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Sports

Meet the guy setting up the twisty, turny NASCAR party at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend

Garrett Carter - dir ops still - CMS - 6oct21.jpg
Kiarra Murrill, Queens University News Service
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Garrett Carter, director of operations for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and his team began preparing for this weekend’s NASCAR Bank of America Roval 400 just after Memorial Day.

Garrett Carter remembers when Marcus Smith, general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, first came up with the idea of converting the 1.5-mile oval to a 2.28-mile Roval for a NASCAR race.

“He called a couple of people in the NASCAR world and said, ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ And they all thought he was crazy,” Carter said. “(They said), ‘The drivers will hate it, the teams won’t like it. ... This would just blow an engineer’s mind. You can’t set a car up for this type of race.’”

Carter is a busy, busy man these days.

Then again, he has been since Labor Day. And he will be through not only this Sunday’s NASCAR Bank of America Roval 400, but for the four days afterward that it will take to transform the unique Roval back into the track’s standard oval layout.

As a director of operations for the Speedway, Carter is in charge of leading the transformation of the more traditional track layout into a hybrid configuration that includes using roughly half of the oval while adding a challenging, twisting road course. The road course includes 17 turns through one-third of the infield before it spits NASCAR’s 3,4000-pound stock cars back onto the oval portion.

It is no easy task, but Carter and his team have it down to an exact science.

Immediately after the Coca-Cola 600 is run on Memorial Day weekend, Carter’s team begins to plan the transformation of the track. But it isn't until early September that they actually began the process because of other events held at the track between the end of May and Labor Day. During the transformation, Carter’s crew must position temporary walls and paint them, paint the new road-course asphalt, and lay out all the optics of how the track works.

Carter said the Speedway had to partner with Pioneer Paint Service to develop a special kind of paint for the massive job. It had to be removable yet durable enough to look sharp through an entire race weekend, even if it rains. It also had to have a red, white and blue theme.

“We were tasked by (Smith) to make this track look like an international Formula One track,” Carter said.

Carter estimates that the transformation involving all of the wall movements, race setup and painting requires around 3,000 employee hours. He gets additional help from personnel who fly in from the other seven race tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., especially those from the road course that is Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Charlotte Motor Speedway partnered with eight other racetracks around the country including, Sonoma Raceway , which setnt people out for two weeks to help with the transformation of the track.

“They have a lot of knowledge on how we operate,” Carter said. “They are well-versed in road-course racing. It’s all they do, all day, every day.”

There is a great difference between a race on the oval and a Roval event. There are a total of 17 turns on the road-course portion of the Roval, as opposed to just four turns on the oval. The banking is different and there is much more elevation on the road-course section.

On the oval track, turns are banked to about 24 degrees. The lap times average about 30 seconds with top speeds reaching close to or exceeding 200 mph.

The Roval course, by comparison, produces a 45-foot change in elevation that does not exist on the oval, and results in banking in turns between 5 and 15 degrees. The longer course with all those turns produces lap-time averages of about 1 minute, 20 seconds. But NASCAR's Cup Series stock cars can still reach high speeds of more than 180 mph on the straightaway sections of the half oval that is still incorporated.

“It’s a lot of work, there's blood, sweat and tears that go into it,” Carter said.

Right after the race, the Charlotte Motor Speedway team immediately starts to transform the track back to its original form. This looks like 40-50 hour weeks for the team, but they are able to get this done in the time frame of four days after the event.

“It’s like throwing a big party at your house,” Carter said. “For workers there is a lot of prep, a lot of during (the event) and a lot of cleaning up at the end.”

Kiarra Murrill is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.