Maine man prepares turf for Daytona International Speedway Speedweeks 2019

Episode 237

November 4, 2018

Maine native gets turf ready for Speedweeks 2019

Woodland, Maine native Jason Griffeth on the start/finish line at Daytona International Speedway. Griffeth, the son of Robert and Lona Griffeth, Cross Lake, is the Grounds Supervisor at the speedway. (Tom Huston photo)

Fellow Woodland, Maine resident Tom Huston, recently paid Jason Griffeth a visit at Daytona International Speedway. When Griffeth lived in Woodland he and Tom attended the same church. Of course everyone in the small town knows everyone. Huston remarked how proud he was for Griffeth with his three World Series rings while he was with the Red Sox and three Daytona Speedweeks under his belt. (Tom Huston photo)

It is November and if you are the Grounds Supervisor at one of the most famous speedways in the world, you are thinking Speedweeks 2019. While we in the northern part of the United States are putting our turf away for winter, Griffeth is using his talent to get one of the most famous 4 1/2 acres of turf ready for a few hundred thousand guests.

You may know that Bermudagrass cultivar, Celebration, turns brown in the winter due to the drop in temperature. This necessitates planting a cool season turf in advance of Speedweeks so a green tri-oval will be ready for thousands of photos and television shots.

In 2000, after the January Rolex 24 Hours race, former groundskeeper Sam Newpher, repaired some of the damaged turf with a different cultivar of ryegrass. The color differential was noted and plans were made to utilize this two-tone effect to outline designs for each Speedweeks since that discovery.

Griffeth and his crew are aerating the turf heavily to reduce compaction and prepare a suitable seedbed for the new ryegrass planting which will be done later this month. The existing Bermudagrass will be mowed low to allow the new seedlings to emerge.

Daytona International Speedway officials held a contest, that ended October 31, which included three proposed designs for fans to pick a favorite. The winning design was given to Missouri Turf and Paint, designers of some of the most famous NFL logos as well as previous speedway designs.

They will layout the winning design on the turf. Griffeth and team will plant the two-tone design and with the help of Tru-Green will keep the grass healthy and vibrant. The winning design will be “unveiled” at the Rolex 24 Hour race in January. I hope to be present for the event.

Griffeth cannot do it alone and said, “I have the best crew, hands down. Those guys work.” And so does he I might add. I thought a photo of last Speedweeks design might be appropriate.

Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record setting Blue Bird II is the image captured by Jason Griffeth and crew in the turf at the start/finish line at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Daytona International Speedway)

WAR Nashville Race rained out

Wyatt Alexander Racing (WAR) made their racing debut at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for the Big Machine Records Pro Late Model 100. The team started in the 24th spot of 34 entries and was up to 18th place when the race was red flagged at lap 25 due to rain. The race was re-scheduled for spring of 2019. (Paradigm Multimedia Marketing LTD photo)

Leaving from their home base in Ellsworth, Maine last Wednesday, the Wyatt Alexander Racing (WAR) family met up with their driver, Wyatt,  at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee.

Alexander along with 33 other entries, were part of one of Tennessee’s most famous race weekends the All American 400. Though they did not enter the headliner Super Late Model race they were in the competitive Big Machine Records Pro Late Model 100. They were the only New England team in that race.

With the selection of tires somewhat limited, the team worked on solutions for the lack of proper stagger. Precious practice time was utilized to not only familiarize  the driver with the track, but also to try those alternative plans.

“The 18 degrees of banking and it’s 5/8 mile length make it very fast and unique”, remarked crew chief and grandfather Bob Alexander. “Our top speed was 116 mph average, probably 130 mph straightaway speed.  I am sure some of the cars in the Pro Late Model class has over 500hp.”


WAR included this decal to honor the memory of 87 year-old Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Gardiner Leavitt, Kezar Falls, Maine, who passed away in 2018. (WAR photo)

In the drivers meeting after the red flag when it was decided to postpone the race until the spring of 2019, Wyatt Alexander suggested that each of the 34 drivers receive equal portions of the prize money. The WAR team was undecided about their availability to race at Nashville in the spring.

Crew chief Alexander stated, “I just want to say that I believe that the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway did everything in their power to run the races today.

We have no control over the weather and events like this are impossible to forecast weeks in advance.

Other factors in the decision to cancel today’s race were a lack of an available alternative date this season, Monday being a school day meant that no racing could begin until school was dismissed at 3pm and tonight was not possible due to a city mandated 10:30 pm curfew.

