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Texas Motor Speedway Unveils Monster Revamping

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 14 2017

Texas Motor Speedway unveiled its newly repaved and revamped track on Monday. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Long after the pyrotechnics marking the unveiling of Texas Motor Speedway’s repaved and re-profiled layout had settled Monday afternoon, the Texas Tire Monster continued upon its appointed rounds through Turns 1 and 2…and Turns 3 and 4. And on-and-on.

The Monster’s mission? To rubber-in and mimmick the look and feel of the worn-out, 1.5-mile oval that closed-out TMS’ three, rain-plagued 2016 major racing weekends _ minus the maddening six-hours of track-drying prior to Carl Edwards’ victory in NASCAR’s AAA Texas 500 Cup Series event on Nov. 6.

“It’s a completely different racetrack,” TMS President Eddie Gossage declared after chauffeuring media around the layout in a Chevy SS Pace Car. “People start using that silly ‘cookie-cutter, one-and-a-half-mile-track’ phrase, they just don’t know what they’re talking about. This is certainly no longer a traditional mile-and-a-half track.”

Monday’s program featuring guests from NASCAR and the INDYCAR sanctioning organizations that race annually at TMS signaled completion of a nearly 2.5-month capital project. In addition to a complete repaving of the racing surface and pit lane, the work included a re-profiling/altering of Turns 1 and 2 and the addition of an extensive French drainage system.

Amid fireworks along the frontstretch, NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell and INDYCAR counterpart Jay Frye waved the green flag on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver Chris Buescher, Verizon IndyCar Series owner/driver Ed Carpenter and Gossage as they drove three-wide on the inaugural lap. Monday’s program marked just the second full repave of “The Great American Speedway” since it opened in 1997. The first occurred in the summer of 2001 as the racing surface was repaved with a granite-based asphalt compound from the original limestone-based asphalt.

The new surface will make its Race Week debut during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader weekend set for April 7-9. The Verizon IndyCar Series will compete here June 9-10 for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600. In preparation for that weekend, INDYCAR and tire-supplier Firestone have scheduled a full-field Open Test day on April 12.

A primary reason for the project was the uncanny series of rain delays that hampered all three major race weekends last year _ including a 76-day postponement for the annual June night IndyCar Series race to late August _ and the inability to dry the track in a timely manner.

“The racing surface had just gotten old and was holding water,” said Gossage, who announced the ambitious project during a teleconference on Jan. 6.  Lane Construction Corp., with offices in neighboring Justin, Texas, started its work three days later.

“When we dug underneath it we found the dirt under it was bone-dry,” Gossage said. “So the rain was just holding in that top asphalt surface and we just couldn’t get it to dry out no matter how many jet trucks, no matter how many Air Titans you put on it, it took way too long to dry. So we put a new surface on it. We did install a very extensive drainage system, so hopefully we’ll never see those issues again.”

The second key element saw a re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2, where the traditional 24-degree banking has been reduced to 20 degrees. Turns 3 and 4 have retained their 24-degree angle. Gossage said the change was suggested by Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and son of SMI Chairman/CEO O. Bruton Smith.

“Marcus suggested, ‘Why don’t we re-profile Turns 1 and 2?’^” Gossage said. “He said, ‘Let’s make it a little flatter _ that’s something we’ve always wanted to do is reduce the banking here if we could to make the cars slow down a little bit. Let’s make it a real challenge. Let’s make it different.’ As it turned out we were able to lower the banking and widen the track in the process. Give Marcus credit for it. You’re going to have to find a compromise setup, I believe, or you’re going to be good in one end or the other. It’s definitely unique.”

Gossage reiterated SMI management was determined to give fans a sense of “certainty” whenever the weather radar looked “iffy.”

“The whole point was to give the fans certainty that when they come to the track, even if there’s inclement weather in the area, we can get it dried quickly and get back to racing,” Gossage said.”Marcus’ idea of widening the track in Turns 1 and 2, flattening it out a little bit, making it a little more challenging…that’s for the fans as well. We’re here for the fans. We all spent a lot of time here last year; there’ s nothing worse than being at a racetrack and you can’t race. We’re in a hurry _ that’s the point of racing.”

Scheduled for 334 laps/501 miles, November’s Chase Race No. 8 was red-flagged on Lap 293 when rain returned. Edwards won the race parked on pit road.

O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, praised SMI for continuing to cater to the fans.  “It’s outstanding work, the investment the track put in,” O’Donnell said. “Certainly you never want to have a race with any weather situation, but to be able to not only to fix that but use what we learned at Kentucky Speedway will be really good. Historically, when you put on a race on new asphalt it’s challenging, but this has ‘aged’ a bit.

