Repaving Kansas Track Is Absolutely Necessary
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – This weekend, teams and drivers and fans will bid farewell to the original racing surface at Kansas Speedway. For many – especially drivers – the farewell will be tearful.
But know this: The removal and replacement of the 11-year-old asphalt at Kansas is absolutely necessary. The alternative is a complete, and possibly catastrophic, failure of the racing surface.
The decision to resurface the track was first reported here in October of 2010. In the months afterward, word circulated through the garages, media and fan forums.
Last summer, details of the project were unveiled: The track would be re-excavated and resurfaced with fresh asphalt. Track owner International Speedway Corp. would also take the occasion of the repave to reconfigure the banking from its current 15 degrees in the corners, to variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees.
The repave would begin immediately after this weekend’s STP 400 Sprint Cup Series race and be completed in time for the October Hollywood Casino 400 Cup weekend.
As details of the re-construction project circulated, so, too, did concern among drivers and fans.
The drivers correctly asserted that the current surface had matured and improved to the point to where it produced high-quality racing. After several early years of one-groove racing – that is, dull racing – Kansas had come to produce darn entertaining side-by-side action.
Some competitors asked: Why screw with that?
Last April, for example, Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, said, “I like the quote ‘If it’s not broke don’t fix it’. To me, you look at the product in racing we got. It’s pretty darn good. Pretty competitive, side-by-side. This race track, when you compare it to all the mile-and-a-halves, has pretty good racing. Now.
“There’s always the unknown,” the two-time Kansas winner said. “I like the side of not taking the risk. If I got good racing now, and I’m happy or I’m above average when it comes to my show or my race, which (Kansas) is, why take the chance and what’s my upside and what’s my downside.”
This week, Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, also a two-time winner at Kansas, issued some words that will likely be issued a lot in the coming days.
“I love Kansas and other worn-out tracks,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. “We’ll enjoy this final race on the old surface as much as we can.
“I think worn-out surfaces are the ones that put on the best show. I don’t know anybody that’s a real fan of a repave.”
Gordon also added that there are times when repaves must be undertaken and that this may be one of them.
Pat Warren, president of Kansas Speedway, said Thursday there is no maybe involved.
“We’d run 20 years (on the current surface) if we could. But we can’t,” Warren said. “It wouldn’t be
responsible, it wouldn’t be safe and it’s very likely we would have what I would call a catastrophic failure at some point that would cause us to not run a race. That is just not an acceptable risk either for the drivers or the fans or the sport.”
Kansas’ problems stem from its geographical location. It sits in an area of the country where temperatures can radically vary. In months like December, temperatures can be in the 80s. Two days later, they can drop into the 20s.
That, and drainage subsurface drainage problems, cause the track surface to expand, contract and shift.
Several years ago, the seams in the track began to grow wider. To combat the problem, the seams were tarred. That led to driver Kurt Busch’s famous description of the strips as “the tar of death” because cars would lose grip when hitting them.
Warren said that the problem got worse. So bad, he said, that last year the seams were so wide that he could stick his fist into them.
“We had a situation about a year and a half ago now,” Warren said, “where we had the three lower lanes of the track shift downward because there had been gaps that developed over the years. Just think of all three of them sitting on a 15-degree bank. Well at some point, they just decided they were tired of sitting there with a gap between me and the one below me, and they all moved down. Sort of like a mini earthquake is the best way to describe it.
“You can’t race with that gap in the track. Every time a car went over it, you had the opportunity to cut a tire.”
Some fans have leveled the criticism that the repave is being done for competitive, or even cosmetic purposes. That the repave is strictly optional.
Warren offered a common sense rebuttal to that.
“I can’t imagine a situation where a race track would repave unless it had no choice,” he said. “We are a publically traded company. When we have capital to invest, money to invest, we want to invest in things that will make the fan experience better. Repaving a race track is a really expensive proposition that doesn’t necessarily improve the fan experience at all.
“If we had a choice, we would never repave a race track. It’s a lot better to pave it once and leave it. Especially if the quality of racing is good and there are no safety issues. But as we saw in Daytona a few years ago (when a large hole developed in the track during the running of the Daytona 500), these things do get old, they do wear.”
Warren said that the move to reconfigure the banking is secondary in terms of importance. He said that officials will use the opportunity which tearing up the old pavement presents and use it to increase the banking.
The track will remain a 1.5-mile tri-oval. It will be two inches narrower to accomodate the increased banking.
The pits will remain the same.
The track is also taking the opportunity to begin construction of the infield road course, which the Speedway is committed to building.
Repaving work will begin on Sunday after the STP 400. Fans are welcome to stay to watch the work begin. What they will see is as part of the event, is that the Kansas Army National Guard will bring an M1A1 Abrams Tank and an Armored Combat Earthmover (ACE) for the groundbreaking ceremony.
Fans may even see the race winner or other drivers in the tank and ACE cockpits.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments