Spin City

Feb. 12, 2007

Beyond the glitz and glam of the Las Vegas Strip lies a gem nestled in the desert valley of Clark County, Nev.

This March, when more than 150,000 NASCAR fans flock to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to cheer on their favorite drivers, the entire racing community will have all eyes on this facility as it showcases its nearly $40 million newly repaved track and renovated infield.

Beyond the glitz and glam of the Las Vegas Strip lies a gem nestled in the desert valley of Clark County, Nev.

This March, when more than 150,000 NASCAR fans flock to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to cheer on their favorite drivers, the entire racing community will have all eyes on this facility as it showcases its nearly $40 million newly repaved track and renovated infield.

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located about 25 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, is host to the annual NASCAR Nextel Cup Series UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 in early March and the Craftsman Truck Series Smith’s Las Vegas 350 in September. The 1.5-mile track was originally constructed in 1995 with paving completed by locally based Las Vegas Paving Corp.

When drivers hit the track this March 9-11, it will have a different feel than in the past. The course was repaved and its banks were reconstructed last summer for the first time since its original construction over a decade ago.

The need for speed

The owner of the track—Speedway Motorsports Inc.—again turned to Las Vegas Paving (LVP) last May to perform what turned out to be a very complex paving job. In an attempt to make the March race and the Las Vegas track their marquee event and facility, Speedway Motorsports decided to change the banking of the track from 12? to 20? to increase speeds and bring more excitement to the race.

“The owner wanted a more exciting race,” Project Manager Ryan Mendenhall, LVP, told Roads & Bridges. “In order to bring more excitement they had to up the speeds a little bit, and in order for the drivers to go faster the banks had to be increased.”

To increase the banking, Las Vegas Paving had to remove over 8,000 ln ft of crash wall and over 6,000 ln ft of the concrete barrier wall. Over a half-million sq ft of existing asphalt also was removed, and about 20,000 tons of asphalt was milled by a Caterpillar portable crusher 102 x 115 roadrunner and was reutilized on the speedway’s existing parking lots.

Over 150,000 cu yd of dirt and sediments were used from the speedway’s surrounding property to build up the new slopes and new configuration of the track, saving nearly $2 million in material costs, said Devin Horihan, project manager/development, Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Working with a 20? slope proved to be troublesome in terms of keeping the paving equipment on the banks, and almost all of the equipment had to be modified in order to do so. According to Horihan, the cost of equipment modifications alone totaled over a quarter of a million dollars.

“The asphalt paver was modified with some stiff-arm attachments and some counterweights,” said Mendenhall. “We then used two of the steel wheel rollers, which were also modified with counterweights and stiff-arm attachments so they would stay up on the slope and could be utilized to their full potential.”

The paving train consisted of a Titan 8820 paver; two BOMAG steel-wheel rollers; two Dynapac rubber-tire rollers; a Grove 90-ton crane; and a Dynapac baby steel roller brought up the rear. A performance-graded asphalt, PG 76-22, with oil was used for the base course, while a PG 82-22 asphalt was used for the surface course. The base course consisted of a ½–¾–in. fine-mix design using local rock and sand. LVP paved two layers: a 2½-in. base layer and a 1½-in. surface layer.

The asphalt was mixed at LVP’s hot-mix asphalt plant located about two miles north of the speedway. The asphalt was mixed at 345°F and delivered to the hopper at no less than 325°F, and the production rate of the plant was about 400 tons per hour. Pouring 335°F asphalt during the desert’s scorching-hot 118°F days in late July was extremely arduous for crews.

In total, LVP placed over 30,000 tons of Type II for the base course. Once the grading was completed and passed off, over 26,000 tons of polymer-enhanced asphalt paving was placed on the new track surface. Paving included the track, the new pit road and some miscellaneous apron paving, said Mendenhall.

The paving of the track did not begin until June, and had to be complete in time for the September Truck Series event. “This project had to be completed between two major sporting events,” Mendenhall said. “We had to have this project completed before the September ’06 truck race; however, due to the owner renting out the track to driving schools, we weren’t able to take notice to proceed on track until the beginning of June.”

Mendenhall said crews began with some miscellaneous improvements and demolition work in May. Paving began in June and was completed by the second week of August.

LVP’s crews were busy all summer long not only paving a new racetrack, but also constructing over 14,000 ln ft of concrete barrier walls on both the inside and outside of the track. “At the same time we were bringing in import to make the new [track] configuration, our crews were installing almost three miles of new concrete wall,” Mendenhall said.

LVP performed its own quality control testing for the new pavement. Mix design samples were mixed at 310°F and compacted at 75 blows (4-in. Marshall) on each face at a temperature of 300°F. The recommended asphalt content was 5.5%.

Great expectations

Construction of the track was completed on Aug. 10, 2006, and the first professional race was held six weeks later on Sept. 23. According to Mendenhall, the drivers responded well to the new track and agreed that it is more fun to drive. After having the winter to cure, expectations are high for plenty of thrills and excitement in this March’s Nextel Cup event.

A two-day Goodyear tire test was held at the Vegas speedway in early December, giving drivers Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle an opportunity to get a feel for the track while finding the proper tire combination for the new 20° banking. “There are a lot of neat characteristics to the track,” said Busch. “It’s still pretty wide and a great racing surface. It’s wide enough that we’ll be able to run two and three wide. The transitions from the corner to the straightaways and then the straightaways to the corners are awesome. It’s a great layout.”

According to Horihan, Busch and Biffle clocked speeds that were 12 to 15 mph faster than any previous run at that speedway. The drivers were unofficially clocked at nearly 187 mph. The current track record is 174.904 mph set by Kasey Kahne in 2004.

Always impressive

And while Las Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the World, this venue will be nothing less than awe-inspiring. In addition to the new multimillion-dollar superspeedway, the facility will feature a renovated infield with a media center and pavilion. Situated in the center of the infield is the Neon Garage, which comprises four buildings constructed in the shape of a diamond. Each garage building is two stories high, allowing fans to watch the teams prepare their cars from ground level or from an elevated position on the second floor.

Fans who purchase tickets for the Neon Garage also will be able to enjoy the sports bar, concessions stands, six 24-ft-tall big-screen TVs, continuous entertainment and the Winner’s Circle all within the area. At the center of the Neon Garage is a Tensar structure pavilion with decorative coated concrete floors in which bands will perform during events. The infield will be complete by the beginning of March, and the world-renowned Blue Man Group is scheduled to perform here during the Nextel Cup a week later.

On a recent visit to Las Vegas for the World of Concrete, I had the opportunity to visit the speedway and witness first-hand the improvements that are taking place. With a spectacular paving job already complete, and construction busily under way on the infield structures, it is clear that what is now a diamond in the rough will soon be a gem more stunning than any light on the Strip by the time the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 rolls into town.

About The Author: Stephanie Harris is the Associate Editor of Roads & Bridges. She can be reached at [email protected].

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