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Indy 500 fans will find track security tighter this year

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Fans coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this weekend's Indy 500 will notice some changes in the traditional routine in response to last month's bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Getting into the speedway will be harder as officials tighten up access to the track, closing traffic on one popular route. More uniformed police officers also will be present.

But the biggest impact on fans could be closer monitoring of the coolers they bring in.

Coolers packed with beer are a time-honored tradition at the speedway. The track has long had limits on the size of coolers fans could bring in, but those were widely ignored as security officials herding tens of thousands of fans through the gates focused more on banning glass bottles.

Faye Fields, 29, who lives in suburban Noblesville, said track workers have let people in with coolers that took two people to carry or had to be pulled on wheels.

"If one of the gates turned you away, all you had to do was go down to the next one," she said.

Speedway spokesman Doug Boles acknowledged that enforcement of the cooler limit has been lax, but that won't be the case this year.

"Last year, we ended up saying if you can carry it with one hand you could bring it in," he said. But after two brothers set off homemade bombs at the April 15 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 250, speedway officials "made the determination we're really going to enforce our cooler limits this year."

All coolers brought to the track will be opened and inspected, Boles said. Workers will check the size of the coolers and anyone whose cooler is too big will have to lug it back to their car.

There's a lot of pressure on Indianapolis to pull off a safe event because the race is one of the first big sporting events to follow the Boston attack, said Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, based at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"It all goes back to one thing: What is the risk? The Super Bowl has a high risk. The Indy 500 is an international icon facility, an icon race, a lot of pressure," he said.

The Kentucky Derby earlier this month also took new security steps, banning cameras with interchangeable lenses and subjecting all attendees to magnetic wand scans before they entered Churchill Downs. Other events are expected to step up security as well. Marciani said planners are considering using metal detectors on everyone who attends next year's Super Bowl in New York and New Jersey.

Fields, who works a job in security, said completely securing an event such as the 500, which draws more than 250,000 people, is next to impossible.

"I think with so many people coming through, you can't stop it all unless you stop and look at every person," she said.

The 500 also has changed its parking policies and traffic patterns. Spectators who want to park in a formerly free lot in the Turn 3 infield will have to pay $25 and have security credentials to prove their identity.

"I think a lot of people will be surprised," said Bob Gibbens, 52, an air traffic controller from Houston who has attended the race for 44 years.

Boles said the parking passes should ease traffic backups and let police know who is inside the track with a vehicle. Police also will restrict access on a major route into the track and bar fans parked overnight in a lot across from the main gate from pouring through a tunnel into the track at dawn.

Marciani said he doesn't think fans will be troubled by any extra hassle this year.

"The fans have changed a great deal in the last five years," he said. "They know about Boston. The fans do. They're going to be patient."

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