Drivers have say on tracks

Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Bulldozers have logged as many miles as race cars in the past seven years at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the third time since the speedway opened, it's being dug up and re-configured to make it racy for the Winston Cup Series season finale.

Drivers say the problem is architects and construction companies building racetracks without seeking input from racing people. Priorities are given to sight lines, maximum seating and profits, not a circuit conducive to passes and compelling races.

Before the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead was plowed under again, track officials finally turned to experts. They solicited ideas from drivers. What it learned seemed revolutionary in the era of cookie-cutter facilities, but it really wasn't that hard: Put some graduated banking in the corners to promote more side-by-side racing.

''I think any change is good,'' said Dale Jarrett. ''We've got a couple of places that have something similar to that, but nothing to the extent that they're doing at Homestead. I think it's got to be better and it should make for some better racing.''

Rusty Wallace is taking it a step further. He's been asked to design an .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa. And once he puts his drawings away, he will stay on as a board member.

''I got a phone call from Paul (Schlaak, track owner) and he said he really wanted to get a driver involved,'' Wallace said. ''Darrell (Waltrip) got involved in a lot of hype at the Kentucky Speedway going on. My involvement is going to be a lot deeper. I'll be on the board. I'll have a big say-so, but the biggest thing is they want me to design the track.''

What will make Wallace's track different from those born of educated guesses and an engineer's imagination?

''It's going to be unique in shape,'' Wallace said. ''We'll open up with soft walls in place. It'll be 25,000 permanent seats with ASA, ARCA, USAC and four concerts. As a fan, you're going to get an amphitheatre feel.''

Homestead remains a hope, however fickle, that racing someday will be governed by racers like Wallace, not businessmen.

''If you graduate the corner and actually consult an engineering firm that knows what they're doing and knows something about race cars and vehicle dynamics, they can make a corner that's absolutely perfect from top to bottom for any groove you wanted to run,'' Todd Bodine said. ''It's about time somebody smartened up and did it.''

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