Cover Story: Race track designer - built for speed

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

Posted by Sarah Hildmann - email

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - Lowe's Motor Speedway and the z-Max Dragway are home to tens of thousands of race fans, and to some of the fastest speeds on the planet.  But what brings all of these elements together is one Charlotte man.  He's not a NASCAR driver, but he's famous in the racing world.

He began working with Speedway Motorsports almost two decades ago designing amenities and tracks for Bruton Smith's empire.

You might be surprised to know-- he didn't start out as a race fan.  But hundreds of thousands of fans enjoy his work.

They're complex and mammoth structures.. speedways and the things that surround them.

And sometimes by the nature of the business.. they have be built quickly.

The man Speedway mogul Bruton Smith has turned to to make it happen.. is Charlotte designer and architect Wes Jones.

"I really had no experience with NASCAR racing prior to that," he says.

Fifteen years ago Smith held a competition to come up with a design for an exclusive country club at his Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.. this is what he got.

Jones and his team of architects won that competition.. and have been designing amenities and tracks for Smith ever since.

"Everyone of these things that you do in racing is unique. And you don't get a chance to do it again. And you may not do it again."

There are fewer than a handful in the world who can do what they do.  Jones' firm, ai Design Group, their mark is on some of the most unique architecture in racing.

At Bristol.

And Las Vegas.  What they've done there is design the "Neon Garage."  A place that fans can easily get to in the in-field.. and get up-close to the drivers and their cars.

"There are lot of race projects that are dreamt about but not a lot of people that can pull it off. That's one of the reasons why it's a small fraternity."

Which brings us to Jones' biggest challenge.  Remember we said you sometimes have to move quickly?

With the new Zmax Dragway next to Lowe's Motor Speedway.. they had to move at the speed of sound.

The drag strip was announced.. constructed.. and hosting its first race.. in nine months time.

"We all looked at each other when it was over and said why don't we do every project this way because it saved a lot of time and it required that everybody work really closely together."

Four lanes wide.. it's arguably the most glamorous drag strip ever built in the world.  But only a part of a Charlotte design team's work.. work millions of fans can enjoy.

"It looks so easy together and easy when you see it all put together on the screen and you kinda remember everything that went into it."

They threw out the book when building the Zmax Dragway, he says. Because time was so short while they were building one grandstand.. they were still designing the other. What's his next project? The new race track and complex going up on the former Metrolina Expo property. It's expected to open next year.