Ryan: A necessary evil is coming soon to the surface of Texas Motor Speedway

Photo by Dustin Long
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Shut Up and Drive … The Sequel?

There are no rumblings of resurgent acrimony between Texas Motor Speedway and the stars of the Sprint Cup Series. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite in recent years.

But a wedge issue is looming — witness an interminably long delay for drying a waterlogged surface Sunday —  and the track president already is laying groundwork to help mitigate future ill will.

Leaping from a conference table with a Sharpie and a sense of purpose Saturday morning in his Speedway Club office, Eddie Gossage preemptively tried to make the case for why his 1.5-mile oval will need an asphalt makeover that every driver in NASCAR’s premier series assuredly will decry.

“I know they’re going to hate it,” Gossage said of the reaction he expects from drivers when he breaks the news of a repaving that is inevitable. “I hate it. It’s millions of dollars, but it has to be done at some point. We’re much closer to the end than we are to the beginning of the life of this pavement.”

On a dry-erase board, Gossage scribbled a rough diagram of the four layers of asphalt at Texas.

The bottom three layers mostly are fine, which is somewhat surprising given that is usually the source of “weepers” (groundwater that bubbles through a track’s surface).

But the surface is the major problem. The 2-inch top layer is comprised of stones, sand and polymers and designed to be pliable, and it’s become porous over years of being hammered by the ground effects of Indy cars and stock cars (not to mention jet dryers and Air Titans).

When it rains at Texas, the water soaks into the top layer and sits, turning track drying into a herculean task that often teeters on Sisyphean.

Last summer, an IndyCar race had to be postponed because five hours of drying wasn’t enough. A passing shower this past Thursday afternoon forced the rescheduling of a Camping World Truck Series practice to Friday morning.

The only solution is a $5-million overhaul that isn’t in the Speedway Motorsports Inc. budget.

Yet.

“We’re obviously close to time to repave,” Gossage said. “But that could be three years, or five or whatever.

“It could be January.”

That won’t be met well by Sprint Cup drivers who fiercely resist repaves, planting the seeds for discontent in a racing surface that already has been sewn with much controversy.

When Texas opened in 1997, its jarringly uneven transitions and narrow frontstretch were the twin hallmarks of an inauspicious debut marked by massive pileups on the track juxtaposed with six-hour traffic jams outside it. Rusty Wallace demanded a total reconstruction of the track, and several more stars loudly grumbled about the debacle.

A year later, with the track selling T-shirts that read “Shut Up and Drive,” water seeped through the Turn 1 asphalt and caused a practice to be canceled, and the race was another wreckfest that had teams and NASCAR officials in virtually open revolt.

The track was reconfigured after the 1998 race, repaved a few years later and gradually rebranded as a superspeedway that drew raves for a pockmarked surface littered with character-building bumps and holes.

Once the opulent jewel whose lone fatal flaw was a maligned ribbon of asphalt, Texas has become perfect in its imperfections.

Drivers beg track owners to eschew repaves because they believe it ruins the racing through their new ultrasmooth, high-grip surfaces that fail to produce the speed disparity for consistent passing and side-by-side racing.

When Texas repaves, it likely will be met with an angry chorus predicting boring, follow-the-leader races at breakneck speeds.

But there is no other option.

Shut up and start pouring asphalt.