Expanded garage has NASCAR driver eager to return to Dover

NASCAR driver Ryan Preece beams a smile during a tour of the new garage facility at Dover International Speedway Thursday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area is the work environment where the pit crews relentlessly tune their driver’s high-powered race cars in preparation for the green flag waving on Sunday races at Dover International Speedway.

Now, by expanding the garage area’s footprint by 20 percent and repositioning it inside the north end of the demanding high-banked, one-mile racetrack, track officials think the added elbow room will make for a more comfortable work experience and will make it a safer place to be for NASCAR officials, race teams and fans, as well.

NASCAR Monster Energy Series driver Ryan Preece got a first-hand look at Dover’s $5.5 million worth of garage improvements on Thursday and was impressed. He’ll get to see the finished product when he returns to the track known as the “Monster Mile” for the upcoming Oct. 4-6 NASCAR tripleheader weekend.

“It’s really good,” said Mr. Preece, who is a contender for this year’s Rookie of the Year title. “It’s definitely going to improve the working environment for the teams, just having that extra bit of room coming into this deal.

“It definitely seems like it’s going to help us all throughout (race weekend) practice and instead of worrying about hitting another car with our jack handle, we’ll be able to get the car (lifted) up quicker and get back out on the track quicker, so it’s going to make for a better working environment and it’s always nice to see improvements.”

The new $5.5 million garage at Dover International Speedway is expected to be completed in time for the October race weekend. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The new, expanded Cup Series garage area will still be located between the first and second turns, however, there will be a bigger footprint since the walls have been pushed out closer to the racetrack in Turn 1 and 2 and the garage was re-positioned further away from the first turn.

The previous Cup Series garage area had been in place since Dover International Speedway hosted its first race, the Mason-Dixon 300, on July 6, 1969.

“I think everyone will be pleased with the improvement that we’ve made,” said Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway. “To the credit of the guys and gals that built this 50 years ago, we got 50 years of use out of the old garage.

“We’ve maximized this space as much as we humanly can, given the parameters that we have. I think just creating more room creates a much safer environment.”

The new “Monster Garage” at Dover was designed by Dover-based Becker-Morgan Architects and is being built by Smyrna’s Kent Construction.

The garage will feature expanded square footage, going to 23,100-square-feet from 18,400, which marks a 20-percent increase, and includes 44 large garage bays (15-foot by 30-foot) with individual garage doors for cars and teams. Raynor Garage Doors, a partner of Dover International Speedway, is providing the garage doors for the project.

The garage will also include an Allied Steel Building, a corporate partner of the speedway.

Due to the expansion of the garage area, Mr. Tatoian said the guardrail fencing that faces the first and second turns are being removed, along with the grassy areas inside the turns. The area inside the apron will now be fully paved, with SAFER barriers covering the entire length of the inside walls of Turns 1 and 2.

Dover International Speedway’s Terry Harmeson, the project manager, is pleased that everything appears to be on target to be completed by Sept. 20, well in time for October’s race weekend.

That weekend will be capped by the Monster Energy Cup Series playoff race at Dover on Sunday, Oct. 6, which will be the 100th NASCAR Cup Series race in track history. Dover International Speedway will become the 10th track in the nation to host 100 or more Cup Series races.

“It’s been a challenge, especially at the beginning,” Mr. Harmeson said. “We had a lot of rain after the May race and we tore everything down (from the old garage) right away. We’ve been fortunate with not a lot of rain this summer and once we got all the underground piping in things have gone a lot better. We’re actually feel really good about it now.

“Things are on schedule and we’re looking forward to that first fall race with the new garage.”

Mr. Preece knows some individuals who will be quite happy with the expanded Cup Series garage at Dover — the drivers of the tractor trailer race car haulers, who have had to carefully squeeze the 40 or so rigs into some tight confines within the garage area.

“I think (the car hauler drivers) are going to be pretty happy about that,” he said. “I think the entire team is going to be happy about this. Pulling out of the garage will be a lot easier now, along with pulling into the garage. There’s just a lot more room.

“This improvement shows everybody is moving in the same direction and always trying to improve.”

Mr. Preece also got behind the wheel of one of the construction team’s bulldozers on Thursday, lifting the blade, but made sure not to accelerate, choosing to save his speed for the upcoming Dover weekend.

Mr. Tatoian said it has taken a little longer than expected, but the expansion of the garage is finally at hand.

“Back in 2007, we announced our ‘Monster Makeover’ capital improvement plan for the speedway which ostensibly was fan-amenity related,” Mr. Tatoian said. “While our plan was to have this plan completed a few years ago, for the continued safety of the drivers it was necessary to shift our focus toward making improvements inside the track with new safer wall, retaining walls and a catch fence.

“We now are in a position to finish what we started a while ago.”

When Dover’s “Monster Makeover” project was originally announced more than a decade ago, track officials had envisioned making the Cup Series garage more of a race team-viewing amenity for the fans, such as projects that have taken place at tracks such as Daytona, Las Vegas and Richmond.

While the new garage will be easier for fans and others to maneuver through, it has been designed more with the race teams in mind.

“The improvement primarily benefits the NASCAR teams and our sanctioning body, but a by-product of enlarging the garage, as much as we physically can as a result of the harness track, will create a safer environment for our fans and an opportunity to see the teams working on the cars a little easier,” said Mr. Tatoian.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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