GET READY TO START YOUR ENGINES: Spokane County Raceway Track Re - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

GET READY TO START YOUR ENGINES: Spokane County Raceway Track Resurfacing Project Underway

© Photo courtesy Spokane County Raceway © Photo courtesy Spokane County Raceway

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Back in 2009 when a brand new section of concrete, approximately 600 feet long, was installed on the drag strip at Spokane County Raceway by then operator Bucky Austin.

The "launch pad" as it is known in racing circles was popular at many drag strips across the country and designed to give race cars much better traction at one of the most critical places, the starting line.

A drag race is often won or lost in a thousandth, hundredth or even a tenth of a second at "the line" when the starter puts the race into motion.

But building and properly maintaining a racing surface is not just putting down concrete or asphalt – like a highway – and walking away.

Getting the much needed traction from properly prepping the surface afterwards never really was successful. Soon the joy of this long-sought-after track addition became a big issue of safety with drivers and their cars, some capable of traveling the 1,320 feet of the quarter-mile in a mere five seconds – or less – at close to 300 miles-per-hour.

When Craig Smith – new track general manager, and managing partner in Raceway Investments, the operators of SCR – arrived on scene in February, his wheels had already been turning on how to fix the problem.

"If the track was not prepared properly it didn't mean anything," Smith said. "You might as well just go out on the ice."

So the process to fix things is not only expensive (to the operators, not the county) but tedious and time consuming. It started with a grinding process where the entire 600 feet of concrete was scrubbed clean or old rubber by machines that look similar to industrial floor scrubbers.

While crews scrub they also cut small grooves in the surface that will allow rubber to better adhere. "We're just starting over from scratch," Smith said.

Next comes a new piece of equipment that Smith bought out-of-pocket to the tune of $100,000. It had an arrival time of the first week of April and, weather permitting, was going to be put into action quickly to get the track ready for an April 21 test and tune event prior to three straight days of racing, April 27-29 that kick off the 2012 season,

Smith's new purchase is a custom-built tractor that comes out of Colorado with a sweeper on the front and an attachment that includes four real drag racing tires – the big slicks – that rotate opposite to the direction the tractor travels.

"The goal is to have the nicest track in the country, Smith said. "I spent 100 grand and if we don't I'm going to be mad," Smith said. NHRA has two of the machines that travel and several private tracks have them. "Everyone that has them praises them," Smith added.

The work, however, to get the track into the condition that will put racers at ease and able to enjoy racing belongs to Jim Black. He's under the gun to get the track ship-shape by the last week of April.

And that's a combination of science and gut-feeling Black explained.

"Like anything else, golf you read the golf course; the track out here, we read the track, it's a hands-on thing, we touch it with our hands," Black said.

Black will be in charge of things from grinding the surface to final re-rubbering of the track which takes place on the 19th and 20th of April.

To draw a comparison of sorts the new "toy" Black will have at his disposal to improve track conditions is in certain respects to the racing surface what a Zamboni is to an ice rink.

"Ice hockey couldn't do without a Zamboni and we can do without this," Black said. "You're basically doing a burnout all the way down the track."

When the new machinery is put into action in mid-April it will not only serve as needed maintenance but also a track-prep school and seminar for a number of race track operators across the Northwest, Black said.

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