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INSTALLATION: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Feb 18, 2004 12:00 PM, Robilard Nevin


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Hurtling around the track in a Marmon Wasp at what was then considered a scorching speed of 74.59 mph, Ray Harroun was the winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Since then top speeds at the legendary Brickyard have eclipsed Harroun's by an order of magnitude three times as great, and the winner's purse has skyrocketed from $14,250 into the seven-figure range. The number of fans viewing the event has grown exponentially, as well, with millions now being able to tune in worldwide thanks to the power of television.



Despite faster cars, bigger money, and mass communications, however, get on down to where the rubber meets the tarmac, and the configuration of Indy's 2-1/2-mile track essentially remains the same today as it was nearly a century ago, a fact that fares well with traditionalists yet has presented its share of challenges in terms of viewing events from the speedway's grandstands. Not necessarily built with spectator viewing in mind but rather testing the limits of men and race cars, the track's long straightaway and sinuous turns have, until recently, afforded each grandstand location with only a glimpse of the total action. Fans seated along the straightaway, for example, obtained a commanding in-your-face view of the action in front of them, but once the cars disappeared into the first turn, they remained clueless of who was holding the lead until the cars ripped past again. The same held true for those seated elsewhere. Their view of what was taking place was limited to only that which unfolded directly before them.

What forever changed how fans in the grandstands witnessed the race was a multiphase video upgrade implemented during a three-year period extending from 1999 to 2001. During this time,

18 large-screen video displays were custom-fabricated by Brookings, South Dakota–based Daktronics and installed at a ratio of 7 within the infield and 11 on the inside and outside of the main straightaway. Measuring in size from 29 feet by 23 feet to 9 feet by 10-1/2 feet, the video boards all utilize LED technology and, in many instances, incorporate matrix displays providing text messaging and three-sided, rotating ad panels.

Chosen to provide the sizable screens based upon research conducted by Indy's own engineering design department and a real-world shoot-out conducted at the track attended by a number of major players within the display industry, Daktronics is widely known for display technology ranging in size from portable traffic warning/construction signs to the huge scoring and video systems seen in NFL stadiums across the country.

"When we first began exploring the idea of bringing video to the speedway, we understood its intrinsic value," says Dave Dusick, Indy's technical coordinator of multimedia systems during the video project and subsequent audio upgrade. "What we didn't realize was how well it would be received at our facility. The response was truly amazing, because for the first time in history, fans in the grandstands were able to see every inch of every lap. Now someone seated in turn three can watch cars battle into the turn right in front of them. Then as the cars disappear from view, they merely turn their attention to the large screen video displays to watch the action all the way around the rest of the track."

Serving as sources for viewing replays, highlight reels of past races, postrace interviews, and a variety of independently produced spots, the large screen displays receive live, race-action programming courtesy of a raw feed supplied by IMS Productions. An Indy-owned and -operated entity that keeps in excess of 20 cameras aimed upon the action, IMS Productions additionally serves as the source for all broadcast feeds.

"The video screens opened up a whole new world of opportunity in terms of entertaining race fans," Dusick says. "Beyond that they also underscored an increasing need for improvements in track audio. Our old P.A.-style sound seemed out of place in relation to the dynamic programming seen on the screens. The more we examined the situation, the more we concluded it was time to add audio that would further define our new requirements for entertainment value."

As a way of selecting the proper components that would bring better audio definition to the track, Indy's engineering and design team relied upon the same model used for choosing the video, scheduling a demanding product shoot-out in April 2002 with the aid of Dallas-based WJHW. With just about every major audio manufacturer on hand to strut its stuff, the shoot-out ultimately concluded with 325 ISIS Series 102W-DD enclosures from QSC being selected as the basic building blocks for the upgrade.

First introduced to the project through AV Marketing, a local independent manufacturer's rep firm, the two-way QSC boxes were actually latecomers to the selection process. Despite this handicap, they bested all rival contenders for the job and emerged victorious within the system’s blueprint mounted atop the speedway's catch fence. Supported as needed with 40 ground-stacked model 215SB-DD subs also from the ISIS line, the audio system continued taking shape following an unprecedented path, relying upon components culled from the QSC catalog to the exclusion of virtually all others.

As the central players in the ISIS cast at Indy, the 102W-DD loudspeakers are multipurpose devices featuring active or passive crossover operation. Employing an advanced composite construction and stainless-steel grilles, the enclosures offer strength, weather resistance, and reduced weight--a combination of plus features for places like Indy where they are exposed to the elements in fencetop mounting positions. Serving as ideal mid/high counterparts to the ISIS 215SB-DD subwoofers, the boxes produce high output and extended range thanks in no small part to internal components, including a 1.4-inch exit, 3-inch titanium diaphragm compression driver, and a 10-inch ferrite woofer. Additionally outfitted with a 150–by-50 waveguide high-frequency section that can be rotated according to coverage needs, the loudspeakers are further complemented by a full assortment of hardware, including L-track mounting provisions at top and bottom to make the task of rigging and installation as straightforward as possible. A built-in stand-socket completes the design, along with a distinct multiangle cabinet configuration, making it useful even in monitoring applications.

Notable as the subwoofers with a high output-to-size ratio, Indy's ISIS 215SB-DD extended low-frequency cabinets are constructed using the same carbon fiber/composite manufacturing techniques as their full-range ISIS brethren. Just as lightweight and durable within the confines of subwoofer operation, the rigidity of the tough manmade material has the added benefit of raising the enclosure's natural resonances to frequencies higher than its normal operating range. At the heart of the cabinet's ground-shaking capabilities lie dual 15-inch drivers each rated at 1,400W apiece. Mounted inside the ported cabinet facing each other, the individual transducers deliver output counteracting one another, producing significantly less enclosure vibration while delivering smooth, low distortion performance and considerable wallop.

