Racing Beat

| July 02, 2006

Repaved tracks at Talladega and Charlotte should improve racing experience.

Safer and Smoother
Transport drivers know the joys of driving on a freshly paved road. Soon, NASCAR drivers will get the same feeling at the Talladega, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C., tracks.

Talladega Superspeedway began a massive repaving project in May, while Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte finished up its asphalt work in April.

The long-awaited repaving work at Talladega began in earnest May 2, as workers removed SAFER barriers (soft walls) and catch fences from turns 3 and 4 and began churning up asphalt, initiating the first resurfacing project there in 27 years. The project is expected to be completed by Sept. 15, well in advance of the fall race weekend set for early October.

“As far as the shelf life of this surface, we’ve been lucky,” says Grant Lynch, president of Talladega Superspeedway. “With the exception of the one at Daytona, no other surface at NASCAR has lasted this long.”

The track was built in 1969, repaved a year later and resurfaced in 1979.

When fans – and drivers – return for the UAW-Ford 500 race weekend, they’ll see an asphalt surface built from the core up.

“The asphalt will be dug up all the way down to the surface that was put down in 1969,” Lynch says. “Then it will all be built back up to the original banking.”

It is International Speedway Corporation policy not to put a price tag on the project, Lynch says, but he adds that it will be “the most expensive track repaving in the history of NASCAR.”

Lowe’s Motor Speedway – a 1.5-mile oval with 24-degree banking in turns 1 through 4 and 5-degree banking in the straights – spent $3 million on its recent resurfacing project.

Talladega Superspeedway, the longest of the NASCAR venues at 2.66 miles, is expected to cost more. It is a tri-oval with 33-degree banking in turns 1 through 4, 18-degree banking in the tri-oval and 2-degree banking on the backstretch. Special equipment is required to hydraulically lift the pavers.

“Since this is the largest and steepest track, this project is going to cost quite a few million dollars,” Lynch says. “If a track has banking above 24 or 25 degrees, the equipment has to be held up in order to do what it has to do. Certainly that’s going to be a major issue here.”

Why is the track being resurfaced now, after 27 years?

“The surface could still be used, obviously, but earlier in the year a chunk of asphalt came up and hit Jeff Gordon’s car at Martinsville, and we decided we sure didn’t want that to happen here,” Lynch says. “And we were going to have to do it sooner than later.

“Once it’s finished all the bumps and cracks – everything that started out as a hairline crack – will be gone.”

Aside from the hefty cost of repaving, TSS will also have to absorb the cost of lost revenue. While some race fans think the venue is used only twice a year for NASCAR events, it stays booked throughout the year.

“NASCAR eliminated a lot of the testing that teams used to do here, but we still host ARCA teams, driving schools and it’s also a Harley-Davidson test track,” says Rick Humphrey, vice president and general manager of TSS. “But this needed to be done, and we’re glad to get started.”

Turns 3 and 4 will be repaved first, followed by turns 1 and 2 and then the backstretch and frontstretch.

As for Charlotte, it’s race ready.

Jeff Black, the Speedway Motorsports, Inc., paving engineer overseeing the project, says the result of the repaving is “the best of any track we’ve ever done.”

“Everything is right on schedule,” says “Humpy” Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway. “The weather has been very cooperative, and the paving is finished between the inside white line and the outside wall.”

The repaving of the racing surface required more than 10,000 tons (20 million pounds) of asphalt, which included a special polymer that increases the material’s softening point. The new surface was applied in two layers; a two-inch “binder” went down first followed by a 1.5-inch “finish” layer.

An additional 4,000 to 6,000 tons of asphalt were used to repave the aprons and pit road.
This marks the third time the entire oval has been repaved since Lowe’s Motor Speedway opened in 1960. The first new layer of asphalt was applied in 1973, and the entire track was paved again prior to the 1994 season. In between, the track’s corners received fresh coats of asphalt in 1979 and 1987.

The first test was held at the track in May and received rave reviews.

“I think they did a tremendous job paving this place,” says NASCAR veteran Greg Biffle. “It’s really smooth. The surface seems to be really nice. The tires, obviously Goodyear is on the safe side. They’re pretty hard tires. It takes a little bit to get them to get some grip, although guys have gone out and run fast laps, like first or second lap on the racetrack.

“I think the racetrack is going to be in the best shape for racing in

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