By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
One year ago, two days of on-and-off rain plagued the NASCAR triple-header weekend at the Kentucky Speedway. Attempts at drying the track became an agonizingly long and frustrating process as persistent weepers came up through the surface. It was at that moment that Speedway officials realized that it was time for drastic measures.
The track surface, that had survived fifteen winters of freeze/thaw cycles and become as bumpy as a washboard, would be replaced. More than 17,000 tons of asphalt was torn out and hauled away to make way for the new surface. The banking in the first and second turns was increased from 14° to 17° and 3,200 feet of additional SAFER barrier was added.
Turns three and four have remained at 14° giving the track an asymmetrical layout, and the track was narrowed by some 16 feet in that area to allow for a wider pit lane entrance.
More importantly, there was 30,000 feet of underground piping added to improve the subsurface drainage system. It was this system that got its first significant test as a steady rain fell over the Sparta, KY area for several hours on Wednesday, delaying the start of practice for the Camping World Truck Series.
“It dried in an hour and 10, an hour and 15,” said Speedway general manager, Mark Simendinger. “It’s amazing. We’re not used to that. In the past, we couldn’t even get the weepers stopped in an hour and 15, let alone the track dry.”
The decision to repave the track was not taken lightly, as a well-seasoned track tends to produce better racing than a fresh surface. With that in mind, the speedway’s management has employed a number of tactics to artificially age the new asphalt in preparation for this weekend’s Quaker State 400.
“You know how an Interstate highway looks right after it’s been repaved?” Simendinger told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “That’s exactly what we don’t want. We want our track to look scuffed up, like it has some wear on it.”
Blasting mats were dragged around the track, adding texture, while the use of tire-dragons laid down some rubber. This simple machine is essentially a tow vehicle pulling four racing tires, spinning in reverse, until they are worn to the core.
In addition to all of these efforts, the increased banking in the second turn is expected to result in the cars entering the already-tricky turn three at a higher speed. In race conditions, this should force the drivers to brake into three, setting up a passing zone.
With the drainage system getting high marks, the real test will come this weekend when all three of NASCAR’s top divisions will take to the new track.
“Kentucky as we know it is gone,” said Richard Petty Motorsports driver, Aric Almirola, who tested on the new track in June. “You go into a place like that really open-minded. Over the years of racing at the same race track, you pick up driving habits that work at some race tracks. You have to forget about those when you go to a track that’s been reconfigured and repaved.”
The Buckle Up Your Truck 255 for the NCWTS is scheduled for tonight, Thurdsay July 7, at 8:30 PM EST. The Xfinity cars take to the track at 8:30 pm EST tomorrow night with the ALSCO 300. The main event for the weekend, the Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 is scheduled for Saturday night beginning at 7:30 pm EST. Tickets are still available here.