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New seats, catch fence, elevator space highlight changes at IMS

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) – There’s no racing going on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but there’s still plenty of noise roaring around the track.

Workers have been busy renovating the historic facility for next year’s 100th Running of the Indy 500. The work is called “Project 100.” IMS officials said about $90 million is being invested into the facility. The renovations started at the end of the racing season in 2013. Officials say nearly half of that money is being spent this off season.

Tour guide Jeff Henniger doesn’t need to do much talking thanks a recording playing over the speakers in the bus. But lately, the ever changing surroundings are forcing him to speak up.

“You can start seeing them do the deconstruction on the upper grandstands down the main straightaway,” he mentioned.

The rainy afternoon didn’t stop workers, nor did it dampen the excitement for the speedway’s massive makeover.

“All of the concession stands up there will be improved as well,” IMS President Doug Boles said as he pointed towards the upper deck of the front straightaway. “You come to the Speedway because of its tradition, the tradition and history is what makes it special.”

And some of that history is being ripped out, torn down, and replaced. The old catch fence that lines the track now just sits on it in bundles. A new mesh look that’s easier to fix and gives fans a better view is being installed. Boles said they plan to save part of the fence where Helio Castroneves climbed after winning the Indy 500.

The bleachers and folding chairs in the upper deck of the front straightaway are gone. Stadium style seats will take their spot. But Boles said they plan to do something with the 6,000 folding chairs that are no longer needed. He said it’s possible they’ll sell them with the money going towards the museum.

More rows are being added as well to the upper deck along with a new roof. Behind them will be space for elevators giving people with disabilities or in wheel chairs access to this view point for the first time.

Project officials said the changes ride a fine line between upgrading the old and honoring the past.

“It doesn’t take you very long when you work around here to realize how very important history is to the motor speedway,” said architect Jonathan Hess.

“It’s going to be kind of exciting to see exactly what they do and how they do it. So I’m really looking forward to that,” said Henniger.

The next big project involves Gate 1 and the entry plaza. Officials plan to make that area more accessible and easier for people to navigate through.

Other projects part of Project 100 that are already finished include the renovation of the road course used for the Angie’s List Grand Prix, the new scoring pylon, and the new video boards.