Wednesday | March 21, 2018

The Great Race for a Perfect Asphalt Racing Mix

Every racing fan knows that to win, a driver needs a good pit crew. For a racetrack to succeed, it needs a good paving crew. That’s exactly what the owners of Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump, Nevada, found in Wulfenstein Construction Company.

Spring Mountain is a motorsports country club that also hosts driving schools for Corvette and Cadillac owners, and acts as a test track for General Motors Co. and Chevrolet. Wulfenstein Construction Company paved the entire 10-mile track, the third phase of which was just recently completed.

Prep for Perfection (and Fun)

To complete the project, Operations Manager Bryan Wulfenstein worked directly with the owners of Spring Mountain to make the track as perfect as possible. Wulfenstein explained that the project didn’t have a “set plan” that the crew had to follow. Instead, managers gave the crew an initial track configuration, and the crew would rough in the track.

“Then they’d go out there with the instructors that night and by the next morning, paint would be everywhere and the developer would need to show me what changes they wanted made,” Wulfenstein said.

His crew would raise a portion three-tenths of an inch, cut another portion down by a foot and re-grade.

“They’d drive it again and say it was a little better, and we’d try again and again until we’d get it exactly right,” Wulfenstein said. “We’d spend one or two weeks in one spot before we got it to a way that everyone would agree on.”

By the time the project was complete, it had been changed four times and the track didn’t resemble the original plan.

“You can’t necessarily see on paper what the track will be like to drive on,” Wulfenstein said. Having done multiple jobs for Spring Mountain, Wulfenstein said he’s begun to anticipate what the client might like.

Being able to think like a race car driver doesn’t hurt, either. “My family is big into racing,” Wulfenstein said. In fact, Ray Wulfenstein, Bryan’s grandfather and the founder of Wulfenstein Construction Company, raced at Daytona in the 1970s in the Grand National Division. “We understand the sport and we have an idea of what they’re looking for.”

Get the Mix Right

To complete the most recent section of the track, the Wulfenstein crew used a one-half inch PG70-10 mix to complete two lifts totaling 3 ½ inches.

Wulfenstein said paving two lifts allowed the crew to achieve smoother results and helped with compaction. “On those high speed corners, asphalt has a tendency to want to ravel and rut in those conditions,” Wulfenstein said. But paving two lifts on the latest section really helped, he added. They also added lime to the mix for additional strength and what they felt was a better bond to the asphalt cement (AC).

For the first section of the track, paved in the early 2000s, Wulfenstein used a three-eighths inch mix using AC 30 paved in one lift of 3 inches.

“That didn’t hold up the same way as the ½-inch mix,” Wulfenstein said. “It’s hard to have something that stands up to tight fast corners, but we’ve had success with our mixes.”

“One of the main reasons they’ve waited so long on maintenance for the older track is because a lot of people like it,” Wulfenstein said. The original track is rougher than the new one, a bit worn out and a bit slick, he added, while the track paved in 2004/2005 has a bit of wear on it and the new section is really smooth. “Having three different types of pavement in one track makes Spring Mountain unique.”

It also works as a benefit for Chevrolet and GM employees, who test new vehicles on the track.

“I’m sure they like the different types of roads when doing those tests because they get to see what happens on different stages of the road itself,” Wulfenstein said. “I’ve gone for a ride in a Corvette there and drove a speed truck on the track and it’s a lot of fun. You really feel a difference between the old and new track.”

Work Slowly, Roll Carefully

In addition to getting the grade right and choosing the proper mix, the Wulfenstein crew also had to overcome the challenges that come with paving unique fixtures, such as a stormwater retention basin that doubled as a feature of the racetrack.

“It was 16 or 17 feet deeper than the original grade and then we mounded the extra dirt up on the other side of the basin to raise it up by 15 feet,” Wulfenstein said. That way, drivers would have a straightaway up to the hillside before taking a hard right turn into the bowl and transitioning up out of the bowl back onto the regular track. “When you come out of that hole, it feels like you’re going to catch air. That’s the section of the track that turns boys into men.”

But that section doesn’t just challenge drivers; it also challenges equipment operators.

“We did a lot of research, talking with the developer, Russ Meads, and looking online at Nascar tracks to look at what sort of banking we could do and what we would need to do to keep our equipment in place.”

One such challenge was, with the incline, the downhill side auger was becoming overloaded and the uphill side was starving for mix. To overcome this challenge, the crew used a loader to dump asphalt into the paver strategically. “We would try to fill up the high side of the hopper, and if it fell to the low side, we’d shovel it back to the high side,” Wulfenstein said. “It wasn’t as steep as those super speedways for Nascar, but it was pretty close.”

After the challenges of paving the basin, the crew still had to roll it.

“The biggest challenge was the mix wanted to spread downhill, naturally,” Wulfenstein said. So, the crew started rolling at the bottom side of the mat and moved its way up the basin. “We had to be really careful not to over-roll it, and we had to be patient with it so we didn’t spread it.”

Wulfenstein said the crew was also sure to roll its stops out nicely to avoid any bumps. “It was slow rolling, but it was smooth rolling. You can’t have any bumps on high speed corners like that.”

Although being in such a hot part of the country (halfway between Las Vegas and Death Valley) typically gives the crew a bit more time to compact the mat effectively, Wulfenstein said cooler weather would have made this particular job easier so the mat would harden a bit more quickly, “but you can’t always choose when you pave.”

Full Speed Ahead

Wulfenstein Construction is currently working on the utility infrastructure for Spring Mountain to build 115 homes along its racetrack—a behemoth of a project. However, the owners of Spring Mountain are already looking at the next track improvement: a mill and fill of the oldest part of the track is also on the horizon.

They may be moving forward quickly, but it is a racetrack, after all. And with the proper paving crew in place, anything is possible.

A Tribute to Ray Wulfenstein

It was 1972 when Ray Wulfenstein moved his family from Las Vegas to Pahrump, Nevada, to pursue his dream of developing real estate amidst the fields of cotton and alfalfa.

Although Ray successfully built a hotel, RV resort, car wash, restaurant and strip mall within 15 years of his arrival, these developments meant so much more to the community. They offered key goods and services that allowed the city of Pahrump to flourish from 5,000 residents in 1970 to more than 36,000 today.

“He saw what the future could be, and he built for that,” said his grandson, Bryan Wulfenstein. “That was his vision.”

On January 13, Ray Wulfenstein—“the patriarch of one of Pahrump’s founding and most recognizable families,” according to the Pahrump Valley Times, passed away after crashing his single-engine Cessna on a beach in Curry County, Oregon. It’s believed he suffered some sort of medical issue prior to the crash, reported KTVL-TV in Medford, Oregon.

Although Ray will be greatly missed by his family, friends, employees and community, his legacy lives on in the many accomplishments of this leader, adventurer and visionary.

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