High-Tech Construction Tools Earn a Checkered Flag in Modern Racetrack Design

by Angus W. Stocking, L.S.
- Nov 28 2018 - 5 min read
racetrack design ISM
Okland Construction used BIM, 4D construction management, and virtual and mixed reality to renovate Arizona’s ISM Raceway. Courtesy Aaron Kes/ISM Raceway.

In October 1970, Hollywood star Steve McQueen won the 17-lap Winter Sprint race in Avondale, Arizona, on a track built in 1964 to be the “Indianapolis of the West.” This is just one entry in the storied history of Arizona’s ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix International Raceway), which remains a venerable institution in the racing world.

The racetrack started out as a 2.5-mile road course and evolved its design to keep up with racing trends; it’s now a one-mile, low-banked, tri-oval racetrack optimized for NASCAR and IndyCar events. In 2017, Raceway owners embarked on a massive, $178 million renovation that would move the start and finish lines for better visibility and add 45,000 seats to the existing grandstand, two new gate entrances, and 16 new buildings in the center of the track, including concessions, restrooms, luxury suites, elevators, escalators, and a media building.

racetrack design rendering
Modeling ensured central media facilities would not interfere with sight lines. Courtesy Okland Construction.

“It was more like a large infrastructure site, or even a small city than a relatively simple high-rise project,” says Jordan Coe, senior ICT coordinator for design/build contractor Okland Construction. “It’s a 400- to 500-acre site, with many separate projects being built in parallel by 40 to 50 subcontractors—all working around 60 years of subsurface utilities and infrastructure while also doing all of our work in the time windows between race events.”

Managing this complex design and construction fell largely to Coe, who worked with a management staff of 25 and a suite of high-tech solutions including BIM (Building Information Modeling), 4D construction management, virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) to successfully keep the large project on schedule and within budget.

Responsive Design and Construction

The compressed schedule and specialized requirements of raceway design meant that many design challenges were recognized and solved during construction, including more than 100 drawing changes that were mostly owner-driven.

One example is the new media facility built in the center of the track. To preserve grandstand sightlines, all new buildings in this location had to be shorter than 14 feet tall; this limitation created problems with the mechanical and HVAC design for the media building.

“We realized as we brought together the building structural design and the mechanical design that 75 percent of the mechanical was up in the building’s joist webbing, and there just wasn’t room—we only had 15 inches of clearance at the center of the pitched-roof building, narrowing to just six inches at the edges,” Coe says. “Had we tried to install the original design, it wouldn’t have worked.”

racetrack design rendering of infield
Rendering detail of the raceway’s new infield facilities and media center.
Courtesy Okland Construction.

The building’s BIM model, in Autodesk Revit and Navisworks, helped resolve the problem. Okland gathered all of the design, engineering, and construction subcontractors, and together, they were able to work with the model to redesign the mechanical plan and perform clash detection in just a few days.

“Normally we would try to make minor adjustments to make the original design work,” Coe says. “But here, we were able to completely redesign about 60 percent of the mechanical around square ducts, have an engineer evaluate and approve the new airflow, and figure out ways to run it through our truss system.

“It turned out to be a good example of successful design/build practice and BIM design,” Coe adds. “We were flexible, our subcontractors were responsive, and working with the model helped us to make the necessary changes quickly and securely.”

Flexible Reality

Throughout the project, the team used VR and MR using the Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens platforms to create an innovative quality-control procedure that may be a first of its kind.

A typical application of VR on the project was making virtual mockups of facilities. Revit models and the Unity gaming engine were then used to create visualizations of a tunnel accessing center field, luxury suites, and the entire site and grandstand area.

“It was all about fan experience,” Coe says. “Using the virtual mockups, owners were able to review the actual fan experience of walking through the tunnel and using the suites, and they were able to make sense of the sightlines and fan perspectives in the new VIP and grandstand seating areas. The mockups led to some changes and sped up approvals.”

Virtual mockups are increasingly common on large projects like this; Okland has created similar visualizations for other clients, including hospital construction. But by using an MR mockup for quality control and “pre-built” construction visualization, the team pushed the envelope of construction management.

“It was a first for us,” Coe says. “We took the BIM coordination models for our largest building in the track center and imported it into HoloLens. We then geolocated the visualization precisely onto the construction pad, which was in a dense area of existing subsurface infrastructure and gave us very little room for error.”

racetrack design ism raceway nighttime
Night view of the new track and facilities. Courtesy Okland Construction.

Excavation and foundation subcontractors were able to compare the MR visualization to actual utility locations as they were revealed by potholing and ground-penetrating radar. “We found conflicts in real time and were able to make adjustments immediately,” Coe says. “Using mixed reality this way had been experimental for us, and actually using it in the field really proved it was useful. We also used BIM 360 Glue on iPads and our subs were able to look at, for example, ductwork in place before installation. A lot of design errors were caught and corrected in early stages before they became big problems.”

In some ways, on-site project management at the ISM Raceway expansion was conventional: Subcontractor meetings were held weekly, sometimes involving as many as 80 individuals sitting down together in a large trailer used as a conference room. But conventional management techniques would not have been enough to deliver success. By also implementing advanced BIM-based visualization and clash detection, along with VR and MR tools, Okland Construction was able to successfully complete a challenging project that might have red-flagged a less progressive design/build contractor.

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