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Architectural structures comprise NASCAR “fan zone” in Vegas

Features, Landscapes | September 1, 2007 | By:

A new Las Vegas motor speedway is a crowd pleaser.

Gentlemen, start your engines. NASCAR fans, you check out the new Neon Garage.

Over the roar of those engines, NASCAR fans at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) could not be more ecstatic. Why? In March 2007, at the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, the innovative Neon Garage debuted at the newly renovated LVMS, providing fans with a near-nirvana race car experience.

Sited at the center of the racetrack, the Neon Garage “fan zone” includes both open space and sheltered structures, featuring a state-of-the-art media center, concession stands and an area for live performances and other events. The five architectural structures, manufactured and installed by FabriTec Structures of Costa Mesa, Calif., are constructed from steel trusses and covered with PTFE fabric. Situated at the very center is a 650m2, tensile fabric-covered structure that gives fans a unique, comfortable vantage point to watch the race and a place to just hang out. Open with 360-degree views, the fabric-roofed gathering spot also provides much-needed shade from the hot Nevada sun. Interestingly, its curved shape was designed to suggest a car circling the racetrack. At the periphery of the Neon Garage area is the 4,831m2 roof deck, four sections of which are topped with steel structures and tensile fabric canopies. The upper-level observation deck of each provides the fan with a bird’s-eye view of the race. On the lower level, fans can look directly down through a glass floor into individual garage stalls where the teams work on the cars. This is up close and personal.

By using multi-purpose PTFE fabric instead of traditional building materials, LVMS solved many design problems. The fabric’s translucency admits light for an open but still sheltered view of the track and a clear view into the garage stalls below, while simultaneously reducing the heat factor. It also gives a festive, aesthetic air to the fan zone, while making it more flexible. The Neon Garage also appears more open than if occupied by bricks and mortar structures. “The properties of the fabric created the proper translucency, allowing enough light in to see out and enough shade to keep cool,” says Gary Haymann, executive vice president of sales for USA Shade & Fabric Structures Inc. “The tensile fabric also adds tremendous aesthetic value; it dresses up the whole project.” Wes Jones of AI Design Group, Charlotte, N.C., designed the Neon Garage.

Approximately 2,200m2 of the tensile fabric was used for the LVMS facelift. Haymann notes that the LVMS renovation was an incredibly forward-looking move for NASCAR, an organization that is known for a more traditional approach. “Fabric is the driving force; it is in the forefront of non-traditional building materials,” Haymann says. “This was the most innovative concept for NASCAR–they haven’t done anything like this before.”

NASCAR’s fan base is loyal but, with the Neon Garage, the organization is attracting new enthusiasts to the sport. “The Neon Garage is the first of its kind,” Haymann says. “It’s new, it’s exciting and it is completely outside the boundaries of what NASCAR has done in the past. The fans love it. NASCAR loves it.”

And don’t think the increased revenue stream has gone unnoticed. Tickets to the opening of the Neon Garage at the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 weekend sold out. One day of racing costs $99 and the weekend package cost $199, over and above the price of a race ticket, parking and concessions. Spendy? Not to the 8,000 fans who grabbed up the tickets. “This area will offer a perspective on the sport of auto racing that has never been available to the average racing fan,” says LVMS General Manager Chris Powell. “And the fan interactive area will bring an element of entertainment that is befitting to the culture of Las Vegas.

“Too often in our sport, the fan is not the first priority,” Powell says. “The Neon Garage places the fan first. It gives the fan the kind of access that he or she has not had at other speedways.”

With most design eyes focusing on creating sustainable structures these days, Haymann admits that sustainability was not a project goal. However, he does note that several components of the Neon Garage would satisfy certain LEED requirements. For one, the use of tensile fabric reduces heat island effect, and two, it provides an environmental quality of light using solar energy, not electricity. And, according to Haymann, the overall Neon Garage design would satisfy LEED’s design excellence requirement.

In the end, if you are a NASCAR fan, what is not to love about LVMS’s Neon Garage? It’s classy, fun and accommodating. And a destination point. Besides, if you tire of NASCAR, there are always the casinos.

Mason Riddle writes frequently about art, architecture and design. Her piece on artist Gregor Schneider appeared in the July/August issue.

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