Cleaning Motor Speedways

Cleaning Motor Speedways

By April Hirsch / Published August 2019

Photo by iStockphoto.com/csfotoimages

Grip. Sure, it’s on the minds of race car drivers. It is also on the minds of scientists supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Grip is one of 12 topics that united NSF and NASCAR in their production of a 12-part video series titled “The Science of Speed.” Turning, power, and balance are among the dozen topics. (The videos were originally produced as part of the NSF Science360 series, Science360.gov, which has since been renamed NSF Science Zone. See NSF.gov for access, including apps.)

What does the NSF and NASCAR partnership illustrate? One, the design of race cars and tracks is all about applying the best theories from science. Two, auto racing is a popular and vital part of our nation.

How popular? According to a Statistica.com survey, six percent of respondents rank auto racing as their favorite sport. The U.S. Census Bureau (Census.gov) reports that close to one in 10 people attend at least one NASCAR or other racing event each year; and approximately 4.4 million people attend one or more such events each month.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) categorizes auto racing in major group 79, Amusement and Recreation Services, and the industry group 794, Commercial Sports. Its 7948 designation includes promoters and participants in racing activities of all sorts, including those featuring dogs and horses.

Members of our industry know firsthand the breadth of some occupational categories established by the Department of Labor and other federal entities. But they may appreciate their niche as relatively precise when they note that the assignments to category 79 are even broader.

Major category 79 also includes dance studios, schools and halls, theatrical producers and bands, orchestras, actors and other entertainers, physical fitness facilities, public golf courses, and many more. Race car owners and operators both fall under 7948, as do track operators.

One more note on the popularity of auto racing: The National Park Service (NPS) includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, among its Heritage Itinerary recommendations for Indianapolis. The speedway was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

And we’re guessing our readers know well the trademark bricks—millions of them—under the pavement and at the start/finish line of the venue. Since its beginning in 1908, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indy) has been essential to innovation and improvements in automobiles.

Front-wheel and all-wheel drive were tested under race conditions at Indy. Products from lubricants to tires have been improved because of their use at Indy, very much a proving ground with drivers being test pilots on wheels.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the second largest motor racing facility in the world. It can accommodate 257,325 spectators.

Four of the 15 largest capacity venues for motor racing are in the United States. The Texas Motor Speedway ranks fifth. Las Vegas Motor Speedway ranks 11th, and Charlotte Motor Speedway ranks 13th. The Texas, Las Vegas, and Charlotte facilities are owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc.

There are auto racing facilities of many sizes, shapes, and track compositions across the United States. For power washing contractors and distributors and manufacturers of cleaning equipment, who may be wondering whether they are doing all they can to meet the needs of such facilities in their region, we recommend a quick search via USA.gov for “auto racing” by state.

Here’s an example of what can be found: Daniel Rose wrote in a special to TravelWisconsin.com in April 2018 about five tracks in the Badger State. Make that five tracks among some 50. One of the tracks at Plymouth, WI, is dirt. Why dirt? Rose points to the unpredictability of dirt surfaces that competitors and spectators relish.

With dirt having entered our scope, we hope that members of our industry who have not yet thought about serving OSHA major category 7948 will do so now. Dirt or asphalt substrate aside, vehicles, stands, restrooms, concession stands, and parking lots must be cleaned.

Tracks must also be cleaned. Are there good opportunities for members of our industry?

Yes (and No)

“Pressure washers and waterjets definitely have a place at motorsports facilities,” says Andrew Gurtis, senior vice president of operations at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL. “They are used across the property on concourses, buildings, the venue exterior, etc.”

Is there a place for contractors? “Daytona International Speedway (DIS) makes use of power washing by both in-house and contracted services, depending on workload and specific projects,” says Gurtis.

Gurtis explains how the surface of the track is kept clean. “The track surface at DIS is one of our most important assets and is closely monitored throughout the year,” says Gurtis. “During major events, a team of experienced track workers responds to incidents with a variety of products and specialty equipment.”

“Products such as oil-dry and powdered laundry detergent are at the ready,” explains Gurtis. “Specialty equipment includes Buffalo Blower cold-air blowers, hot-air dryers, and a NASCAR fleet of air-blade track dryers called Air Titans.”

And water under pressure, is it ever used on the track? “Water under pressure is not used to clean the racing surface at DIS due to the risk of accelerating the loss of ‘fines’—sand and gravel making up the smaller asphalt particles in between the larger crushed stones,” explains Gurtis.

(For a good refresher on the best practices for cleaning asphalt, see the 2013 article by David Fahari in the Power Washer’s Guidebook in Cleaner Times, via http://pubs.royle.com/article/Power+Washer%E2%80%99s+Guidebook%3A+Cleaning+Asphalt%3A+Less+Pressure+Is+Better/1428752/0/article.html.)

Concrete is not a common standalone substrate for motor tracks on speedways. But it is found, if only very rarely, as the sole component in some locations.

“In NASCAR, you see a mix between asphalt and concrete tracks,” says Jake Young, media relations manager at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, TX. “The concrete is obviously a little more stress-free to pressure wash, but there are only two fully concrete tracks in the sport—Dover and Bristol—and the rest are asphalt.”

The question of whether there is a role for pressure washers and related equipment at motor speedways depends, says Young. “That question depends on your definition of ‘motor speedways.’ We don’t use pressure washers on the actual racing surface, but they are an integral part in cleaning up our facility for race weekends.

“We use them to wash the 110,000-plus grandstand seats in our massive stadium, and they’re used to clean the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame, which is an outdoor amenity,” continues Young. “I could see there potentially being a need for contractors, but at Texas Motor Speedway our in-house employees take care of our pressure washing needs.”

What about the general cleaning of the track surface? “Other than natural factors like rain and wind, we use high-power air blowers to clean debris off our track,” says Young.

Protecting the asphalt while keeping it clean brings many ingenious ideas to the fore. In an article in American Sweeper, Kathy Sheehan reports on a crew using absorbent ash from hulled rice to absorb fuel and oil from a race track. (See www.worldsweeper.com/ParkingContractors/Profiles/v6n2Raceway.html.) The mix of residue and absorbent must then be removed. And a sweeper comes into the picture. Sweeping is an oft-used way to clean tracks. To keep the track at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, VA, clean, crews “sweep,” says Linwood Burrow, the director of track operations there. “For oil spills, we clean with Tide detergent or Simple Green cleaner and then
wash down with regular water.”

Pressure washing equipment is not a suitable match for the track, and it is not used. “Pressure washing machines damage the surface of the track,” says Burrow.

As for outside contractors at Richmond, “No,” says Burrow. They are not used.

In the whole, though, there are plenty of opportunities for members of our industry, should they be interested in exploring work at motor speedways. And they are worth considering.

Full Circle

For manufacturers, distributors, and contractors not yet connected to work in the motorsports industry, we again point to the videos mentioned in the second paragraph. They are sure to provide many ideas about how to serve the needs of speedways. A direct link to the twelve can be found at https://science360.gov/series/science-speed/a933ab9b-198b-442a-aceb-200747f1ec54. 

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