When the Indy design team set about to examine loudspeaker options during the shoot-out, they were essentially seeking devices with a core group of basic attributes providing premium audio in a compact package that wouldn't impact spectator and television sightlines.

"There were a lot of boxes that sounded great," Dave Dusick says. "But only QSC really met both our sightline and performance needs. The ISIS cabinets have a response totally unlike what you'd expect from such a small box. They handle music and speech equally well and even go as low as 70 Hz, a fact which allowed us to reduce the number of subwoofers used on the project."

Dusick and the Indy staff labored long and hard when it came to determining how the ISIS loudspeakers would be mounted. Researching every design option available, they wound up giving a unison veto to ideas of a rear-firing system mounted on poles behind the grandstands and just about any other configuration one could possibly imagine. "Because of the way our facility is laid out, nothing outside of what we finally settled upon really fit when it came to deploying the loudspeakers," Dusick says. "For example, a centralized cluster mounted within the infield atop the Daktronics video screens wouldn't have worked because of the distances involved. Conversely, anything with poles would work against everything done over the years to maximize sightlines. When all was said, done, and thoroughly researched, all that was left as an option is what we did."

Utilized as portable reinforcement for a grandstand area often moved about to accommodate different racing events, 30 of QSC's AD-S82 cabinets merge with the ISIS full-range components to help complement the design. "Right from the beginning, we knew the loudspeakers were going to be vital to the system's success," Dusick says. "Once we made our final choices in this area, we began our search for amplification and control. In the end, we decided to go with QSC for these components, too. Our goal is to have this system in place for the next 20 to 25 years, so having a single manufacturer standing behind everything is something definitely to our advantage."

Residing within 14 equipment rooms located around the 2-1/2-mile track, 125 CX1102, 3 CX1202V, and 52, 4-channel CX404 amplifiers rally to bring power to the Indy system. Linked at their wide-ranging and often distant locales by QSC's CobraNet-based Routing Audio via Ethernet (RAVE) network, the amps all gain the added benefits of QSControl monitoring and control. A single RAVE 188 serves as the transmitting hub, with signals traveling through fiber to receiving RAVE 188 units in each amp room. Every signal leaves the system headend within the digital domain and is converted back to analog before reaching the amps with the aid of QSC's CM16a amplifier network monitors. From the amplifiers, signals travel to the loudspeakers over standard No. 10 copper.

Back in the day when what Dusick describes as a "70V system on steroids" ruled the Indy roost, the only truly effective way to validate system loudspeaker function was to borrow a track vehicle and drive to the location of each. Failing to miss that ritual even a little bit after he obtained the keys to the new rig, Dusick notes that one of the best things about QSControl is that it enabled him to monitor every breath of the entire Indy system, loudspeaker runs in excess of a mile notwithstanding. "There's more flexibility with QSControl," he says, "especially in terms of control, as it allows channel-specific adjustments on individual loudspeakers via one of 225 amplifier-mounted QSC DSP-3 processing units. There's no such thing as location constraints anymore, because now you can tune a loudspeaker according to the particular acoustic needs of wherever it's mounted. Right from the QSControl screen, you can provide optimal processing for a loudspeaker under a grandstand roof, out in the open atop the catch fence, or wherever. The technology takes the subjectivity out of tuning, as well, as now you can precisely monitor voltage and current and understand just what the data means."

Final construction phases of the system began in fall 2002, with work continuing unabated through the Midwest's cold winter months and coming to a close well before Indy 500 activity kicked into high gear on the first of May.

"The system made its first sound during the third week of March and was completely online in the beginning of April," Dusick says. "It all came out better than I expected. A lot of people put everything they had into this project, and the results have proven to be nothing less than totally rewarding."

Dusick likens the pace of the A/V component of race day to that of any megaevent TV production. "Beyond serving as a medium for the race announcements and action itself, audio and video programming fills in to entertain the crowd with segments ranging anywhere from 15 to 20 seconds in length on up to three or four minutes," he says of the electronic portion of the show. "Indy's philosophy has always been to give the crowd more than they bargained for. The screens are constantly lit up, and sound fills the stands. In addition to the race, the fans get bits of history, music, all kinds of things to keep the action moving and make it a better experience. On a historical level at Indy, these systems may have been 90 years in the making, but they were definitely worth the wait."

Assisting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway engineering and design team on the audio project were local electrical contractor Miller-Eads, which pulled and terminated more than 300,000 feet of No. 10 copper for the loudspeaker runs; Indy-based Clawson Communications (which did all of the fiber); headend designer Durrell Audio of Nashville (which, among many assigned tasks, added a new Crest X-Eight 32 input console to the main control room); and TA Electronics, a firm owned by longtime Indianapolis audio contractor Tom Allebrandi, which wired all the racks.

Held on Sunday, May 25 last year, the Indianapolis 500 was one of three major events taking place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway between May and October. The Brickyard 400 followed on August 3 and then the United States Grand Prix on September 28. Kevin Harvick emerged victorious at this year's Brickyard 400, and Michael Schumacher resided in the winner's circle at the conclusion of the U.S. Grand Prix. Gil De Ferran won his first Indy 500 in May, stealing the race from teammate and returning champion Helio Castroneves.

U.K.–expatriate–turned–Hoosier and motor-sports addict Robilard Nevin is an acoustical design engineer living and working in Indianapolis.



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