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Get ready for a new level of racing at BMS after facelift

Staff Report • Mar 27, 2007 at 1:48 AM

Bruton Smith has said that the road to success is always under construction.

So it should come as no surprise that orange cones and the heavy equipment were back out at Bristol Motor Speedway on Monday, just one day after the Food City 500.

Normally construction at BMS is an afterthought for the fans and drivers - the addition of a few thousand seats here, a couple dozen luxury boxes there - but this time it's different.

This time the backhoes and bulldozers are concentrating on the concrete banks, and that's been enough to raise a few eyebrows.

Two days before the Food City 500, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were among those who were concerned about what the track would be like when the Sharpie 500 rolls around in August.

Kenseth said he has always been a fan of the uneven concrete, saying knowing how to navigate the bumpy, heavily patched surface goes a long way in separating the men from the boys.

Busch is also wary after the horrific first race following the repaving of Las Vegas, but he's also optimistic things will go OK at the Sharpie 500 as long as Goodyear brings the correct tires.

"We hope it goes through a quicker transition than some of the other tracks they've repaved or reconfigured," Busch said. "It's going to be concrete, new banking, new layout. It'll be interesting when we come here this fall."

If you're old enough to remember New Coke, you know why people are antsy about Smith tweaking the formula that has made for some of the most exciting racing on the Cup circuit over the years.

But as hard as it is to believe, "Racin' the way it ought'a be" will become "racing better than you thought you'd see" by this August.

First off, Bristol has called on Rusty Wallace to help oversee the process.

Wallace, a nine-time winner at Bristol, has his own track design company that is responsible for the construction of a three-quarter mile short track in Iowa that is building a reputation for its three-wide racing and photo finishes.

The secret is progressive banking, which allows cars on the high line to drive at the same speeds as cars on the low side, making for multiple grooves and side-by-side racing all around the track.

Bristol has been a one-groove racetrack since switching over from asphalt, which was breaking apart, to concrete, which is more durable.

The asphalt surface allowed for side-by-side racing, but it was coming up in chunks on the severe 36-degree banking.

Kenseth said Bristol would be perfect if it had a second groove, and he may get his wish when the new concrete composite is put down in the coming weeks.

"They're going to make it multi-groove banking," Wallace said. "They're actually talking about making it where it's kind of a dish shape and instead of having individual grooves like the track I designed."

Instead of individual grooves, the new shape will give cars the grip to carry similar speeds whether they're running high or low on the track.

"It looks like it's going to be just one big swell up to 30 degrees or close to 30, then at the bottom about 4 degrees less," Wallace said after looking at the plans.

"If you run on the bottom at 16 seconds, you can move up one groove and run 16 seconds still and then move up another groove and still run 16 seconds, that's what you want to accomplish."

Make no mistake, Bristol will be sacrificing its signature 36-degree banks, but it will be doing so to create racing that will be nothing short of mind-blowing.

When you combine what is now called "the car of today" after its debut on Sunday with Bristol's "track of tomorrow," look out.

By taking a car has been designed with side-by-side racing in mind and putting it on a lightning-fast short track that was redesigned to allow side-by-side racing, Bristol may be hitting on something that raises the bar for everyone else on the circuit.

After two so-so Cup races in a row, this should come as welcome news to fans.

For anyone who saw Kenseth's pass on the high side of Kevin Harvick near the end of last August's Food City 250, imagine a move like that becoming commonplace at the renovated BMS.

The beating and banging will still be there, but passing and working through the field will now be much easier for a driver.

I'll go out on a limb and say that this year's Sharpie 500 will take racing at Bristol to a new level.

In other words, Bruton Smith is back on the road to success, and this time, he's taking the fast lane.

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