Tearin' Up Texas
Texas motor Speedway officials are moving ahead with plans to rip up, redesign and rebuild their misbegotten track near Fort Worth. After 43 cars wrecked during the Texas 500 weekend of April 4-5, NASCAR officials strongly suggested that Winston Cup racing would not return to the year-old facility unless the track was radically revamped.
"I've had nine engineers in there," says Bruton Smith, chairman of the track's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc. "We're attacking the situation with a vengeance." That's quite a turnabout for a man who, during the speedway's inaugural Winston Cup weekend in 1997, dismissed criticisms of the track and suggestions that it be rebuilt as "bulls—-."
Drivers want smoother transitions into and out of all four turns plus a wider racing surface so there is more than one groove to run in. Turn 4, in particular, has become the most hated turn on the NASCAR circuit—racers say it needs a wider arc so the outside retaining wall doesn't jut out almost in front of them as they exit the turn—and Turn 1 was the scene of a 13-car pile-up last year and a 10-car wreck earlier this month. There was further cause for alarm on the part of drivers during Texas 500 qualifying when it was discovered that water was seeping through the track's surface.
"We're going all around the track, and every little bump we find is going to be taken out," says Smith. "Since we're making so many changes, we're going to totally repave the track. We're going to use a less porous asphalt mix to help eliminate seepage, and we've already found the water drainage problem."
Racers wonder aloud how the track could have been so ill-constructed in the first place, while other new ovals on the Winston Cup tour—in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Motegi, Japan—are virtual racers' dreams. NASCAR has no set guidelines for track design or construction. "It's really heartbreaking when you spend $250 million and find professional screwup," Smith says. But we're curing that."
During the most recent race weekend, Texas Motor Speedway was selling T-shirts bearing this arrogant message to drivers: SHUT UP AND RACE. Now speedway officials are doing what Dale Earnhardt's car owner, Richard Childress, demanded after the April 5 race: "Give us something to race on and we'll shut up."
Plugging One In At Le Mans
"Environmentally friendly, high-performance cars" has long been an oxymoron. But that may change in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 6-7. U.S. sports car impresario Don Panoz is entering an experimental car—the Panoz Q9—that is partially powered by a 260-cell battery pack. The use of the battery will not only reduce emissions and increase fuel economy, but it should also boost performance of the car's 6.0-liter gasoline engine by as much as 150 horsepower.
With the additional power source—the battery pack is automatically recharged by the energy dissipated from braking—Panoz hopes the new car will be able to make fewer pit stops, a major advantage in a 24-hour race.