The Flat and the Furious

As Brainerd International Raceway prepares for a new racing season, Scott Quick, general manager of the facility in Brainerd, Minnesota, reflects on the revitalization of its drag strip, which was completed a year ago. Despite weather delays, the BIR drag strip opened for business as usual in May 2003 after undergoing a lengthy and pioneering repaving project designed to make it one of the flattest and fastest quarter--mile tracks in the country. The 34--year--old drag strip saw its last resurfacing 15 years ago.

The unique project began after the end of racing season in October 2002. C. R. Meyer & Sons, a family--owned company based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was chosen to revamp the nationally renowned drag strip because of its expertise in super--flat indoor concrete. Project Manager Ed Shaughnessy is a local drag racer who has competed at BIR for 15 years. Because of his familiarity with the track and the sport, Shaughnessy knew exactly what problems to expect and worked closely with C.R. Meyer’s engineering department to address them.

“It was good to have a racer overseeing this project,” says Quick. “Ed understood it better than anyone else could have.”

Continuous Pour and Other Techniques

“This is the biggest C.R. Meyer design implemented outside in the weather,” says Shaughnessy. In fact, C. R. Meyer designed a special jig and brought in a 30--ton crane to reach over the existing pit walls to cause as little disruption as possible. “It was an impressively big project,” he says.

The biggest challenges (other than the weather) were the 400--yard pours in the racing lanes. A total of 1,200 yards of concrete was poured in the racing lanes, extending the concrete surface farther down the track than it previously had been. The pad was increased from 330 to 768 feet. More concrete means better traction for racers.

The extensive amount of concrete required a comparable amount of rebar: roughly 60 tons of 5/8--inch rebar, estimates Shaughnessy. “It was rebar intensive,” he chuckles.

Laser--guided equipment helped create a solid concrete slab that extends from the burn--out box to the half track 700 feet away, followed by a bump cutter to eliminate high and low spots. Next, the concrete was troweled to a glass finish before being shot--peened — rather than broom finished — to give it better traction. “The lanes have a sandpaper finish for better grip on the launch pad,” explains Shaughnessy. The track later was treated with a quick--setting liquid to improve traction further by means of adhesion.

But it’s the smoothness of the surface, Shaughnessy says, that’s the ticket for performance. “Anything above FF50 is super flat. Brainerd is rated an FF98 average,” he says proudly. “This is called ultra flat.” Quick notes that BIR is second in flatness only to Pomona Raceway in California.

The improvement is noticeable. What was originally a 6--inch center crown (built to provide drainage) now rises only 2 inches. “It still provides enough drainage because of weep holes built into the walls,” Quick explains.

To eliminate a rough ride in the low--slung sensitive dragsters, Shaughnessy eliminated transverse joints. Instead, the slab is deeply anchored in the ground at half--track. The continuous pour of concrete can expand at the start line due to a slip joint, or bridge. “It crawls toward the start line when it expands,” Shaughnessy explains. “It holds at the transition point and moves back, not creating a bump on the track.

“We eliminated air by using saw cuts transversely,” Shaughnessy continues. “That makes for a very smooth ride down the strip.” Air typically is added to concrete to allow for the weather in Minnesota, which causes the concrete to move, according to Shaughnessy. But at BIR, he chose to saw--cut every 10 feet to avoid cracks and breaks.

By the end of October 2002, most of the crucial concrete work was complete, but weather called a halt to efforts. One hundred thermal tarps covered the concrete all winter until work could resume in April.

“The window of opportunity is very short in the northern region,” says Quick. “The delay made us a little nervous, but it couldn’t be helped.” Not only was the deadline extended, but the budget also was increased, with the final tally topping $850,000 at completion, just two weeks before BIR’s first event in May 2003.

Falling Records

Work resumed in early spring 2003 and was completed in time for BIR’s first event — but not before an initial test of the new surface. Shaughnessy was the first drag racer to make a 300--foot burnout and two passes on the reconstructed quarter--mile drag strip, piloting his 850--horsepower super comp dragster down the right lane. “Smooth as glass,” was his initial comment.

BIR held its National Hot Rod Association--sanctioned drag race in August, when weather was once again a factor. The new surface at BIR became so hot that NHRA officials had to hose the track down before the second professional session to help teams maintain optimum traction.

After the NHRA event, racers broke world records during the top--fuel bike races. Pro Stock Bike competitor Geno Scali praised the new track, telling reporters, “The new track is very nice and very smooth in both lanes now. There’s just one little bump at the transition area where it switches from concrete to asphalt — that’s it.”

“Feedback has been very favorable,” says Quick. “These cars generate 4,000 pounds of downforce, so the drivers feel every little bump, but they were very happy with the track this year.”

Quick admits it was a large investment and a bit of a gamble, but in order for the facility to remain competitive, he believes he must provide drivers with the best surface possible. He’s already fielding inquiries from other drag tracks as far away as Australia and the U.K. “The racing community is a small one,” he says. “When you talk about super flatness, it responds.”

Lori Lovely is an Indianapolis--based freelance writer. She has covered the construction industry since 1998, and also frequently writes about racing and the automotive industry.

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