Cooling and Heating Chicagoland Speedway

September 14, 2001
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JOLIET, IL - The construction of the Chicagoland Speedway here started in the fall of 1999 and finished in June 2001, in time for July's Hills Bros. 300 and Tropicana 400 NASCAR races. Getting the job for installation of the rooftop units and split systems was a coup for contractor Tamarack Heating and Cooling.

"NASCAR fans are the most loyal for advertisers," said Tamarack president Rodney Kaminskas. They follow specific drivers. Jeff Gordon, for instance, drives the Tropicana car, said Kaminskas. "His fans drink nothing but Tropicana orange juice."

"Even beer drinkers will switch their brand loyalties" based on car sponsorship, Kaminskas said. Tapping into that kind of loyalty was one of the reasons why "We really wanted the job," said Ken Fracasso, superintendent for Tamarack's commercial division.

The division doesn't advertise; 90% of its jobs come from word-of-mouth referrals. However, the company has advertised its role in the Speedway project. They also get leads from contractor associations and the Dodge report. In addition, Tamarack has a healthy residential division.

The contractor installed air conditioning for the whole facility: grandstand boxes, the Presidential Suite, media rooms, and a media center on the infield.

According to Bob Munch Jr., president of Munch's Supply, New Lenox, IL, the project totaled 85 tons of cooling done with American Standard rooftop package systems, and 240 tons with split systems (the Allegiance 10 line). Areas in suites were done with splits, Munch said.

The Chicagoland Speedway under construction. The four rooftop units are visible on the center building.

DESIGN CHANGES

Bill Allan, also of Munch Supply, said the Chicagoland system's design was a copy of another Midwestern racetrack.

However, when new heat loss/gain calculations were run, signi-ficant modifications were found to be necessary. Everybody's reputation was on the line, including the mechanical contractor's.

Fracasso was in charge of the Chicagoland Speedway project. While the contractor doesn't really take on any design-build work, the Speedway project was "design-build to a point," said Fracasso. "The job [that they modeled from] was way undersized" for Chicagoland. "We had to get upgrades."

The heating load was undercalculated, for starters. In northern Illinois, it isn't unheard of to experience a cold snap around Labor Day. However, "Even the air conditioning was way undersized," Fracasso said. A Presidential Suite can hold around 130 people, he explained; when the air conditioning load was calculated and included the potential cooling load from bodies (and probable alcohol consumption, which raises body temperature), lighting, and various forms of electronics found in today's sporting suites, the original a/c load was found to be inadequate for the new facility.

"The R values were all wrong, too," Fracasso said.

The job carried $25 million worth of errors and omissions insurance for the engineer, Fracasso pointed out. However, "We're proud of this job," he said. "We're not afraid of it."

The split systems are seen from a rear view, facing towards the track.

INSTALLATION PATIENCE

In general, the hvac equipment installation went "fantastic," Fracasso said, although there were some problems in the suite area. Waiting for the single temporary elevator was sometimes an exercise in patience. All the trades were working together, and "Everybody had to wait their turn," equipment in tow.

On the outside buildings, however, "Everybody went in when they were supposed to," Fracasso said.

The rooftop units were helicopter lifted on a Sunday. There are six units in all.

Because of its timetable, the job required some wintertime work, including some rather blustery days up on the roof. "Some days we couldn't work," said Fracasso. "We tried to tie stuff down, but there's only so much you can do" when the prairie winds whip up.

On the roof, "Wintertime can be a little tough on you," he said; "hands frozen down into 90-degree angles; wire so brittle, it breaks in your hands." But the systems often are best for the owners because "They're on the roof, out of the way."

EXPANSION

"Every race, we have two men out there with every possible part that can break down," Fracasso said. They make sure to stay out of the way of the racers and their pit crews.

There was nothing too "gee whiz" about the controls, said Munch's Allan; the air conditioning for suites, etc., is turned off when the track is dark and turned on when there's a race. In winter, however, "We have to maintain 45?F in the suites to protect fine wood and furnishings," said Fracasso.

While on the site, Fracasso said he has met the likes of Dale Earnhart Jr., Kerry Earnhart, and Tony Stewart. Tradespeople sometimes get special passes. "You can go anywhere," he said, except during actual races and time trials.

The Chicagoland Speedway is designed for expansion, Fracasso pointed out. Underground conduit runs and piping were designed for it. "There are 34 suites now," he said; "the capacity is for 190."

It's easy to see why NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., he said. "Once you go, twice you go, and then you're hooked."

To see a slide show of the track's construction progress, visit www.chicagolandspeedway.com (website).

SIDEBAR: Track Facts

According to the speedway's website, www.chicagolandspeedway.com, the facility is located on 930 acres, "large enough to accommodate 42 United Centers. The grandstand is 15 stories tall, the same height as the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. The overall length of the grandstand is 2,480 ft, slightly longer than two John Hancock Buildings laid end to end." The facility offers grandstand seating for 75,000. It is owned and operated by Raceway Associates, LLC.

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