“The new setup they’ve got in Turns 1 and 2, it’s one of those things that as you look around the tracks at what they’re trying to do _ Phoenix has got a new investment at the start/finish line (for 2018) _ tracks are trying to mix-it-up a little bit, especially the mile-and-a-halfs, which is good for NASCAR. I think it’ll provide some new lines for our racing, which we need. It’s big for the sport _ for both NASCAR and INDYCAR _ and we’re excited to get the year going here.”

Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, is eager to erase the memory of last summer’s Firestone 600 rainout, which prompted the decision to reschedule “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” from June 11 and 12th to Aug. 27. A total of 71 of 248 laps were completed before the program was washed-out on June 12.

The event restarted on Lap 72 and produced three-wide and four-wide racing before Graham Rahal completed a dramatic, last-lap pass of leader James Hinchcliffe to win by a miniscule 0.0080-seconds. It was the closest race in TMS history and fifth-closest in Indy car history. But the event was poorly attended on a typically hot North Texas summer night.

“We had what we think was a pretty phenomenal event last year after that 76-day red flag, the longest red flag in motorsports history if you remember that,” Frye said. “Eddie called me about 45 days ago to talk about repaving. I’m like, ‘So when are you going to do it? After the Cup race in November?’ He’s like, ‘No. We’re going to start on Monday (Jan. 9).’ But that’s how he operates. He got it done and it looks spectacular. I’m sure it’s going to create just as good or better racing than before.”

Frye plans to return for the Open Test next month. “Last year was a good template for what we would like to see going forward,” Frye said. “The dreaded pack racing _ they started off together and started to spread out. That’s our goal when we come back for the Open Test is try to get a configuration set for like we were in 2016. We have an aero-freeze (on chassis kits) and I think the manufacturers (Chevrolet and Honda) and teams have done a great job in the offseason.”

Gossage said the paving was completed last week. Next up is the positioning and painting of white lines as reference points _ and as many laps as the Tire Monster can knock out. The Tire Monster in its current form essentially is a boat trailer hitched to one of TMS’ Chevrolet extended cab pickups. The Monster concept was hatched in a casual conversation about track grooming between Gossage and three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and Fort Worth resident Johnny Rutherford during the previous repave in 2001.

Gossage roughed-out a sketch of the Monster _ its 16 Goodyear racing slicks turn inward to create resistance with the pavement _ and faxed it to the tire manufacturer for their approval. “It does a pretty remarkable job,” Gossage said, “and it’ll be running day and night whenever we can, trying to ‘age’ this asphalt. And we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve, as always.”

Case in point, a wash-and-lime “shampoo” routine.  “We’ve covered the track with lime (powder) and taken those tractors with brushes and brooms on the front of them and work that lime into the track,” Gossage said. “It causes the track to not have as much grip. That’s part of the process _ you wash it, put lime on it, work it in the track and then put the Tire Monster on it, and that’s how we age it.

“It’s a real dirty racetrack right now because there’s a lot of lime worked into it.  We’ll clean that up a lot in the next month. Running the Tire Monster…that’s going to clean it up some, too. A good rain shower or two, that’ll clean it up some. We’re trying to recreate this sense of old asphalt. The drivers like it when it’s old; it’s got too much grip when it’s brand new asphalt. Those are things we didn’t do the first time we paved it and the last paving job we had done in 2001…it still wasn’t right. That was the first time anybody saw the Tire Monster.”

Frye said the track’s gray surface certainly belies the fact that it is fresh asphalt. “This (aging process) is something that might be industry-changing,” Frye said. “It’s a new technique and hopefully accomplishes everything with the drainage they’ve installed. The science that goes into this stuff is pretty phenomenal. They do things right here. They had a situation they needed to fix, got it fixed and I’m sure it’ll be spectacular.”

In addition, Gossage said TMS now features either SAFER Barriers (outside) or Tire Packs (inside) on all corner walls.

“Tire Packs _ you take tires, run cables through them and tie them altogether and cover them with a material from a conveyor belt, and it’s a cushion should you hit the inside wall,” Gossage said. “We’ve not had a history of impact with the inside wall and felt like the SAFER Barrier actually might be too hard for them to hit if they were to hit there. The point being that there’s some sort of energy-absorbing cover on the entire racetrack both inside and out for all the series that race here. That’s a very significant investment when you think about all the things tracks are trying to do to make it as safe as possible.”

The re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2 by four degrees (from 24 to 20) has added additional racing surface, with the width expanding from 60 to 80-feet in that section.

A native of Prosper, Texas, Buescher is in his second Cup season but first with JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 37 Chevy SS. He noted the surface passed a huge test before either he or Carpenter began lapping in their Pace Cars.

