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Parker Kligerman’s big idea for repaving Texas? Redo the track, too

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An Open Letter to Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage

Dear Eddie:

I believe we have met. I’ve walked across the driver introduction stage for numerous races at your track (including my Sprint Cup debut in 2013). Your racetrack always will have a soft spot in my heart. I love it. Therefore, I am sorry about the unfortunate way Mother Nature has treated your racetrack this year.

It was a herculean effort by your team and NASCAR to get in the race Sunday. Kudos! The track’s porous, worn-out surface has become as stubborn as the damage mercilessly pounded upon it by Father Time. Through those efforts the other night, there were whispers through the garage of a dreaded word whose very utterance can cause consternation amongst drivers.

Repave.

I know you understand this, as you told reporters, “I know they are going to hate it.” Which is true.

Another repaved, “D”-shaped, 1.5-mile race track doesn’t leave much to mystery. No downforce package, tire compound or tire dragger will deliver some surprise improvement to the racing. We’ll be complaining nonstop about running around the track on a knife’s edge. The racing will be an aero fest, and the winner will get out in victory lane and remark, “Phew, that was a handful, but we survived those crazy restarts and were able to get that crucial bottom line.” It will be the most expensive re-air of a show we have seen too many times.

But why does it have to be this way? I have an idea.

One of my favorite sayings lately is, “In uncertainty, there is opportunity.” Its origin is unknown, but it’s probably my overly optimistic-to-a-fault attitude. If the world was burning, my mom is convinced I’d be saying, “Well I was feeling a bit cold, this is nice.”

But I believe there is serious opportunity here. For a long time, I’ve wondered why racetracks and racing series developed figurative boxes for competition – whether it’s the designs of cars or the shapes and sizes of racetracks. Try as I might, though, I haven’t found any rules for building a racetrack.

The fact is racing isn’t curing disease, or solving third-world debt. Its sole purpose now is to entertain.

Entertainment knows no bounds, and the only constant is that it isn’t. It comes in billions of different forms. There are 7 billion people in this world and just as many definitions of what entertains them. As an incredible and very entertaining promoter, you already know this, Eddie. From crazy advertisements to elaborate prerace shows to an HDTV so large, it could double as apartment housing in New York.

Entertainment never has been more readily available, either. People have it in the palms of their hands on a 6.5-inch screen.

So why do we need to repeat the obvious when we inevitably repave Texas Motor Speedway?

Let’s what the catchy No Limits” slogan suggests and break the boundaries. If “everything is bigger in Texas,” the track that bears that great state’s name should be no different.

Let’s stop Jimmie Johnson from getting out of his car and saying “With the same tire, we were able to learn a lot for Miami” (as he did this past weekend). Let’s avoid the comparisons with recent repaves at Las Vegas, Kentucky and Kansas.

This is Texas, let’s build a racetrack and that will apply only here!

The Idea

Three years ago, I wrote a piece on “How not to design a great racetrack” that criticized the current crop of tracks built around the world. All are designed on computers under the watchful eyes of engineers who spend their lives staring at computer screens. The results are boring, lifeless and unusually expensive parking lots.

The greatest tracks were built by a man and a bulldozer (Mosport in Canada) or in the interests of avoiding a minnow pond (Darlington Raceway). We might have moved past this era, but it doesn’t mean we should be any less imaginative with track design.

Let’s use the Internet, engineers and social media to our advantage.

I always have wondered why we couldn’t get crazy and unique with track design, so let’s start with Texas. Take the sweeping, wide-open third and fourth turns and reshape them narrowly like Martinsville (while keeping Turns 1 and 2 the same). Imagine cars that brake and downshift three gears every lap and then accelerate through the gears on the frontstretch. The drivers truly will earn their money, and fans will get something you can’t see anywhere else.

OK, maybe you don’t like that. So how about a right-hander on the backstretch? Similar to the old Trenton racetrack in New Jersey, though this right- hander would be severe enough that the engineers would have to compromise on the setup of the race car for rights and lefts.

You want to get rid of “rear-end skew” and aero? There is your answer.

Or have a track where the top line next to the wall has a half– groove that is banked 8 degrees more than anywhere on the track. That would create a super treacherous line, but it would offer a sizable advantage in speed — if you dare risk hitting the wall!

There is no reason to re-create the past. Let’s be creative!

The Execution

So which do we choose?

Here is where we get so very Texas and 21st century all at once. We use modern technology to create five simulations of the new track. It would take iRacing roughly less than two weeks, and their versions would be incredibly lifelike.

We offer a free demo with a Sprint Cup car and five proposed versions of the new track. Fans around the world would be able to download all of them. They test it, and we do a series of votes to determine which they love most.

We will do races involving NASAR drivers, too — Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and others will race fans on the different versions. Eventually, a winner will be chosen, and in a nationally televised special, we will announce the winner of the first track built by the fans and NASCAR industry in the history of the sport.

It’ll be the first track built with one goal: To entertain.

By truly embracing “No Limits,” Texas will usher in a new era of race-tracks. And I’ll look forward to walking across that introduction stage to offer you my congratulations on a track built by the fans … for the fans..

Sincerely,

Parker Kligerman

Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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