Keeping Things Fresh At IMS

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When we visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend in the dead of winter, we did the obligatory drive down Georgetown Road, which parallels all of the stands that sit alongside the main straightaway. As we turned from 16th Street to head north on Georgetown, imagine my bewilderment as I saw a large gap in the Turn One stands that is normally not there.

We pulled into the parking lot for the administrative building just to get a shot of the main gate. The flags were down, as they normally are in the offseason, and there was a Christmas wreath hung. I thought that would make a unique shot. That’s when I realized something was missing.

Gate

If you’ve driven by the historic oval, you know that you cannot see into the facility when sitting outside Turn One. On this day I could and I found it disturbing. I took a few photos and immediately went to my Twitter account (@Oilpressureblog) and posted them to ask what was up with that. It didn’t take long to get a lot of responses. That’s what is so great about Twitter. If you need a question answered, it doesn’t take long to get an answer. Several followers, along with Arni from IndyCar and whoever monitors the official IMS Twitter account all explained something I never knew. Every winter, crews from IMS will tear down and refurbish grandstands for routine maintenance. Who knew?

Turn One

I suppose if you live in central Indiana, you’re used to driving by and seeing stands replaced in the offseason. Living in Nashville, I seldom find myself in Indianapolis in the midst of winter. OK – mid December is still technically fall, but there was nothing about the weather we had that indicated it was anything but winter. Seeing a large portion of E-Stands missing was a shock to the senses. I’ve been going to that facility for many years and I always find it reassuring to see how little it changes (remember how much I detest change). So you can imagine how unsettling it was for me.

E-Stand

After several had answered my question and reassured me that the familiar E-Stands would be back in place by next May, one follower (Patrick – @twinchackers98) suggested that I follow Andrew Loviscek (IndyAndy52) for “regular updates and stuff”. I don’t normally add to the number of people that I follow on Twitter. I usually try to keep it to around 65 people. I’ve never understood how some people could follow several hundred others on Twitter. If you never tweet, I delete you. If you fill my timeline with meaningless tweets, I delete you. I keep my list of those I follow strictly racing related, except for my son and my boss – because they’re, well…my son and my boss. If I don’t follow you, don’t be offended. But if I do, know that it is because I consider you a source for IndyCar news or I value your opinion on IndyCar related matters.

So who is Andrew Loviscek? Quite honestly, I had never heard of him. But I checked out his Twitter page and found out he is the Groundskeeping Supervisor at IMS and has been with the Speedway since 1989, when he was on a mowing crew for the summer as a high school student at Brownsburg High. That turned into a full-time position out of high school and he has been there ever since. I reluctantly followed him. I quickly found out that not only does he provide regular updates with photos on the progress of the E-Stands project – he is quite funny. If you are on Twitter, I’d recommend following him.

I’m glad to know that IMS does a good job in maintaining their stands and facilities. Although I’d like to think that some of the stands there were standing when Bill Vukovich, Sam Hanks and Jack McGrath raced – I’m not that averse to change that I think things should never be replaced in the name of safety. Remember when steel beams began to randomly fall at the old Yankee Stadium a few years back? The Yankee organization was very fortunate that it never occurred during a game, when it seems that heavy foot traffic combined with stomping and cheering would make it more likely.

The Titans stadium opened in 1999 and there have been times when I felt a little uneasy in the upper-deck when fans would start stomping in unison at an exciting point in a game. That hasn’t happened lately as the Titans have failed to produce even a glimmer of excitement this season.

Racing is a little different. Instead of cheering for one competitor over another, there are thirty-three combatants in the Indianapolis 500 and forty-three in the Brickyard 400. Although racing can generate some of the most electrifying moments in sports – it is seldom, if ever, that fans will spontaneously start stomping together. Still, age and Indiana winters can take their toll on grandstands. It would be easy to cut costs and leave them standing, while doing little, if anything, to maintain the stands around the track. Chances are, nothing would happen. But it’s comforting to know that IMS doesn’t take that chance.

For the first time in ten years, I will be sitting in a different area for next year’s race. My brothers and I all owned tickets together and had been sitting together on the top rows of the Pit Road Terrace directly behind the No.2 pit stall; usually occupied by a front row starter. Next year we are moving across the track to A-Stand, the same stand we all sat in for years growing up in the sixties and early seventies. Our groups will be separated throughout A-Stand next year. We all hope to be back together in the next year or two, but when you’re talking about twelve tickets among three ticket holders that takes time for the logistics to all come together.

Although the familiarity of sitting in our old stands and near our old seats will be comforting and reassuring, I now understand that these are not the same seats or stands we had – and that’s not all bad. When we sat there in the sixties, the stands were concrete with wooden benches painted green. The restrooms were deplorable – concrete slabs with holes in them to sit over with no partitions. Being a nine-year old, walking by grown men sitting there doing their business is an image that is still burned into my brain today. The new aluminum stands with modern restrooms are an example where some change is actually good – even for an old curmudgeon like myself.

So, when you take your seat for the 97th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in racing next May – you may or may not be sitting in the exact place where you were in years past. But you can rest assured that your stands have not been neglected over the years – thanks to people like Mr. Loviscek and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

George Phillips

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3 Responses to “Keeping Things Fresh At IMS”

  1. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    It does make me feel a little better to know that the rusty old stands get a cleanup every once in a while. I first noticed it when the Northwest was down for a winter, but was right back in place come May.

    I will say that “Modern Restrooms” may be a step to far…I think the only modernization is a replacing of ceramic troughs (if there are still any) with aluminum. Still, always like seeing the IMS folks keep grinding through the day-to-day to keep everything good for the fans; the more things change (at the top of IMS management), the more they stay the same

  2. Good one George, I love a “behind the scenes” look-see of one of my most favorite places on planet Earth, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When I was a youngster my father and mother would occasionally drive us by for a look during the off season. It was also, for us, well off the beaten trail, so the visit was all the more special.

  3. A Carb Day tradition for myself and merry cohorts was to sit in the famed E Penthouse (aka seats I will never otherwise have for the 500) to watch the Freedom 100 and pretend those 185 mph cars are Rutherford, Johncock, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, and the like racing from the mid/late-70s.

    The last few years I was actually a bit uneasy about making the climb up the three-story outside stairway to the Penthouse seeing as much rust and oxidation on the E Penthouse structural bits as I did (being in construction, I notice things like this). We all survived, however I was quite happy to see this stand being renovated this fall as it appeared to be the penthouse stand in the worst condition.

    Seconds on following @IndyAndy52 as he frequently tweets during the racing season with tidbits about what’s happening with the grounds of IMS. Is fun to have an insider’s view of the Speedway.

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