IMS officials solicit ideas for track improvements

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will soon be moving ahead with plans to renovate the track, after Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that will help pay for improvements.

House Enrolled Act 1544 gives the Indiana Finance Authority the power to issue bonds to help raise $100 million for upgrades at IMS. The bill creates a Motorsports Investment District that will take sales and income tax at IMS property to be used for reinvestment in the track.

Gov. Pence signed the bill into law earlier this month, and joined race officials for a ceremonial signing at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday.

“Motorsports has a rich history, and an even brighter future,” said Gov. Pence at Wednesday’s ceremony.

But now race fans want to know: does a brighter future mean bright lights for night racing?

“I think it’d be great to see some lights at the Speedway,” said race fan Kyle Orr. “I’d love to see a night race.”

“I just think it’d make the atmosphere a lot better,” said race fan Randy Haley. “I think it’d draw a bigger crowd with lights.”

But IMS officials said the idea of adding lights for night racing is still a 50-50 proposition. The lights could allow NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 to be run at night, while the Indianapolis 500 would still be run at its traditional time, in the afternoon.

“We’d still have to have conversations with NASCAR,” said chief operating officer Doug Boles. “There’s a lot of background here that has to go before we make a decision here.”

Boles said IMS officials could start making decisions within the next few months, and he said they’re still open to suggestions.

“I mean we really want to make this as much about the fan experience as anything, so if fans have ideas, even stuff we haven’t read about, we’d love to hear them,” Boles said.

Several fans said they wanted to see better video screens, a possibility track officials are considering.

“More jumbotrons would be good, so you can see what’s going on,” said race fan Stephanie Medeor.

“Right now we’re focused on getting thru this wonderful race on Sunday, but then I think the summer is going to be pretty intense as we begin to think about the projects that are possible for us,” said Boles. “We’re going to increase revenues for the state, we’re going to bring more people here, more tourism, more people spending the night in our hotels in the area, so there’s a way that the state is making money on the investment they’ve made in us.”

The loan to IMS does have several safeguards, including a security interest in IMS assets, an annual $2 million investment by the track through the life of the bonds and a guarantee of the debt.

The bill also creates a Motorsports Improvement Fund that will give loans to businesses, including race tracks, team owners, drivers, suppliers and other qualified businesses. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation will oversee the fund.

According to the state, the motorsports industry employs about 23,000 people in Indiana. Thousands more work for motorsports-related companies in 91 of the state’s 92 counties.

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