Media were invited on Wednesday, September 23, to check out the progress of the major repaving project happening at Watkins Glen International (WGI) in Watkins Glen, New York. The project remains on track (so to speak) to be completed in November, 2015.
WGI staff including Andrew Smith, Director of Marketing and Promotions and Jon Beckman, Vice President Business and Partnerships, as well as Bill Braniff, Senior Director of Construction for International Speedway Corporation (ISC), talked to the media at the construction site itself, on pit road.
Crews were at work on the sunny and clear September afternoon spreading asphalt. They were also laying material on other portions of the track.
“We’re pleased with the progress,” said Smith. Good weather since the major portion of the track repaving began right after the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in early August has helped the project. However, time had been allocated into the project in case of rain.
The staff introduced Braniff, who answered questions about the project from the group of journalists and photographers. Braniff later jumped into an official WGI car with press members and took several laps of the track, answering questions.
The racetrack has six layers of work done on it. There is a graded, drainage layer (kind of “like a Rice Krispie treat bar,” said Baniff), then three layers of asphalt — a 2″ base coat, followed by a 1.5″ leveling coat, and then topped with a 1.5″ final coat. The track is a total of 7″ thick.
Baniff said that several areas of the track were taken all the way down to the ground before repaving. Other areas had about 3″ of the surface “milled” before putting on two more inches of new pavement.
The company is careful to respect the geometry of the track, he said, to honor its character and historic elements while also smoothing out the surface. Elements they preserve include factors such as banking, turn radius, and cross-load.
He pointed out three differences between a racing track and a typical highway. One difference is that a racetrack pavement has to have a higher softening point, due to the key interaction between race car tires and the pavement. The typical racetrack, he said, has a softening point of 180 to 280 degrees, whereas a highway is designed at 150 degrees.
A second difference is that a racetrack pavement has to be constructed to resist a lateral load, whereas the typical highway pavement recipe has to be more concerned with vertical load. Race cars are “always shoving” their way across pavement, Baniff explained.
The third difference that he mentioned was that a racetrack pavement is smoother. Due to the high speeds race cars get up to, tracks are paved to be about 1.5 times smoother than the highways driven on by the public.
Work remaining on the WGI project includes taking out any lasting bumps and laying one more layer of asphalt. Rumble strips and curbs will also be installed. Some painting may be done as well.
When asked about the effect of the winter months on the new pavement, Baniff said that what is desired is time for the track to cure before it is used for racing, no matter the weather or air temperatures. He suggested that having several months for the track to cure before the 2016 season begins is favorable.
The new track rides smooth, just like a newly paved highway one would drive on in one’s car. It is a new surface that both professional and amateur drivers of The Glen alike anticipate driving on next season.
Professional drivers from NASCAR stock cars to IMSA sports cars took to The Glen racetrack in 2015. Amateur historic racers enjoyed a weekend of the track to themselves in July instead of their usual date in September, due to the repaving project. Asked how drivers typically respond to newly repaved tracks, Baniff said, “Well, the guy who wins always likes it.”