The Sakai SW654 asphalt roller has excellent sight lines, giving the operator full view over drum surface and drum edge.
On a recent fall afternoon in Winston-Salem, N.C., full of sunshine, cool temperatures and falling leaves, venerable old Bowman Gray Stadium, home to college football games for nearby Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), was the site of a refurbishment project not normally associated with a gridiron venue.
So, many people may be surprised to learn that the work happening on this day was not to the stadium or the playing surface; rather, paving crews were replacing the asphalt track around the field for Bowman Gray's NASCAR-sanctioned short-race track.
In fact, races have been held at the stadium's quarter-mile track since 1949, 12 years after Bowman Gray was built as a public works project during the Great Depression. Since that time, despite its rich football history — besides hosting WSSU Rams games, it once was the home field for two high school teams, Wake Forest University and even NFL exhibition contests — the stadium also is referred to as "NASCAR's longest-running weekly racetrack."
The asphalt replacement was part of a multi-million-dollar renovation of the 17,000-seat stadium complex that first began in 2020.
To resurface the racetrack, the city of Winston-Salem, Bowman Gray's owner, hired Ruston Paving Co. Inc., with locations in Greensboro and Durham.
But Ruston also is a trusted name in its home state of New York, where it was founded in 1943. Based in Syracuse, the company today has six fully staffed branch offices across three states, according to Mark Rogers, Ruston's regional manager in North Carolina, including locations in Rochester and Watertown, N.Y., northern Virginia and in Richmond.
Among the company's specialties are asphalt paving, repair and, increasingly, full-depth reclamation.
After 27 years with Ruston, though, Rogers admitted he had never worked on resurfacing a racetrack at a football stadium before the Bowman Gray project.
"I would say it is very unusual," he said during the work in September. "Most of the time, we are doing high school or university running tracks around a football field, not a racetrack."
Rogers said that Ruston's crews were doing the final lift of the stadium's asphalt track.
"We milled off 1½ inches and sent it back to the Sharpe Bros. asphalt plant [in Greensboro] for recycling and put in another 1½ inches of new asphalt in its place," he said, noting that Ruston had approximately 20 people doing the work.
Most were from the Greensboro office, although a few members of the crew were brought in to help from Durham.
Of course, asphalt replacement is demanding work, but Ruston Paving chooses to use Vögele pavers, and rollers made by Sakai and Hamm, Rogers said, that make the process a smooth one for its crews.
At Bowman Gray, Ruston employed its Vögele pavers to do the job, with an extra machine waiting in the wings, if needed. That equipment, as well as the Sakai and Hamm rollers, all came from James River Equipment, with 13 locations in North Carolina, including one in Greensboro.
"We have been using Vögele for probably 10 years and I would say we have about a dozen of them in our fleet right now," Rogers said. "We have found them to be the best on the market and they are what our people enjoy using. There is a lot of automation with the Vögeles — their electronics make the job easier for us."
He also noted that Ruston feels comfortable using James River Equipment, noted for its quick response and outstanding service, because the dealer works well with the paving company.
"We have found that we can always get them on the phone when we need to. They offer plenty of support when we have issues or are just getting started on a project."
Racetrack Rehab More Complex Than Usual
The goal of the Bowman Gray track renovation was not simply removing and replacing old pavement, Rogers said, but something a bit more complex.
"With it being a racecar track, we are going for smoothness and proper densities, and we are trying to have all our thicknesses the same to give the drivers the best possible surface for them to run on," he said. "We did so by milling it off with a lot of automation and checking, as well as going back over it to make it just as even as possible.
"The machines are an integral part of that," Rogers added. "We would not be able to do it without the new automated equipment. If you were doing it manually like we did years ago [by] digging out with an excavator, it would be difficult to get the same paving efficiency we can today."
With the automation on the Vögele machines, though, he said the operator can set the paver to keep a certain depth, or elevation.
"On this racetrack, because the slope changes so much, we could not set the automation to the same slope all the way around, so we are trying to keep it to a constant thickness," Rogers said, adding the track's corners have approximately a three percent slope while the straightaways slopes were a little under two percent. "But with that, we had to make sure it is a nice, smooth grade when we milled it out earlier in the week."
Ruston Paving Sports Large Portfolio of Work
The Winston-Salem job is just one of Ruston Paving's approximately 1,000 paving projects each year, according to Rogers. The firm typically performs a great deal of commercial rehab work, in addition to paving an extensive list of shopping centers, business parks and subdivisions.
He added that Ruston repairs "the failed areas" at retail and business parking lots and also mills them to create whole new surfaces over the rest of the area for its clients. In general, he said, the company takes on projects that require five to 5,000 tons of asphalt.
"We tend not to do as much new general contractor work as we used to but concentrate on working with certain clients and taking on rehabilitation projects," he said. "Rehab work is not new construction; instead, it is going into a 15- to 20-year-old project and milling out repairs in bad areas and doing an overlay above them. We also do full-depth reclamations where we chew up the existing material, add Portland cement, fine grade it and then pave on top of that to get a stabilized base."
The full depth reclamation (FDR) process is an environmentally friendly way to rebuild worn out asphalt pavements by recycling the existing roadway.
Rogers said that Ruston Paving began utilizing the method in 1995 at the company's New York State locations and bought several pieces of equipment to carry out the work. After FDR's use by Ruston tailed off slightly, he said, a Virginia project needing full depth reclamation in 2010 revived the company's interest in the green process.
"We saw the benefits from it economically and environmentally," Rogers said. "Rather than ripping out an entire section of pavement, throwing it away, and bringing in a new stone base — we can use the old pavement and stone that the owner already bought and re-use it as their new base. It is of benefit to both the customer and to us."
Paving Firm Benefits From Solid, Family Leadership
Like most construction service companies, Ruston Paving began as a one-man operation when Mike Ruston bought a truck and a roller. It was known as Ruston Construction for its first 24 years before turning its focus to paving driveways and later, commercial projects in the Syracuse area.
Rogers said that Mike Ruston continued to run the company into the 1960s before his son, Larry, ran it in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by his son, Mark, the current owner, who worked to keep it a thriving family business.
In 1997, Mark Ruston moved to North Carolina to get his MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School and, at the same time, formed the first Ruston Paving office in the Tarheel State.
"Since I was the younger guy in the office with no wife or children at that time, he brought me down to start the branch in Durham," said Rogers, who has an engineering degree from Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. "Then, in 2005, we added the Greensboro location."
As it approaches its 80th anniversary in 2023, Ruston is recognized as an industry leader in each of the three East Coast regions in which it works.
Rogers credited the paving firm's longevity to "good people that want to work and succeed. That means good people to run it and good people in the field because we are a team out here doing this. We can sell all we want to sell, but if we do not have hard-working crews to do it, the company cannot prosper." CEG
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