ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: BUILDING THE CHARLOTTE USGP TRACK
This week’s One Photo & One Story is different from the norm. I met with Justin Barclay, the track designer/builder of the USGP of the Americas at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to talk about the race this weekend. The genial Englishman answers all your pressing questions about the big MXGP race on Friday and Saturday.
Justin, how many days has it taken you to build the MXGP track at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
We did it in six days, but if we were working sun up to sun down, then we would have shrunk things down to four days. I also flew to the U.S. twice to have a look. There are certain things that Charlotte Motor Speedway and Youthstream want in place, like a start that goes towards the crowd, a finish line near the crowd, and then the pit lane structure. To link those things together made me scratch my head and think about how to do it.
How many version of the layout did you draw up before settling on what we see here?
I walked around the facility for two days. That’s the only way you can do it. I didn’t walk around two days solid. I came and had a look, drew it in my head, and then put it on Google Earth. That way you can know what it’s like in reality, and then to see it on a flat plane. You look at any track with hills, but on Google Earth it looks completely flat. Take Glen Helen, for example. When you pull it up on Goggle Earth it doesn’t look like anything. Then you get there and the hills go on forever. Here, at Charlotte, there’s a bit of a bowl. You have to work with the camber of the dirt track oval.
The start has to be one of the most unique first turns I have ever seen. Where did you draw inspiration for that design?
I’m a big fan of flat track and Speedway grass track in Europe. That’s where my dad comes from, so that’s why we have the first turn laid out like that. It’s funny, because most motocross guys can’t turn left wide open through the first turn on a motorcycle, because they haven’t been given that ability to keep it [the throttle] on. For me, the first turn is the best part of the track, because it’s like Speedway and is totally different. The starting line to the first turn in 85 to 90 yards, and then it peels in and uses the first corner of the dirt track.
“RIGHT NOW THE FORECAST SHOWS RAIN, SO WE WANTED TO POUR WATER INTO THE TRACK, AND THEN SEAL IT OFF IN CASE IT DOES RAIN. THAT’S THE SMART THING TO DO, RATHER THAN DISC IT DEEP AND KEEP EVERYTHING EXPOSED. I DON’T WANT TO BE SPOONING OFF BABY POOP. I’M NOT INTO THAT.”
The actual footprint inside the Charlotte Dirt Track grounds is fairly large, but it’s not your typical open layout like at a conventional motocross track. Has that presented a challenge?
Well, that’s why we had to go across the start line. Once I designed the long first turn, I realized that I had used a third of the area already [laughter]. We also had to go beyond where the normal Dirt Track interior would be, because otherwise it would be too small. For the fans watching, if the riders disappear out the back and a pass is made, then it’s a bit more excitement when they drop back into the stadium portion. It’s a bit like the Bercy Supercross, in that the guys disappear through the tunnel and then reemerge shortly later and no one knows if a pass has been made. This isn’t meant to be like a Supercross, where everyone can see everything at all times. It’s more like a Super-motocross.
Was it hard to figure out a way to carry the track out of the stadium section and loop it back in?
Yes, and that’s why Charlotte Motor Speedway had to cut the fence. It was the only way. The section of open fencing where the guys jump to the upper level was already there, because it’s normally a service road. Where they come back down is where the Speedway had to chop down the fencing.
Are you concerned that riders will be jumping to the upper section of the track between two fence sections? It looks rather narrow.
No. They’re going to put a Monster bridge up on the face, and the FIM safety guys will put protective barriers up. I mean, if you take off and hit the fence from the jump face then you’re in a whole world of trouble anyway. It’s like, you’d hit the Monster bridge before hitting the fence. If that happens then you’re just unlucky. It looks like it’s a narrow gap from here, but when you’re approaching the jump it’s not that bad.
Where did you pull the soil from?
About 80 percent of it came from the Charlotte Motor Speedway property, and the red clay came from off-site. With trucking companies you can either get the best dirt, or something that’s not very good at all. We put the bad dirt underneath and used it as a base. Then we covered the track with good dirt.
You guys have been putting down a ton of water. How important is it to keep the soil wet?
It’s so dry and hot here. The good thing is that the Dirt Track oval guys know how much water is actually needed. They have been really cool and understanding. We tell them that we need to flood the track, and they already know. I’m a firm believer that the locals know the soil type and how it will react to water. Right now the forecast shows rain, so we wanted to pour water into the track, and then seal it off in case it does rain. That’s the smart thing to do, rather than disc it deep and keep everything exposed. I don’t want to be spooning off baby poop. I’m not into that. Sealing the track allows rain to run off, and then with half an hour of sun the track will be ready to go. I’d rather err on the side of caution.