Final spin on Daytona's bumpy road
DAYTONA BEACH - It's older than Carl Edwards and has spanned almost the entire careers of Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Dale Jarrett. It gave us the Cale Yarborough-Donnie Allison fight, Richard Petty's 200th win, the rise of "Wonder Boy" Jeff Gordon and the embarrassing pothole during the 2010 Daytona 500. Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr are among those who lost their lives on it. And now the 32-year-old racing surface at Daytona - beloved by some drivers for its bumpy "character" and disparaged by others as being "worn out" - is down to its final race.Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 will mark the end of an era, but there will be no time for sentiment. Monday, crews will start removing the 4-inch top layer of asphalt and replace it with a 7-inch thick, high-tech asphalt compound in time for winter tire testing and Speed Weeks 2011. "The asphalt is done; it's time to repave it," Jimmie Johnson said. "From the criticism Daytona took with the pothole at the 500, they don't have a choice. "If everybody was being a little more understanding and thought it would be all right to have potholes to patch up and race around, I think we could stretch it a little further." Then again, that might look less than major league. And it wouldn't be acceptable for another Daytona 500. Having a pothole during the season's showcase race was bad enough. Not being prepared to quickly repair it even in unexpectedly cold temperatures was a low point in the famous track's history. And one that won't be repeated this weekend, speedway president Robin Braig vows. The 9-by-18-inch hole in the middle of the racing surface between Turns 1 and 2 has been replaced with the mother of all patches, a large, 8-inch deep section of concrete reinforced with steel rebar. What's more, speedway engineers have examined every inch of the rest of the track for vulnerabilities, and they have stocked repair formulas for every climate. "Since then, we've been practicing mixtures every day for different scenarios, whether it's pouring down rain or freezing rain or boiling hot," Braig said. "So we know we've got it handled." Turning Daytona's bumpy old road into a pool table is a $20 million undertaking - the track cost $3 million to build in 1958 - that will require 50,000 tons of the new asphalt. That's so much blacktop, a temporary asphalt plant has been erected behind the backstretch grandstands to produce it. Ringing the turns, 57 light poles and 5,948 linear feet of catch fence posts, cables and fence fabric must be removed to make room for bulldozers that will sit atop the 31-degree banking and support a roller and paver. The paver is a one-of-a-kind model ordered from a company in Germany. Pit road will be widened, and the backstretch infield will get some new paving, but the 21/2-mile track isn't changing. To make sure, van-mounted laser scans mapped the track's geometry. More than 300 million data points were collected. "Our goal is to replicate the original geometry of the track, but smooth out all the dips and bumps," said Bill Braniff, senior construction director for North American Testing Company, the in-house design and construction company for International Speedway Corp. "The legacy of Daytona International Speedway is something we didn't want to trifle with, and we're going to put it back the way it was."
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.