FORT WORTH - Texas Motor Speedway's racing surface faces a $1 million to $2 million overhaul in response to problems associated with the track and complaints from drivers before and after Sunday's Winston Cup Texas 500, officials said yesterday (4-6-98).
"We're definitely going to revamp the speedway," said Eddie Gossage, the speedway's executive vice president and general manager. "Everything here is the best you can find on the planet, with the exception of that mile-and-a-half ribbon of asphalt between the two walls, and we're going to fix that."
The overhaul will include correcting the situation that has allowed water to seep through the track asphalt - a problem that jeopardizes a NASCAR truck race scheduled for June 5. But the overhaul will also include revamping the surface to allow more side-by-side racing.
Drivers have criticized the track for its abrupt transition between the 24-degree banking in Turn 4 and the flat front straightaway, for a bump between turns 3 and 4, for a narrow entrance to Turn 1 and for being a one-groove racetrack, which limits a driver's opportunities to pass other cars.
The plan calls for making TMS a clone of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the showcase facility in track owner Bruton Smith's five-track Speedway Motorsports empire. Like TMS, Charlotte is a 1.5-mile, high-banked trioval.
"Texas is the same size and configuration as Charlotte, and what we will do is follow, as closely as possible, those contours of Charlotte, which is one of the best on the circuit," Smith said.
The first step will be to stem the seepage problem that postponed Winston Cup qualifying Friday afternoon and wiped out an hour of practice late Saturday, and to repair the asphalt where it started to come up after the Coca-Cola 300 Busch Grand National race Saturday.
NASCAR officials said Sunday that the June 5 Craftsman Truck series race is in jeopardy if the track isn't repaired, and an Indy Racing League event is scheduled the next night.
"We want the seepage and the place where the track was coming up fixed before the truck race," said Jeff Motley, NASCAR's manager of communications.
Smith said it will be done.
"We will repave with a much smoother and tighter asphalt mix that will drain quickly," Smith said in a statement. "We will also install a more complete drainage system to solve our seepage problem."
The next step involves the design of the racing surface.
"We realize there's something that isn't compatible with the Winston Cup cars and this speedway," Gossage said. "We've got to figure out what that is and resolve it. The drivers have asked that they have a hand in making some recommendations on what happens. Certainly NASCAR needs to play a role in that.
"If it's the transitions or width or radiuses or what have you, we'll definitely bring all them in and make the decision based on the collective input from everyone," he said.
"One of the big challenges that we're laying out to the engineers is that they develop a racetrack that allows for side-by-side racing. We definitely have to make it so they can pass each other on the outside or the inside, or if you get up out of the groove there's something there to stick to. One of the key issues is making it a multigroove racetrack."
Gossage couldn't provide a timetable for the construction job, other than to say that it will be done as quickly as possible. He did say the job won't necessarily have to wait until after the second Indy Racing League event Sept. 20.
"We're in the process of identifying what engineers need to be brought in to look at it," he said. "Shortly, we'll know who we're bringing in and start making the plans and engineering some of these things like the transitions in the corners. We're going to get it on. It's a matter of scheduling and time with the construction company."
The attitude of Smith and Gossage stands in direct contrast to circumstances last year. After the inaugural Winston Cup race, the Interstate Batteries 500, the drivers criticized the racing surface. Then, TMS officials basically told them to deal with it.
As the message on a controversial T-shirt printed for this year's race said, "Shut up and drive."
This time, they are promising changes.
"Sometimes you've got to say we made a mistake, " Gossage said.