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Mar 31, 2002

Things Are Changing At Summit Point Raceway

<BR><BR>Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By David Swarts<BR><BR>Motorcycle road racers on the WERA electronic bulletin board (BBS) were up in arms last week over the word-of-mouth news that concrete retaining walls had been erected around Summit Point Raceway in Summit Point, West Virginia over the winter. But before the week was out, a plan was in the works to remove the most dangerous of the new walls and the hillside behind it, with the cost being split 50/50 between the track ownership and racers. All the while, construction on a completely new road course at Summit Point has begun.<BR><BR>Roadracingworld.com contacted Summit Point Raceway owner Bill Scott, MARRC and Formula USA NRRS Safety Director Roger Lyle and WERA Race Director George Mood to get more information about the situation, but before we could collect all of the information and write the story, the ending already started changing for the better.<BR><BR>The original situation was first made public by Mood in a thread on the WERA BBS entitled "New for Summit Point…concrete walls!!!".<BR><BR>"I went out to the track during a SCCA driver training day (Sunday, March 24)," said Mood, the WERA Race Director for Summit Point Raceway since 1996, in a phone interview. Mood went on to describe the location and proximity of the new walls, but he was most concerned about one barrier.<BR><BR>"The most scary one is the one that's in ‘The Chute' in turn four," said Mood. "If contact were to be made, it wouldn't be a head-on, like a perpendicular, because the track is angled toward the wall and there's the turn. It would be less than a 90-degree contact. But the problem is that there is very little margin for error under the best of conditions. The edge of the track to the previous existing berm was some 30 feet, give or take a couple feet. It got narrowed down a couple feet by the installation of the concrete (wall).<BR><BR>"What bothers me is that this is the oldest part of the track, and it's the area where people have a tendency to lowside in the wet and go into that with what I fear would be a really, really serious injury. We've had in the April event last year at Summit Point, we had a guy on a (Suzuki) SV (650) impact the tire wall. The guy was relatively okay, but SV virtually broke in half. The only thing connecting the front and the back of the bike was the wiring system. That SV turned out to be 20 feet long. It was up in the trees and (we) literally put a tow line around it and drug it out so we could load it up.<BR><BR>"I've really got some concerns about (the turn four wall). I don't know what Bill Scott's reasoning for putting it there was. I can only assume that it's some type of a homologation for an organization or insurance."<BR><BR>"It's not changed a whit from last year except the backing of the tires, same tires, is a concrete barrier instead of an earth barrier," said Bill Scott, Summit Point owner for the last 22 years. "It's better for the cars, obviously the cars, whether it's SCCA racing or any of the number of clubs that come up. A car is much heavier and the driver is much more protected and the energy-absorbing barrier is stiffer. <BR><BR>"If a motorcycle ran into the same barrier, the same tires is what it is, the human being is half the weight of the vehicle. So therefore we talked about Air Fences."<BR><BR>Receiving angry e-mails daily from motorcycle road racers who saw the related thread on the WERA website, Scott was irritated but not so much that he wasn't willing to make special arrangements to increase safety for motorcycle and go-kart racers faced with the new walls. Scott worked with Lyle to identify high-danger impact areas and decided to pay $30,000 toward purchasing Air Fence and Alpina Air Modules if motorcycle and go-kart racers and/or their organizations would pay the other half, $15,000 each.<BR><BR>"There are areas where the probability of impact at high speed is low, and so okay you don't do them. You can line the whole track with Air Fences, but these things are damned expensive. We're talking about $60,000 of Air Fences, which I'm going half on that. The go-karts are a quarter, and the motorcycles are a quarter. So if you combine my effort to make it safer for cars with the effort to add the dimension of the Air Fences for the motorcycles…let the guys come up and look at it. Most of them haven't been here for six months. Nobody's been here.<BR><BR>"Sure it's easy to say, ‘Go spend $500,000 doing this.' If I was to spend $500,000, I'd be a guy that wouldn't give a rat's ass for amateur motorcycles. I would be the type of person that's thinking big, wants NASCAR, wants events like that.<BR><BR>"I don't focus on spectators. My bias is not towards soliciting spectators and stuff like that. My bias is toward the competitors. Every CCS or WERA race has more participants than any place with less hassle. I'm not on you guys. I'm not reaching in the pockets of the riders, and that's our history.<BR><BR>"You're looking at a track owner that has focused on the amateur for the last 22 years. Track owners that are around are looking for big money. It's either CART or NASCAR or something like that. It's not usual to find a guy who's focused on the amateur, not only the amateur but the competitor. I do. I'm proud of it. I love this job. I wasn't born with any silver spoon. I love the motorcycle guys. I'm more in touch with the (motorcycle) guy that works in the local factory, or something like that, than I am with a lawyer with an $80,000 Porsche."