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PIR overhaul to feature new infield, start/finish line

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PIR officials are excited for the track's changes, which will make for a better fan experience. (Photo courtesy PIR)

By Casey Pritchard

Racing teams are constantly making adjustments to their cars to make sure they’re running at optimum performance. In similar fashion, Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale is doing that to its racetrack.

PIR is in the middle of its Phoenix Raceway Project, a $178 million renovation that’s going to bring a whole new experience to the fans.

“We’ve been looking at upgrading Phoenix Raceway for a number of years,” PIR President Bryan Sperber said. “This is such a great market for our sport and our sponsors nationally, the race teams love coming here. But, this is an old facility, it was built in 1964, so it’s certainly fallen behind the times in our ability to deliver a great fan experience, as well as baseline quality facilities for our competitors and national partners.”

Ideas for renovation have been contemplated for some time, Sperber said. However, International Speedway Corporation, which is the parent company of PIR, had been assigning capital to its 12 different tracks in small chunks, not significant amounts. That’s since changed.

“What we’ve learned through the vision of our CEO Lesa Kennedy, is that by putting a lot of the capital on one project, we can really change the game,” Sperber said. “We did that with the Daytona property in 2016. It really changed the conversation and tremendously upgraded the fan experience, and really moved the needle for us in so many ways. Because of the success with that project, it really gave the board confidence to move forward with Phoenix.”

The project was announced in January, but will not be completed until November 2018. All races will go on as scheduled during the construction, which is being done in phases.

Changes to the track include a new infield experience, enhanced seating, new and upgraded suites, escalators and elevators, WiFi throughout the facility and a different start/finish line.

“I think so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Sperber said. “The upgrades to the facility will really greatly enhance the fan experience.”

Sperber said he’s most excited about the new design for the NASCAR garages.

“It will allow fans, for the first time, to be able to actually go into the NASCAR garage, which is heretofore really been an area that was credentials only,” Sperber said. “So, it was really for the industry, and now we’ll be able to have fans go into that garage area with that new design. All told, it’s going to be an incredible experience, and I think the guests are really going to love it.”

As far as the racing goes, the change to the start/finish line will be significant because it’s an anomaly in NASCAR. The start/finish has been on the front stretch, but it’s moving to the area near turn two.

“If you think about Phoenix Raceway’s signature turn, it’s really this dog leg,” Sperber said. “Since we reconfigured the racetrack about six years ago, it really even enhanced the dog leg. So what we’ve seen now is that’s really one of the most exciting turns, I think, in all of NASCAR. We’ve seen the cars dive-bombing, drivers going three, four, five wide in that area. It’s really been tremendous.”

The finishes should have added drama because of the location of the start/finish line.

“Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out here in January and was looking at our plans, and he said, ‘I mean this in a good way, but it will be chaos.’ I agree with him,” Sperber said. “Having the fans be able to seated right in that area, and have such an up close view of all that excitement is going to be tremendous.”

With the change in location to the start/finish line, new grandstands will be added to that area. The seats will also be individual seats with cup holders, instead of the bench seating.

Additional suites are being built, and the old ones will be upgraded. A new club called Curve will open in November. It wil house up to 300 guests, and is six stories above the track.

With all the new changes, Sperber is excited, he said.

“Naturally, we love this racetrack and have a lot of affinity for it, as do, I think, most of the drivers and teams and fans around the country; they’ve always loved Phoenix Raceway,” Sperber said. “With this project, we’re taking something that was good and making it really great. With that comes a lot of responsibility to make sure we do it right, but I’m very confident in the design we’ve come up with and the number of innovations, and the upgrading for the fan experience is going to be really well received by the fans and the industry alike. It’s something we’re tremendously excited about.”

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