Brainerd International Raceway’s drag strip successfully roared to life in 2003 after undergoing a lengthy, pioneering repaving project designed to make it one of the flattest, fastest quarter-mile tracks in the country.
Scott Quick, general manager of the facility in Brainerd, MN, is so pleased with the results, he’s lobbying to have the entire 3-mi. (4.8 km) road course resurfaced.
The unique project began after the end of racing season in October 2002. C. R. Meyer & Sons, a family-owned company based in Rhinelander, WI, was chosen to revamp the nationally renowned drag strip because of its expertise in super flat indoor concrete.
Fortuitously, Ed Shaughnessy served as project manager. Shaughnessy, former owner of Northland Rigging before it merged with C.R. Meyer, is a local drag racer who sometimes competes at BIR. He knew exactly what problems to expect, and worked closely with C.R. Meyer’s engineering department to address them. “It was good to have a racer overseeing this project,” said Quick. “Ed understood it better than anyone else could.”
“This is the biggest C.R. Meyer design implemented outside in the weather,” said Shaughnessy. “It was impressively big.”
In fact, he said, C.R. Meyer designed a special jig and brought in a 30-ton (27 t) crane to reach over the existing pit walls to produce as little disruption as possible.
The C.R. Meyer crew implemented the principles of “Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavement Design” to produce an uninterrupted racing surface without any joints. Each racing lane is 785 ft. (239 m) long, 20 ft. (6 m) wide and 8 in. (20 cm) thick. A sliding plate expansion joint supported by a concrete grade beam and anchor slab allows for movement of the entire slab. The concrete lanes are held in place by a deep “toe” at each end before transitioning into asphalt.
The biggest challenges (other than the weather) were the 400-yd. (366 m) pours in the racing lanes. A total of 1,200 yds. (1,097 m) was poured in the racing lanes, extending the concrete surface farther down the track than previously. The pad was increased from 330 (100 m) to 768 ft. (234 m). More concrete means more traction for racers.
The shoulders and median were constructed of 8-in. (20 cm) thick reinforced concrete ties to the racing lanes with smooth steel dowels. Contraction joints were cut into the shoulders and median to allow for movement, but no cuts were put into the racing lanes, a feature of the CRCP method.
That much concrete required a comparable amount of rebar: roughly 60 tons (54 t) of 5/8-in. rebar, estimated Shaughnessy, calling the process “rebar intensive.”
“They put down a lot of steel,” concurred Quick.
Laser-guided equipment was used during final grading of the base course material to create a solid concrete slab that extends from the burn-out box to the half track 700 ft. (213 m) away. Lasers were also used to set and check final placement of steel paving forms for the racing lanes. Concrete placement was done with a truck-mounted conveyor, which efficiently produces a uniform and accurate placement required in low-tolerance slab placement.
Screeding was completed with a Somero S-160 Laser Screed. Its 20-ft. (6 m) reach allowed reaching over the lanes for accuracy. A 2- to 3-ft. (.6 to .9 m) overlap was used for each pass to further ensure accuracy.
Finishing operations included use of a 12-ft. (3.6 m) channel float, then a 12-ft. bump cutter to eliminate high and low spots. A 24-ft. (7.3 m) saw-beam combatted problem areas. All tools used a 50-percent overlap for improved accuracy. Another boon for consistency was C. R. Meyer’s decision to use a lone man on the bump cutter.
Hand finish operations were followed up by Allen Engineering non-overlapping, hydrostatic, diesel finishers with 60-in. (152 cm) blades. One machine with smooth steel pans was followed by another with steel finishing blades. The width of a single pass coupled with the machines’ weight made the operation easier and more precise than it would have been using smaller machines.
Next, it was troweled to a glass finish before being shot-peened — rather than broom finished — to give it better traction. “The lanes have a sandpaper finish for better grip on the launch pad,” explained Shaughnessy. The track was later treated with a quick-setting liquid to further improve traction by means of adhesion.
But it’s the smoothness of the surface that’s the ticket for performance.
“Anything above FF50 is super flat; Brainerd is rated an FF92 average. This is called ultra flat,” said Quick, who noted that BIR is second in flatness only to Pomona Raceway in California.
The improvement is noticeable. A 6-in. (15 cm) center crown (built to provide drainage) now rises only 2 in. (5 cm).
“It still provides enough drainage,” Quick explained, “because of weep holes built into the walls.”
To eliminate rough rides in the low-slung dragsters, Shaughnessy eliminated transverse joints. Instead, the slab is deeply anchored in the ground at half-track. The continuous pour of concrete is allowed to expand at the start line due to a slip joint, or bridge.
“It crawls toward the start line when it expands,” said Shaughnessy. “It holds at the transition point and moves back, not creating a bump on the track. We eliminated air by using saw cuts transversely. That makes for a very smooth ride down the strip.”
Air is typically added to concrete to allow for weather because the concrete “can move,” as Shaughnessy put it. But at BIR, he chose to saw-cut every 10 ft. (3 m) to avoid cracks and breaks. By October 2002, most crucial concrete work was complete, but weather halted efforts at the 34-year-old drag strip, last resurfaced 15 years ago. One hundred thermal tarps covered the concrete all winter until work could resume in April.
“The window of opportunity is very short in the northern tier,” said Quick. “The delay made us a little nervous, but it couldn’t be helped.”
Not only was the deadline extended, but the budget was increased, with the final tally topping $850,000 at completion, just two weeks before BIR’s first event in May 2003.
New asphalt sections were laid in the launch pad and run-off areas because a smooth transition to asphalt is just as important as the ultra flat concrete racing lanes. Instead of mixing the customary rock aggregate with asphalt, Shaughnessy chose taconite tailings as the substrate, due to their durability and density, which is closer to that of concrete.
Shaughnessy knew the substance is durable, and considers the taconite mixture comparable to concrete. Taconite tailings, a by-product of iron ore mined in northeast Minnesota, are non-magnetic particles that provide better tire traction and withstand weather extremes better than aggregate.
Comparing the two surfaces, Shaughnessy couldn’t see the taconite tailings but could see the rock aggregate in the old asphalt.
“You can’t get traction on the rock aggregate,” he said. “We introduced this new product because it’s been awesome for roads and highways throughout the state.”
Because of its dense, stable compound, the material is extremely durable, requiring less patching and replacement. It’s also inexpensive and abundant. Transportation is typically difficult and expensive, but due to the track’s proximity to the mines, costs were minimized. Shaughnessy laid 600 tons (540 t) of the dense material, the first time the substance has been used on a racing surface.
Quick remains excited about cutting-edge use of Minnesota’s product, and its subsequent ramifications for the state’s mining region and his race track. He hopes to bring notice to the state’s mining region by initiating a test project at the track.
In late 2003, he hosted U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and other federal Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members, with the idea of offering the track to the Minnesota Department of Transportation and others as a test facility to evaluate the use of taconite tailings-based asphalt and to certify state troopers in high-speed pursuit and maneuvering, in exchange for federal funds to pay for the resurfacing.
“Taconite tailings are a big issue,” Quick insisted. “They’re looking for test facilities, and I believe BIR is the perfect place. You won’t find any other road surface that gets the kind of pressure our race track does. We have cars entering Turn One at 160 miles per hour, putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on the racing surface. If this material can withstand the beating it’ll get here, it can stand up to any kind of conditions.”
BIR officials believed the new asphalt would make the track one of the fastest in the country.
Work resumed in Spring 2003, and was completed in time for BIR’s first event — but not before an initial test of the new surface. Shaughnessy, who has raced at BIR the last 15 years, was the first drag racer to make a 300-ft. burnout and two passes on Brainerd ’s reconstructed quarter-mile drag strip last May when he piloted his 850-hp super comp dragster down the right lane.
“Smooth as glass,” was his first reaction.
Weather was once again a factor when BIR held its NHRA-sanctioned drag race in August. The new surface became so hot that NHRA officials actually hosed the track down before the second professional session to help teams maintain optimum traction.
Top fuel competitor Larry Dixon told reporters, “The track was definitely better after they hosed it down. The thing is, new tracks take time to come around. When it’s hot, the oil is drawn out of new asphalt and that’s what was going on in the first round with everybody spinning their tires. Cooling it down made a big difference.”
Pro Stock Bike points leader Geno Scali told reporters, “The new track is very nice and smooth in both lanes now. There’s just one little bump at the transition area where it switches from concrete to asphalt, that’s it.”
“Yeah,” said Quick, “feedback has been very favorable. We were nervous because it was a hot August and the asphalt hadn’t had time to cure, but everyone was impressed with the improvement. These cars generate 4,000 pounds of downforce, so the drivers feel every little bump, but they were very happy with the track this year.”
Shortly after the NHRA race, Larry “Spiderman” McBride set a new world speed record on his Top Fuel bike.
Quick admits it was a large investment and a gamble, but worth it. The longer concrete pad alone — with an increase of 370 ft. (113 m) — allows a smoother transition for Top Fuelers and Funny Cars, and the smooth transition from launch pad to racing lane to run off area vastly improved conditions for racers.
Funny Car champion John Force said the transition area is key to a good pass, because if there is any kind of bump or dip, the cars can either lose traction (smoke their tires) or lift their front wheels off the pavement. “If you can push the cars hard in those areas, you can run the big numbers,” he concluded.
Quick is already fielding inquiries from other drag tracks as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom. “The racing community is a small one,” he said, “so when you talk about super flatness, it responds.”