AWWA Connections - Water Works Article

Small utility gears up for record Indy 500 crowds

Connections Story

Connections banner

Small utility gears up for record Indy 500 crowds

Small utility gears up for record Indy 500 crowds
May 25, 2016

The eyes of the sports and entertainment world will be on the Indy 500 this weekend. But a quarter mile from the track, employees of a small water utility will perform a feat of their own: serving 350,000 more customers than normal.

Speedway, Indiana is an enclave of Indianapolis that incorporated in 1926 as businesses sprung up around the track. Year-round, Speedway Water Works provides water for the town’s 12,000 residents and commercial and industrial businesses. But this weekend, the 100th running of the world’s largest single-day sporting event will draw well over a quarter million spectators to Speedway.

And Superintendent Steve Hurst and his crew are ready.

“We’re cranking things up as needed,” Hurst said. “We have the capacity to handle the extra water demand that the large influx of race fans will generate. This is an event we deal with every year since we began providing water to the track many years ago.”

When the green flag drops about 12:15 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, the nine employees of Speedway Water Works will be ready partly because of the small town’s planning more than a half century ago.  

When the utility was created in the mid-1920s, it operated with one well and only chlorine disinfection. More wells were added as demand increased. In 1964, a surface water plant was constructed with a capacity of 3 million gallons per day, with Big Eagle Creek as the source water. Eight years later, the town added a groundwater plant with additional wells that catapulted the utility’s overall capacity to 7 mgd.

“Our plant designs have to be based on race day, even though this is the only time of the year we have such high demand,” said Mary Armacost, the utility’s assistant superintendent. “Both our groundwater plant and surface water plant run full bore during the race.”

Full bore could mean distributing as much as 6 million gallons – nearly triple the utility’s normal daily output. 

One of the reasons the demand isn’t even higher is because most of the spectators stay at hotels in Indianapolis where they take showers, do laundry and rest after the race, Armacost said.  “We are unsure exactly what we need, double or triple our normal. We’re really going to have to be on top of turning on additional pumps. We will have to carefully watch tank levels and bring more pumps on as needed – and do it quickly.”

Hurst said water infrastructure and plumbing improvements throughout the track since the early 1990s have reduced demand. “When I started here in 1978, it was not unusual to pump close to 6 mgd on race day. The track had old restrooms, water ran all the time, that sort of thing. Over the years, they have upgraded the restrooms, put in auto flusher toilets, and the usage is not nearly what it used to be.”

Every year, the utility crew revs up for race weekend beginning in mid-May as drivers arrive in Speedway for practices. “It’s like a swarm of angry bees over there,” Aramacost said last week, admitting May can be a stressful month at the utility. “We don’t let anybody go on vacation during this time.”

All the while, utility workers gradually increase production as demand increases with the influx of race workers and spectators.

The nine water works staff at the Speedway utility, which has been a member of AWWA’s Indiana Section for nearly 25 years, include Hurst and Armacost, two operators, two meter readers, “a jack-of-all trades guy,” and two distribution maintenance workers, Armacost said. “Everybody is fully cross trained in everything. We can all do every job. We’re too small not to.”

The staff is available as needed during the weekend, but the man charged with monitoring the system at race time is distribution maintenance worker Luke Adams, who is fully trained in plant operations and has been at the plant for six years.  

He said he’ll arrive at the plant by 6:30 a.m. Sunday so he doesn’t get stuck in traffic. 

“I’ll keep my eye on the tank levels and keep up with the lab tests,” Adams said. “If there’s a main break, I’ll investigate. Any kind of weird noise, I’ll fix. If I have an issue or question, I’ll give the superintendent a call.

“I’ll make chemical adjustments as needed and continue with the daily operation. That’s the mindset I have. Everybody has a routine and I stick to mine. We’re trained well and our plants operate pretty smoothly.”

Race track photo courtesy of IMS Photo

Contact Us

1450 N Lynhurst Dr
Speedway, IN 46224
Get Directions