“We got here this morning about 10:30,” Buescher said. “The track was wet and solid, damp, dark black all the way around. Within 45 minutes, the track was 99 percent dry, which is incredible. It’s exactly what we need, to be able to come to a race weekend and if we have not ideal weather we can get back to racing so the fans are not sitting there for four-to-six hours waiting for the track to dry.”

Buescher’s first foray into the new Turn 1 was an eye-opener. “The big change is the width,” Buescher said as he wheeled through the reduced banking. “It’s 20-foot wider than it was before, there’s less banking, there’s lots of options over here. It’s a completely new line. It almost makes you unsure of yourself.

“We typically run out there by the fence and you turn into the corner. Now if you turn in where you used to, you’re 20 foot off the bottom still. I would imagine that bottom is going to be the fast line around here. But as we come up right on the edge of the fence (exiting the frontstretch) you turn it down in the corner and it is a loooong way down to what will be a white or yellow line for the bottom of the racing surface.

“As we come into Turn 3, it’s unchanged as far as the banking and the width _ same old Texas Motor Speedway with new pavement that has been ‘aged.’ They did a good job. It’s very smooth, there’s no awkward transitions, there’s no strange bumps that are going to be out of place. The (South) tunnel bump is completely gone in Turns 1 and 2, but age will tell (if it settles again). They did keep some of the (North) tunnel bumps in Turns 3 and 4, which I love. I like to have a little bit of character in a racetrack. I think that’s great.”

Carpenter fields the No. 21 Chevrolet driven by JR Hildebrand and No. 20 Chevrolet driven by himself and Spencer Pigot. Carpenter, who only races on ovals, will see his season officially begin in May with preparation for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

“I’m excited to get out here in an Indy car,” Carpenter said. “Obviously, the Chevy SS is nice and can get some speed, but it’s a lot different car from an Indy car. But from what I could tell, it’s greatly improved, a lot smoother. The reconfiguration, as drivers and teams we like challenges and it’s something different. Having diversity between (Turns) 1, 2, 3 and 4 is something good for racing, obviously, and with it wider Indy cars may be able to go five-wide through there.”

As winner of the night race here in June 2014, Carpenter said he selfishly could have done without the reconfiguration. “It’s going to be pretty interesting to see how (the wider) Turn 1 changes things,” Carpenter said. “I’m sure we’ll start on the bottom but it definitely made the radius of the corner a lot tighter, to where you’re going to be turning, turning and holding the car in a rotating position a lot longer. With that change of radius, I almost think that’s a bigger change than the bank angle change (from 24 to 20 degrees) to be honest.

“I think they’ve done a good job. I’m really excited to get back here in April for our test and start to figure out this new corner. The entry I like better. Obviously, it’s wider but with the reduced banking it’s a better transition into the corner. It was kind of abrupt before, so I think this corner is going to be pretty cool for our Indy cars specifically.”

From the outset, Gossage has declined to put a public price tag on the project. “It’s a good bit of money,” Gossage said. “The money end of things wasn’t ever an issue. You’ve got to have a good racing surface. More importantly, 2016 wasn’t the only time we had trouble drying the track. We knew we needed to do it and we came up with some creative things while we were at it. It’s a part of the cost of doing business.”

Wise Health System has signed a multi-year agreement with Texas Motor Speedway to serve as entitlement sponsor for April’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race and as the speedway’s official healthcare provider.

The five-year agreement with Decatur, Texas-based Wise Health is a multi-pronged sponsorship anchored by entitlement rights for the Xfinity Series race that will be re-branded as the “My Bariatric Solutions 300.” The 300-mile/200-lapper is scheduled for Saturday, April 8, and will be televised live on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. (CDT).

Wise Health System also will be the “Official Healthcare Provider of Texas Motor Speedway.” That designation will provide enhanced medical equipment and services for the NASCAR and INDYCAR race weekends, beginning with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500/My Bariatric Solutions 300 NASCAR doubleheader on April 7-9. No financial terms of the agreement were disclosed.

Another benefit will be an on-site Fit-N-Wise Sports Medicine unit that will be fully staffed and provide free services to competitors throughout the NASCAR and INDYCAR race weekends. The Fit-N-Wise Sports Medicine program, a Wise Health System Service, provides a variety of services including treatment of sports-related injuries including sprains, strains, simple fractures and lacerations; strength/conditioning programs; performance analysis; joint injections and evaluation and correction of muscle disorders. The program also is designated as a Center of Excellence in managing muscle, bone, joint and spine disorders and injuries.

Wise Health System provides inpatient and outpatient services at more than 100 locations in 11 counties in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, including hospitals, primary care and specialty clinics, physical therapy and rehabilitation centers, imaging centers and bariatric clinics.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 14 2017
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