I would not wish to be faced with the decisions needed to be made by the promoter and the financial hit he has taken.”

The race gave Wyatt Alexander’s biggest fan, sister Quinn, another chance to see her big brother this fall. She has remarked in the past how much she misses Wyatt while he is away at school in North Carolina. (WAR photo taken at turn three area of the track)

The team will bring the race car to Clattenburg Racing Fabrication, Salisbury, North Carolina to prepare for the Pro All Star Series (PASS) 13th Annual Mason-Dixon Mega Meltdown finale at Hickory Speedway, Hickory, North Carolina November 10. Crew chief Alexander said, “I will be working on our engine this week for a little more grunt at Hickory”.

Best webinar vote goes to…

Without a doubt the best motorsports webinar that I have been a part of, in fact probably the best overall webinar was, “Free Stuff to Make You and Your Car Faster” presented by Speed Secrets’ Ross Bentley and CORE Autosports race engineer Jeff Braun (pronounced “brown”).

Speed Secrets driving coach, writer, and owner, Ross Bentley. Bentley set up the webinar and provided low cost driving/driver tips. (Speed Secrets photo)

Speed Secrets webinar presenter Jeff Braun in 2015 photo. Braun is the father of CORE Autosports driver Colin Braun, and is the race engineer for that same team in IMSA. This team placed second to the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) Cadillac of Action Express Racing. (Mel’s Images photo)

The webinar promised to show how racers might accomplish tasks which are often overlooked, neglected, or put off which cost next to nothing pricewise, however, can yield dividends when it comes time to race. They promised that if an idea was not free then the majority are less than $50.

The webinar was broken into two segments; preparation of the race car and the driver. Jeff Braun concentrated on the car preparation while Bentley the driver.

I thought what Ross shared in his bio on his website is a good description of his philosophy. He remarked, “Everyone has their sweet spot – what they do best. Mine is coaching. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m working with a brand-new driver just starting out, a professional, a young teen looking to make a career in racing, or someone just taking up the sport late in life. All that matters to me is that the driver is open to learning.”

“If I can’t be at the track coaching or driving, I like to be talking about driving. The common denominator is that it’s all about learning to drive or instruct better. Getting together with other people who have a passion for driving, conducting seminars and workshops, or presenting a keynote talk – that’s fun. And I guess I must be okay at it because people and groups keep asking me back.”

All participants agreed to not share the contents of the webinar with those who may have joined in. I am unsure how you might get this information, however, I suspect if you contact Ross at his website he will assist you.

I will wet your appetite with a couple tidbits from Jeff and Ross. Braun recommended to look your racer over to see if you can lose weight. They are even sensitive to number of ty-raps. Of course I noted the driver can be a source of weight loss.

Bentley mentioned the importance of mental imagery in preparation for a race. He referred to a booklet called “Mental Imagery Guide for Drivers” $2.99 on his website.

One of the most important parts of the three hour webinar was answering questions posed by the audience. My question was, “I read all the books and get my kart set up by the kart racing guru. When I get to the track, I get lost trying to figure out how to go faster and which adjustments allow me to do so. I feel dumb. What is the best way to improve my race and where do I find those answers?”

Race engineer Braun replied that there was no need to feel like a dummy since everyone gets to that point at some stage of racing and may hide that better than others. He recommended utilizing lap times and adequate records which show what the adjustments do to the kart’s handling. Keep plugging away in a methodical fashion.

I certainly look forward to putting some of these presenters’ ideas into use and hope to meet them some day to talk. I would recommend their material to everyone from the novice to seasoned pro. Autocross to rallycross. I suspect some of the ideas could be put to use by motorcycle and snowmobile racers as well.

Maine native makes it to the NASCAR Monster Energy final four…again

Oxford, Maine native Michael Morneau, now living in North Carolina, is the rear tire carrier on the Kevin Harvick #4 Stewart-Haas Ford team. With the win at Texas, this team once again is guaranteed a spot in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale November 18. He and team owner Tony Stewart enjoy dousing each other with champagne in Victory Circle. (photo courtesy Michael Moreau)

So how does a kart racing engine look inside????

If you have ever wondered what goes on inside the crankcase of a small engine. When they say “splash lubricated” they certainly mean it. Thank you to Danny Youngblood for permission to use his video.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine