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Crews Race to Complete Concord Dragstrip for September Event

Wed May 07, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

Close to 300 people are working six days a week to build a state-of-art drag strip adjacent to Lowe’s Motor Speedway (LMS) in Concord, N.C. Plans call for the quarter-mile track to be open in time for the Sept. 11 to 14 National Hot Road Association (NHRA) Carolinas Nationals event, an inaugural event on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The racetrack, just northeast of Charlotte, is currently being called The Dragway at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but a new name will be announced soon as part of a fan contest.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), the Concord-based firm that also owns LMS, as well as superspeedways in Atlanta, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Texas, Tennessee and California, owns the new drag strip. It will be the fourth dragway in the SMI stable.

SMI Chairman and CEO O. Bruton Smith and his firm are the general contractor on the more than $50 million project.

The new track is being built on 125 acres (50.6 ha) just across U.S. Highway 29 from LMS. The drag facility’s track, pit areas and midway cover 46.5 acres (18.8 ha). Crews are currently working on the approximately 50,000-sq.-ft. (4,645 sq m) starting line control tower, as well as the two steel and aluminum grandstands that have a total seating capacity of 30,000.

Because site work only began Jan. 24, the pace of activity at the new dragway has been frenetic in order to meet the September opening date, said Jeff Black, SMI’s co-manager, along with Steve Swift, on the project.

“We are on a very aggressive schedule,” Black explained. “We really started the preliminary design in early December. The NHRA had an opening in their schedule for that weekend in September and our boss [Smith] likes pushing the envelope with the construction, so we are sort of accustomed to it. But it is still one of the more aggressive construction projects that we have undertaken in the 11 years that I have been here.”

Hoopaugh Grading Co. from nearby Charlotte is in charge of the site work. The firm has moved close to 750,000 cu. yd. (573,416 cu m) of dirt and another 200,000 cu. yd. (152,911 cu m) of rock at the site, according to company president Larry Hoopaugh. His company is using a Volvo EC700 and EC210B crawler excavators, as well as two Volvo A40D articulated haulers and 10 Volvo A30D artic trucks.

Red Clay Industries of Charlotte has been crushing rock on the project and using it to spread as gravel on the site. The firm also is using several Volvo machines, including two L220E wheel loaders, an L150E wheel loader and an EC240 crawler excavator with a BTI hydraulic hammer attachment.

All of the Volvo machines were provided by Charlotte-based ASC Construction Equipment Inc.

Black characterized the site as a “minefield” for Hoopaugh to contend with, as there was a lot of rock outcrop and changes in grading. But, he added, Hoopaugh handled the project expertly and kept the project on schedule.

The Hoopaugh crew also dug all the footings for the grandstands and is putting in all the water and sewer lines. The company currently has approximately 100 people working at the site and plans to be finished by the end of June, Hoopaugh said.

The Charlotte office of Choate Construction, based in Atlanta, is the general contractor for the structures at the drag strip. Baker Concrete Construction of Monroe, Ohio, is handling concrete and foundation work, while Southern Bleacher of Graham, Texas, is erecting the grandstands. Parker’s Crane Service of Concord is providing two 175-ton (159 t) cranes for the job.

Musco Lighting of Oskaloosa, Iowa, will light the track for night events.

Interestingly, more than 80 percent of the old Rockingham Speedway’s grandstands, which were once owned by SMI, are being used for the dragway’s grandstand, according to Black. Rockingham is just east of Charlotte.

The driver’s left grandstand will seat just over 16,000 spectators, with a little less than 14,000 seats in the driver’s right grandstand, according to SMI’s Swift. Premium flip-down seating and 20-in.-wide bench seats with backs will be provided for race fans. In addition, two tunnels will connect the two grandstands underneath the track to allow for great fan mobility. A total of 17 luxury suites are being built in the grandstands.

Both structures are more than 75 percent completed, Swift said.

The three-story control tower has another 13 suites, with areas for a broadcast booth and seating for working media, as well as an NHRA control suite for race officials.

Swift said the structural work is a week or so ahead of schedule.

“We just have great contractors,” he said. “They have been out there doing everything possible to work as a team and that is making the progress go so well. We have had some rainy days, but we have got really good material that we are working with so rain hasn’t hurt us too badly. Everybody’s working on Saturdays to make up for the days they have missed during the week.”

A total of four paved lanes will make up the dragway itself and will stretch for approximately 4,000 ft. (1,219 m). In addition, another 55 acres (22.3 ha) of paved surface will be used for pit areas. All told, the contractors expect to use more than 50,000 tons (45,359 t) of asphalt at the site.

Paving the track will be the responsibility of Granite Contracting of Concord. According to Ron Vincent of ASC Construction Equipment, the paving firm will use a Volvo 6110 paver and a G940 motorgrader.

Spectators will use the existing parking areas that surround Lowe’s Motor Speedway and will be able to access the drag strip via a pair of pedestrian bridges that already cross U.S. 29. CEG

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