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New Track Right Formula for Indy Brickyard Fans

Sat January 22, 2000 - Midwest Edition
John Ruff

The white flag is waving in Indiana, and the checkered flag is about to be unfurled on the largest construction project in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). And for the first time in nine years, the green light will be signaling “go” for Formula One racing in the United States.

On Sept. 24, 2000, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host its first Formula One race and the 15th stop on the worldwide circuit. It is the first time since 1991 that the series will stop in the United States. It will mark the first time a Grand Prix race will be held within the confines of a facility housing a 2.5-mile oval track.

“We want Indianapolis to remain the racing capitol of the world,” said Nancy Miller, manager of public relations at the speedway. “That’s why we added the F1 track. Formula One is the largest racing circuit in the world.”

Formula One’s popularity overseas is the equivalent of America’s NASCAR series. The series takes place in Australia, Europe, South America, the Far East, and now America.

When spectators arrive for the running of the Indy 500 in May they will notice the largest facelift in the history of the 90-year-old facility. In addition to the F1 track, a new pagoda tower will be standing at the start/finish line. A new international media building will accommodate 500. Thirty-six new garages and a two-lane 60-foot wide pit area will have been added to accommodate Formula One racing. A separate “victor’s podium” for the F1 race will also be added.

The F1 track will start at the traditional start/finish line but travel clockwise. All other races at the IMS travel counter-clockwise. The first curve is a right-hand turn on the traditional oval’s fourth turn. F1 drivers will negotiate eight more right hand turns and four left hand turns before reentering the oval at the traditional turn two. The race will utilize traditional turn one as drivers speed back to the start/finish line.

Grady Brothers Pave Way

The most important part of the new facility, however, remains the track itself. To pave it, speedway officials called on asphalt contractor Grady Brothers Inc. of Indianapolis.

“We’re not known as the biggest contractor,” said Tom Grady whose father started the company amidst the depression in 1932. “and we are not known as the fastest either. Our competitors do consider us the best though. We do quality work on every project no matter how big or how small. That’s the one constant over the years. We just do the very best job that we can.”

The Grady Brothers first resurfaced the track in 1977, 67 years after the original track was built out of bricks. Again in 1988 the company resurfaced the track. After NASCAR started running there in 1994, Grady Brothers milled and repaved the track once more.

Paving a speedway is unique. It requires special materials and a lot of patience. In normal highway applications the amount of liquid in the asphalt is 4-6 percent. At the racetrack it’s 9-9.5 percent liquid. “We use a special material,” said company Vice President Stephen Grady. “It withstands the gravitational forces that race-cars cause from traveling at high speeds.”

“The speeds that these race cars can run has increased dramatically over the years,” added President Tom Grady Jr. “The G-forces generated in the turns would have destroyed the asphalt laid in the seventies.”

The F1 portion of the track is made up of the latest in asphalt technology. “The mix is incredible,” said Tom Jr. “You don’t have to worry about the track coming apart.”

“When they overlay the entire track again, they’ll go with the same mix that is on the F1,” added Tom.

One of the biggest challenges in paving the track is keeping asphalt supplied to the paver. “Once the paver starts in the morning, it doesn’t stop until the first pass is completed,” Stephen said. “You can’t just do part of it and come back. We did one pass a day. Our average paving speed was about 15 feet per minute. And if the asphalt trucks got caught in traffic we would have to slow the paving down to 8 or 9 feet per minute.”

It took seven days and 8,280 metric tons (9,200 tons) of asphalt to complete the F1 track. The temperature of the asphalt behind the paver was a blistering 370 degrees. It took four passes to complete the 14-meter (46 ft.) wide track. “We laid down a 12, an 11, another 12 and an 11 foot pass to cover the track,” added Stephen. “The bottom lip was done in three passes in order to split the seams. We also laid down a test strip before starting just to see how the asphalt would lay and what kind of rolling procedure would be required.”

“We had three Ingersoll-Rand rollers kneading the mix together,” Stephen said. “They never backed up and never stopped until the end of the day. We had another

I-R roller that was able to go back and forth.”

The Race Is On

While some have doubts about F1 racing being able to make it in the United States without a U.S. driver or team and little “passing,” IMS officials are expecting a sellout. It will be the third largest attended single day sporting event in the world. “Sales have gone extremely well,” Miller said. “We are getting inquiries from all over the world.”

The event’s success, however, may ultimately rest in the hands of people like the Harper family of Joliet, IL. Jeff Harper is a pipefitter from Local 597 and is an avid racing fan. The couple spends their weekends watching and occasionally going to races. Both are excited about the Formula One series coming to Indianapolis. “Anytime there’s a chance to bring more racing to the Midwest, I’m for it,” he said. “The standing starts in F1 Racing are unbelievable. It’s like a controlled drag race to the first curve.”

Harper’s wife Diane who wasn’t exactly thrilled when NASCAR came to Indianapolis several years ago is much more enthusiastic about Formula One. “I started going to Indy when I was a kid with my father,” she said. “I’ve been a fan of Indy racing ever since. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

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