New Track Drying System Could Benefit NASCAR, Fans On Multiple Levels

Charlotte, NC (January 14, 2013) – The deafening scream and the eye-watering fumes of jet engines may soon be a distant memory for NASCAR fans when a new track drying system is put in place this year.

According to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, the stock car racing sanctioning body has been hard at work designing a new track drying method that will replace the current method of using a jet engine blowing hot air onto the racing surface. The new track drying method was developed by NASCAR at its Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. and will feature a combination of air power and vacuum suction.

“We’re patenting some technology that (uses) air pressure,” France stated. “Think of it as giant tanks, scuba tanks, that drive air out and blow water – or anything else – off the surface in a dramatically better way. It’s a big solution. We’re not (all the way) there yet, but it’s ready now.”

Expediting the track-drying process became a priority in the mid-1970s as NASCAR events became a more common television commodity. In NASCAR’s years, drying a rain-soaked racetrack was accomplished by running multiple safety vehicles – some towing old tires behind them – around the track. The process, which uses the heat from the friction of the safety vehicle’s and towed tires to dry the racing surface, is still a time-honored method used at most local racetracks.

Unfortunately, this method is extremely time consuming and marginally effective at best. By 1976, NASCAR’s new television time requirements dictated a change in procedure.

Roger Penske is credited with bringing the idea of jet engine powered track dryers to NASCAR. Commonly used in winter road and building projects in the Midwest at the time, Penske got the idea after seeing a construction crew use a jet dryer to clear snow for a Michigan International Speedway project.

The result was a Westinghouse J34 jet engine mounted to a frame with an exhaust hood directing an 1,100-degree exhaust airflow downward onto the track. Almost 40 years later, it is basically the same machine that is used today.

And while the device has proven to be an effective time saving method of getting the track back in racing condition, it has several drawbacks as well.

The first is cost. Jet track dryers are expensive to run. Today’s modern units cost up to $60,000 each and burn up to 200 gallons of jet fuel in just one hour. That means that multiple dryers at a large raceway – like the 2.5-mile Daytona oval – can use up to 15,000 gallons of jet fuel during a single event.

Meanwhile, the extreme temperatures generated by jet dryers are not good for the racing surface. It’s important to understand that the extreme heat isn’t what dries the racetrack as jet dryers literally ‘blow’ debris (in this case, water) off the raceway. The heat does, however, have a negative impact on the track as the molecules that make up the composition of asphalt expand when they are heated to extreme temperatures. Not all the molecules expand at the same rate and because of this uneven expansion, the track surface can crack or separate when temperatures and pressure become exceeding high.

Additionally, while jet dryers are effective in drying the track, they leave a haze of unburned jet fuel on the track making the racing surface extremely slick when the race vehicles first return to competition. They can also become an inferno of epic proportions as evidenced in last year’s Daytona 500 when Juan Pablo Montoya’s racer ignited a giant explosion and fire after crashing into a jet dryer.

The extreme noise generated by jet engines is estimated to be 140 decibels – a volume that can cause permanent hearing loss after continued exposure of as little as 15 seconds. Fumes from burning jet fuel can cause eye, nose and throat problems for anyone nearby. These two factors alone make current jet-drying methods a human liability on multiple levels.

That’s why the new NASCAR track drying system will be of great interest when it debuts at Daytona next month. The machine – which is still under wraps – will reportedly reduce track-drying time by as much as 60 to 80 percent. That means the time needed to dry a superspeedway like Daytona or Talladega would be just 30 minutes according to France.

That’s a far cry from the two hours it currently takes using jet dryers.

Meanwhile, short tracks like Bristol or Martinsville could be ready for competition in just 15 minutes after the conclusion of a rain shower.

If the new system works as France indicates it will, it will be a quantum leap forward in the way NASCAR races deal with wet weather. Conceivably, rain-postponed or rain-shortened races could be dramatically reduced.

Meanwhile, the new system will hopefully eliminate the many of the negative factors on fans and racers alike. That’s great news for anyone who has had their ears ring, choked, or had their eyes water after a jet dryer crawled past their location at the race track.

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