experience is always at the top of Penske’s mind because those are the people who make the sport so enduring.
“My goal has always been to give the fans a first-class experience and make this the world-class facility it is,” said The Captain, “We’ve made a lot of improvements and there’s more to come.”
New Events and Future Goals
The IMS Museum is also stepping up its game. Naturally, the Museum’s iconic collection of winning race cars is always a huge draw, but they’ve added a few particularly interesting feature exhibits.
The “Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press” exhibit is a tribute to the four-time champion of the Indianapolis 500 Rick Mears, while “Granatelli: Larger Than Life presented by O’Donovan & McCardel Wealth Management of Raymond James” is a biopic on the legendary Andy Granatelli.
This May also kicks off a brand new event at the IMS Museum: The Basement Collection Tour. Just six guests at a time are permitted on this tour, which includes a 30-minute tour through the most exclusive works of automotive art hidden in the Museum’s lower level. In the automotive world, the items in this collection are priceless, so this is one tour no racing aficionado should miss.
All of these changes are impressive, but don’t expect the wheel to stop turning now: Penske’s vision for the speedway goes far into the future. For example, they hope to eliminate a portion of Georgetown Road and create a Monon Trail-like path that runs trackside. With The Captain’s legendary eye for detail, there are bound to be more improvements over the next few years.
Whether you’ve never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or you haven’t been there in a while, this is a great time to check it out. While there’s always something new and interesting to do in Indy, racing — and the speedway — are undeniably deeply part of the fabric of Indianapolis.