Renovations on both sides of the asphalt begin with modifications to the racetrack itself. A relocated start/finish line will soon be surrounded by a new grandstand and revamped infield experience, bringing fans under the hood on race day.
“We’re going to be able to have race fans go into what is NASCAR’s locker room,” says Sperber. “It’s the one area that all race fans want to be able to get to. I think we’ll give race fans an opportunity to immerse themselves in the sport like never before.”
The interactive garage, a first in NASCAR, is a backstage pass for diehard motorheads. Open on both sides, racecars will nose into the garage and pop their hoods. A short wall running down the long axis of the garage is the only barrier separating fans with a Fan Zone pass from the racing teams.
“Fans will be able to interact with the race teams, take a selfie, talk to the drivers, all sorts of experiences they’ve never been able to do at a racetrack,” Sperber says. “It’s really going to blow people away.”
“There are venues where players will walk through a lounge or walk through a club area on their way to the court or to the field,” adds Bob Carlson, Principal at DLR Group. “But this is eight hours before the race. And if [race teams] have a problem with the car, and they’re cranking on it trying to get it ready and fix something, you’re there watching them. There’s an excitement there that’s unique to professional sports.”
“We’re going to be able to have race fans go into what is NASCAR’s locker room. It’s the one area that all race fans want to be able to get to.”
– Bryan Sperber, Phoenix Raceway
The garage is broken into five segments. The working side of the garage has a single bay for every race team. On the Fan Zone side, fans can walk through the garage doors and go from bay to bay to bay along the fan walkway to see each team’s seven-foot-tall, six-foot-wide toolbox clinging and clanging as teams make final preparations to get the cars race ready.
“The position of the toolboxes allows fans to circulate by and see their favorite team getting the car ready,” Carlson says. “They’ll be close enough to bend over and get an autograph. There’s always going to be some concern about fans and the crews interacting. But I’ve been in a lot of garage areas with fans that have access, and the fans have been incredibly respectful of the teams. The teams appreciate the interaction with the fans. It’s a sport that really does value having people close.”
“One of the challenges for our sport for all these years is the only way to get into the garage is you either had to be able to drive a racecar really fast or know someone who is associated with the industry – either a race team or a sponsor,” Sperber adds. “It was a limited access venue. But that’s a beehive of activity on race day. So it’s pretty exciting to be able to have access to that area of the racetrack. We’ve never been able to provide fans with that chance.”
The Fan Zone is an add-on cost. Any ticket holder, from the lowest price point to the most exclusive premium seat holder, can purchase Fan Zone access. Approximately 10,000 Fan Zone passes will be sold each race day.
Bookending the garage are three luxury suites, garage bays of their own with windows into the working area. Those suite holders can peer in and see crews working on a car right in front of them.
“For the first time, sponsors will be able to bring their guests into the garage area,” says Sperber. “There’s a glass wall that will provide them an opportunity to actually look right into the garage. So again, we’re trying to differentiate and provide high-quality experiences at different price points.”
The garage suites are air-conditioned and have all the amenities guests expect from suite experiences, including F&B service and upscale FF&E.
“There are concession stands in the Fan Zone with catering pantries,” Carlson says. “And then there’s a main kitchen over by the media center. So they’ll have a high level of foodservice comparable to what you’d get up in the suite tower.”
Additional Programming in the Fan Zone
Outside the garage area will be a festival atmosphere, complete with shade, food and beverage, sound systems, video boards, and stages for driver appearances, bands, or other programming.
In addition to Victory Lane access, the Fan Zone also provides guests with views of the prerace technical inspection. Each car must pass a final NASCAR assessment consisting of a half-dozen stations before qualifying for the race.
“Fans will be able to see the cars and the race crews push the cars through all these inspection stations,” Carlson says.
A variety of seating options will be available to match a variety of food and beverage offerings. Whether guests want to sit down, relax, and enjoy food with a knife and fork, or stand and drink a cocktail, those options will be available. Final menus are currently being developed.
The Fan Zone is broken into distinct neighborhoods, each an opportunity for brand identity.
“All along, it was clear that we wanted to have multiple groupings of shade structures and places within the Fan Zone,” Carlson says. “There are six or seven larger zones that can be broken up into sponsorship.”
Technology in the Fan Zone (and everywhere in the facility) unlocks many opportunities previously untapped for sponsors and guests at Phoenix Raceway.
“We’ll be the first NASCAR track that has Wi-Fi throughout the entire venue,” Sperber says. “We’re going to be, I think, a bit of a trendsetter in the motorsports industry.”
Announcements in the technology space are expected this fall.
Ongoing Marketplace Disruption
By November 2018, Phoenix Raceway will realize a transformational opportunity to improve its race-day experience for guests and for corporate partners. As for the future, the motorsports segment of the industry has continued opportunities to respond to the market with further enhancements.
“Stick-and-ball sports are quite further ahead in terms of addressing premium product mix and experiential diversity,” says Renne. “Racing venues have to start to see themselves as being in the entertainment hospitality business first, tuning into what their potential customer wants. This will start to direct their investment toward how to retain their already eroded avid fan base and capture the casual fan out of disinterest.”
A buzzword of the day is “disruption”. With its reconfigured track, new grandstand venue, entry experiences, infield innovations, and immersive garage access, Phoenix Raceway is disrupting itself with new experiences to bring the future motorsports fan back to the track.
“20 years ago, there was a different attitude about racetracks and fan involvement,” Carlson says. “It’s cool to see [Phoenix Raceway] step up and right in the middle of some of the coolest sporting experiences that you’re going to get in professional sports.”
Disruption is moving lines all over our economy. When the Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar finishes, a new experience for race fans will just be getting started on, outside, and inside the track. Let the dive-bombing begin. #
Watch our exclusive interview with Phoenix Raceway President Bryan Sperber in its entirety from the Sports Venue Design & Build Forum at this year’s ALSD Conference and Tradeshow.