<BR><BR>Contacted later March 25, Lyle said, "I asked him (Scott), ‘Why did you put that wall in there?' He said, ‘It's to contain the cars, keeping them from flying up into the crowd.' I said, ‘Well, there's no crowd up on top of that hill. That's why we should just take the hill out.'<BR><BR>"What we are working on is getting some Air Fence for that area (turn four) in particular. We talked to Dan Lance at Alpina and we talked with Andy Coffey (with Airfence Australia) just two weeks ago about Air Fence. Bill (Scott) is all for getting it and putting it in place. <BR><BR>"I said, ‘That's a good, but that's only going to last for five years. Then your $60,000 investment, you have to do all over again. If we can get that wall out of there, that embankment, then we won't need Air Fence and we'll be ready for another 30 years of safe racing.'<BR><BR>"But right now, he's getting a lot of angry e-mails from WERA riders calling him an ‘asshole' and ‘stupid' and this and that. And that's not helping the situation at all. So what we've got to do, I'm approaching him now with a letter saying, ‘Well, if these are the options that we have: we can put Air Fence in there, we can take the tires and walls out and be done with it.'<BR><BR>"I'm just trying to work with him and give him all of the options that are available to make safe racing for everybody, but for us, that embankment in turn four has always been a problem. Air Fence works really well, but if you've got nothing to hit, that's the best situation."<BR><BR>"I would like to see if it could be done, removing or moving the embankment back an average of 30 feet," said Mood. "There's a problem there the way the track's laid out that you can't move it back hundreds of feet because you'll be running into the Carousel area. But if the embankment were moved back starting with 50 feet at the apex and angling down to five or 10 feet at the bottom where the embankment becomes parallel with the racetrack. If there had to be a tire wall there, let's front it with a gravel trap, have some 20 feet of grass for people to try and save it, then a safety barrier before people get to the tires and the concrete. I realize that's, I'm gonna guess, $20,000 to do that kind of thing with the amount of earth that has to be moved. It all depends upon if it's solid rock or if it's a looser rock."<BR><BR>Late Thursday evening, March 28, Mood posted a new announcement in the thread he had started on the WERA BBS, reading, "Roger Lyle, Greg Harrison and David Yaakov met with Bill Scott about 15 minutes after I had my phone conversation with Bill Scott. As a result of that meeting, there will be a major change in The Chute. The following information was given to me by Roger Lyle in a phone conversation Thursday evening: <BR>"There is an agreement that the existing wall and earth/rock hill behind it (turn four wall) will be moved back as far as possible. The plan calls for a 20-foot hard dirt run-off area from the edge of the track on rider's left to a gravel trap. The trap will be some 300 feet long x 40 feet, with a minimum depth of 8 inches. Beyond the trap will be the concrete barrier fronted by a double layer of tire walls. The barrier will be to prevent crashing vehicles from entering the track in the T6 Carousel.<BR><BR>"Summit Point track owner Bill Scott has pledged to match dollar for dollar contributions to fund this project. Any additional monies will be used for Summit Point safety improvements that would benefit motorcycle road racers.<BR><BR>"In my conversation with Roger Lyle, he said any additional money could purchase safety devices for use at motorcycle events at Summit Point. The devices he and I discussed were the vinyl/fabric covered foam safety devices similar to the Alpina Defender, regardless of the manufacturer. This type of safety device is more resistant to impact by motorcycles than the ‘airbags' such as Air Fence or Alpina Safety Module. <BR>"Funding: Lyle will be setting up the ‘Move The Mountain Action Fund.' He will contact an attorney tomorrow (Friday, March 29) before establishing an account on Monday. Lyle has agreed to be the contact person for this project. He can be reached at: email -rogerlyle@erols.com, voice - 301-933-2599, snailmail - 4413 Sigsbee Road, Wheaton, MD 20906. <BR>"Do not send any money yet. Lyle will contact me or post here (WERA BBS) when contributions will be able to be accepted.<BR><BR>"Lyle feels the project could be done in time for the WERA April event at Summit Point."<BR><BR>Contacted on Friday, March 29, Mood said that he had no new or extra information on the topic except to say that Harrison, in addition to being a racer and a team owner, owns his own excavating company, WGH, Inc. Mood added that he did not know if Harrison got the contract to do the Earth removal work in turn four or not.<BR><BR>Lyle was unavailable for comment before post time.<BR><BR>In the meantime, Bill Scott said that work will continue at Summit Point on a new, 2.1-mile road course that will feature an exact replica of the Nurburgring's Carousel and a curve with a steeper drop than Laguna Seca's corkscrew. Scott hopes to have the new course finished some time in 2002.<BR>