What had everyone’s attention was not the usual high powered funny cars and dragsters that roar down the quarter-mile track in five seconds or less. Quite the opposite. This time the machine with a roaring engine was moving just a few inches every minute.
The excitement was the start of a $1.6 million track renovation project at the nationally-famous dragstrip. And the roaring engine was powering a paving machine that was leveling cement on one of the two quarter mile racing lanes.
“We had to have one lane for the trucks and equipment to drive on while we pour the other,” said Aaron Smith of Smith Paving and Excavating of Norwalk. Monday he and his crew were pouring the east side lane that had been recently removed, undercut and stoned. They will pour the other lane when weather permits.
Miller Brothers Construction, of Archbold, is the general contractor on the project. “We are a heavy highway and civil contractor. This was a design/build project so we brought Smith in from the beginning. In a lot of ways this project at the raceway is like building a new road,” said Chris Carry, the Commercial Group Manager at Miller Brothers.
“This is a project that takes a lot of quality control,” adds Aaron Smith. “You can’t build a job like this if you don’t have the right people and the right equipment. Our people are real paving professionals. And the equipment is not cheap to own or maintain. We are usually doing roadways, highways, commercial drives, things like that. Not too many jobs like this come along.”
Matt Welsh is the Park Services Manager for Summit Motorsports Park. “The track was all asphalt at one time. Then as cars got faster, they started using more and more concrete. Over the years, they have replaced sections of the track at a time. Now, from the burnout area (near the starting line) to the finish the track will be wall to wall with all new concrete. The old surface has been around for up to 20 years and it served a good life. But surfaces tend to break down over time and it was time to replace it,” Welsh said. “We have a great crew that puts safety first. And as long as the track surface is in good condition, racers are safe.”
Weather had delayed the start of the track reconstruction project. “It’s not too often that we are trying to push concrete in March,” Smith said. “The low temperatures at night are not friendly for concrete. But our completion date — the weekend they open the track in April — is not too flexible.” So when the sun came out Monday morning, the Ohio 18 racetrack was a beehive of activity. And the highways between Norwalk and the raceway were filled with big, white concrete mixers.
A single quarter mile lane at the track requires about 600 cubic yards of concrete to repave. That is the equivalent of one day’s entire production of cement at Dauch Concrete.
“They are running solely for us” on paving day, said Matt Welsh.
Each of Dauch’s mixers carries 10 cubic yards of material. So that meant 60 trips Monday for Dauch’s Norwalk-based fleet. Once Smith’s got their paving machine dialed in and Dauch’s adjusted the water content in the cement, a full truck was being unloaded every eight to 10 minutes. Midway, a breakdown on the cement placer machine caused a switch to Plan B that slowed things a bit. But by dark one of the two quarter-mile strips was done. And in a few days they will do it all over again for the other one.
“We definitely put effort into getting a mix that the contractors and the owner, Bill Bader, would be comfortable with,” said Duane Graffice from Dauch Concrete. “We asked for help from the Ohio Concrete Association. They sent an engineer up to work with the track and Smith Paving to come up with mix that would work. It turned out to be the same as ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) is using now. It’s the right type of concrete for this application.”
But it is not quite the same as pouring a highway. “This is definitely different than what we are used to,” Aaron Smith said. “Usually what comes out of the paver is a finished product. It’s very similar to how we would do a highway. But this track is going to get paved really flat. We’re using finishing tools to seal up any voids that come out from the paver. And then Summit is bringing in another company to grind the surface. They’ll grind it down to perfect level. As fast as race cars go now, it requires a perfectly smooth surface. (The grinding company) will plane it with lasers. We have to do a good job because they don’t want to grind a lot.”
And because traction is the name of the game in drag racing, there will be yet another step after the laser grinding. It’s called “rubbering and tacking.” Ironically, it will basically cover up the beautiful, white concrete laid this week.
“You won’t see our product when it’s all done,” Smith said. “When a track is brand new like this they have to make it kind of aged like the old surface. Summit has a tractor that drags tires that are pushed onto the racing surface under pressure. It smears rubber all over the new concrete. And they use some sort of chemical for a leveling agent. They are going to do it for days before the season opens. And then they never stop. During races. After races. During the week between races. It’s part of the maintenance of the race track to make and keep it sticky. That’s what gives cars the needed traction to attain the speeds they do.”
In all, the repaving project is a tremendous amount of effort and expense for a quarter mile of pavement. But it is a quarter of mile of pavement that contributes to the four star rating of the track by racers and fans alike.
“It’s going to be a nice racing surface that they can use for years to come,” said Chris Carry from Miller Brothers.
And as the week drew to a close more than 20 hard-working concrete finishers, operators, laborers, truck drivers, engineers and supervisors could see the finish line in sight.