In less than nine months, NASCAR night racing will make its return to Atlanta Motor Speedway. During this time of year, however, one of the most important parts of race weekend is being ensured – that the racing surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway is in tip-top shape.
Atlanta’s asphalt surface produces some of the most exciting racing in all of NASCAR. Its worn texture grinds up tires quickly and enables drivers to race two and three-wide around the track at more than 190 mph. Drivers are forced to battle not only the track, but their cars as well, making racing at Atlanta a pure test of strength and driving ability.
“This place is old, worn out, cracks everywhere and yet every driver loves it,” said Jeff Gordon. “We’re slipping and sliding around. The racing is pretty spectacular.”
And then there is Tony Stewart, who following the 2011 AdvoCare 500, had this to say about Atlanta Motor Speedway President & General Manager Ed Clark:
"I will say this: If Ed Clark decides to repave this racetrack, I'll personally shoot him myself."
But producing that action isn’t possible without the racing surface itself, a task shouldered by Atlanta Motor Speedway’s operations department. At 16 years old, the track’s wear and tear is visible with cracks showing through the asphalt. During this time of the year, those cracks are sealed up as part of a long and heated process.
So how are those cracks resealed? The sealant is heated to a temperature of more than 350 degrees and is then dispensed onto the track via a pump system. Dennis Shubert, Director of Operations at Atlanta Motor Speedway, says that more than 3,000 pounds of sealer were used to seal cracks this year.
The sealing work typically takes place in the late fall and early winter months, time in Georgia which are most suitable for applying the sealer.
“The ideal weather for this is dry, warm weather,” Shubert explains. “ If the temperature is below freezing, we have to wait to apply.”
The effort has paid dividends for Atlanta’s racing surface. Clark notes that work on re-sealing cracks within the asphalt a number of years ago, which was done to keep moisture from entering it, is a large reason that the racing surface has held up as well as it has.
As for the upkeep to the asphalt around the 1.54-mile quad-oval, it doesn’t end during the offseason. Even during NASCAR race weekends, it has not been uncommon for the Speedway staff being forced to seal up cracks in the asphalt as a result of fuel spills or accidents on the track.
“We always have materials on standby that are made specifically for quick set repairs that might occur during a race,” Shubert said.
As for Atlanta Motor Speedway’s current racing surface, there are no current plans to repave, although it will likely be needed in the future.
“We’re fortunate that our racing surface has held up very well. Every driver we talk to on race weekends begs us not to repave it,” Clark said. “But we know that at some point, the time will come that we’ll have to repave the surface.”