Homestead speedway banks on new track to increase crowds
By Sherri C. Ranta
A $10 million project to reconfigure Homestead-Miami Speedway could be the drawing card for larger crowds at NASCAR's season-ending championship weekend in November.
Workers are expected to complete construction of a new track equipped with computer-designed variable-degree banking in all four turns by early October, about a month before the 2003 Ford Championship Weekend, scheduled for Nov. 13-16.
"This should increase the economic impact of our event," said speedway president Curtis Gray, "just because it creates so much excitement. It will be much more attractive to people all over the country."
The Ford Championship Weekend will feature NASCAR's season-finale races for Winston Cup, Busch and Craftman Truck Series and is the track's largest event each year. Homestead-Miami Speedway will be the only NASCAR Winston Cup track to use the variable banking system, Mr. Gray said.
Speedway officials are using the new track as a marketing tool for November's races. They plug the facility as The New Homestead-Miami Speedway on many marketing materials and the speedway website.
This is the second time all three season-ending races have been scheduled at the same track on the same weekend, Mr. Gray said. Homestead-Miami also was the host last year.
The Vision Council, Homestead and Florida City's economic-development organization, said the NASCAR weekend is huge.
"It's like having a Super Bowl every year. Homestead's hospitality industry is filled up," said Council President Michael Richardson, "and it's my understanding the crews are staying in Homestead. The actual fans are staying in the Keys, Miami and that area."
Speedway officials say the track is used about 230 days a year for races, driving schools, automobile testing and film and television work.
"It's amazing how many days a year people are in the community staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants," Mr. Richardson said. "It's virtually invisible to our community - only the people in the hospitality industry know they are there."
An economic study commissioned by track owner International Speedway Corp. found that South Florida's 2000 NASCAR weekend - a three-day event with two season-ending races - generated about $120 million.
The variable-degree banking, Mr. Gray said, will allow for three-groove racing - three cars side-by-side - and more passing opportunities. Homestead-Miami had been among the flattest in the circuit with 6-degree banking, he said, producing what many fans call "follow-the-leader" racing.
"This innovative design," Mr. Gray said, "will in turn translate into more exciting, side-by-side racing action for our race fans."
The track's banking will be increased progressively from the bottom to the top of each turn. At the midpoint of each turn, he said, there will be 18-degree banking at the bottom, 19 degrees in the middle and 20 degrees at the top. While the shortest way around the 1.5-mile oval track will still be on the inside, the new banking will allow drivers to carry more speed through the turns.
The reconfiguration, Mr. Gray said, aided by computer simulations from Goodyear, which provides tires for NASCAR, is among the most advanced of all track projects.
"No other track has been designed like this," he said. "This represents the future of building race tracks."
Work on the track began in May, Mr. Gray said, with the demolition of the existing track, wall and fencing. Workers then spent the next 22 days bringing in more than 4 million cubic feet of dirt, about 10,000 truckloads. A limestone base was used in the banking. About 6,000 feet of concrete walls were then poured.
Workers have begun laying asphalt, Mr. Gray said, and are installing fencing. "The weather hasn't held them up too much," Mr. Gray. "We had good weather in the beginning. That got us to where we needed to be to finish on time."