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Get Your Motors Running

Author: Jennifer Taylor
Published: November 30th, 2012

On November 18, drivers revved their engines awaiting their chance to unleash thousands of horses to thunder up the 133-foot climb before that first hard left turn as more than 30 million viewers anticipated Formula 1’s return to the United States.

The day dawned brisk but warmed quickly in Austin, TX, home of the new, pristine Circuit of the Americas track, the first purpose-built Grand Prix facility in the United States with a 3.4 mile circuit track. Approximately 117,000 fans packed the facility to watch the drivers’ qualifying and practice sessions on Friday and Saturday before the first race began at 1 pm on Sunday.

What they didn’t see was the all of the hard work that goes on before the race can even began. “I think it’s pretty interesting how racing works,” says Lon Bromley, director of safety for Circuit of the Americas. “The heroes are the race car drivers, and that is where everyone always focuses, but I think it’s misleading. I think it’s the people who get the track prepared so that the drivers can be heroes and it starts at 5:30 in the morning before the drivers have gotten up to have their orange juice. The responsibility falls on the crews who are preparing the race track. That’s a big task on a race track that is 3.4 miles long.”

With 24 drivers flying around the track at speeds up to 200 mph, it is a big undertaking. Even though the race track is asphalt, race car drivers tend to swerve into landscaped areas kicking up debris—hitting a pebble at 200 mph can be a dangerous situation. “We’ll sweep the track twice to make sure it is very clean,” says Bromley. “I’m the person who says it’s good. If I put a driver out there and he slips on something, it’s my fault. So, I’ll do a final inspection to make sure it’s 100 percent.”

Bromley and Circuit of the Americas Vice President of Motorsport Operations Chuck Aksland looked at various sweepers and chose the Tymco 435. They purchased it from Casey Fischbeck with Industrial Disposal Supply Co. from San Antonio, TX. “It’s a 4-yard machine with a high dump,” says Bromley. “I was assured that it was a high-quality machine and everything that Casey said that would come true about the Tymco has.”

Fischbeck had the opportunity to drive the sweeper on the track. “Just to get to say I was on it was cool,” says Fischbeck. “The turns are exciting and you just want to go fast, which is pretty hard to do in a sweeper. Everything is new and clean and pretty. It’s just a classy looking facility and has great seating all around the track.”

Chris Collins, owner of BMP Specialists, will join the safety group, which encompasses six people, with his two Tymco Comdex 600 sweepers to do a tandem sweep of the track using nylon brooms typical for airports and race tracks.

“Time is critical on a race track, which is why the quality of the machine is important and why we went with the Tymco for COTA,” says Bromley. “We will start with the morning sweep and try not to sweep once the race gets started. Rubbering the track is important and the more you sweep, the more it changes the way the car is on the track. Once a driver gets used to the track, you don’t want to mess with it too much. That is why it’s important to get that initial cleaning right the first time.”

Crashes are par for the course, and the cars have a lot of moving parts increasing the chances of gas or oil spilling onto the track. “If there is an incident on the track that requires clean up, we will do that,” says Bromley. “We have a special mixture like kitty litter that we put down that will absorb the liquid. The sweepers will then sweep and pull it away. The three sweepers will be strategically placed around the track to ensure the quickest response time. No one comes to watch a track get swept. We want to get in and get out.”

Mario Andretti, the only driver to win both the Indy Car and Formula 1 World Championships™, expressed pleasure with the end result. “It’s everything I expected, and more,” Andretti said in a press release. “You can tell that there was a lot of thought put into the design of this course. The track is extremely technical, with 3.4 miles of real estate to learn. And that’s what we’re doing all day out here. With each and every lap, the driver learns a little bit more. But quite honestly, I think the track is phenomenal. It has all the features that race car drivers are looking for, as far as giving them the opportunity to overtake other drivers in the tighter corner. But then it widens out so there’s plenty of room to maneuver. So bottom line, there should be some really terrific racing out here in the months and years to come.”

With all of that on the line, and 30 million viewers watching, Bromley and his team were the unknown, shining heroes of the race.