Extreme landscaping at the speedway
Artistic turf design and a slew of maintenance challenges make caring for the grounds at Daytona International Speedway an ultimate experience.
By Kristen Hampshire
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The checkered flag turf pattern at Daytona International Speedway looks like an artist took to the land with a stencil and paint. The rich, green perennial and lighter annual ryegrass flag design with five stars shooting from its center create an artistic backdrop to the track. “It gives the look of thunderbirds flying over the stadium,” says Sam Newpher, grounds supervisor.
Newpher, a 40-year industry veteran, has been caring for the turf at the speedway for the last two decades. “If you ever think you know it all, it’s time to go home,” Newpher says of the challenges of maintaining a high-visibility property riddled with challenges. “This gives me a chance to try something new and expand my skills.”
For starters, there’s the meticulous fertilization program for all of this “turf detail,” which is centered at the grandstand finish line. And, there is limited time to accomplish the goal because the track is “extremely active,” with 300 days of activity each year.
Meanwhile, another 5.2-acre of Floratam St. Augustine, a variety somewhat resistant to chinch bug damage, sits on a steep grade up to 45 degrees. Mowing requires special attention and remote-control technology.
Showstopper turf. The Daytona International Speedway is dubbed the World Center of Racing because of its diverse racing schedule. Aside from eight, intense weeks of racing activity, from a 24-hour race to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the grounds are used for production vehicle testing, police motorcycle training, car shows and social events. All of this leaves limited time to care for the turf’s very specific needs, let alone repair damage. (Newpher sometimes works a night shift.)
Meanwhile, the care of this property is crucial because so many people see it. “It’s the most highly visible area in all of sports year in and year out,” says Gary Morgan, territorial manager for Direct Solutions.
“It’s not like the Super Bowl or World Series where they change venues. It’s home of the Daytona 500 and the 24-hour race.”
The trial area, with its pristine turf pattern, is dubbed “the football field” because, back in the day, Morgan says, there were two goal posts on that greenspace where pigskin games were actually played.
Staging a pattern in this space required some testing. “The first time we wanted to see how the design would look before we put a big pattern in, so we did 10-foot wide strips of alternative perennial and annual ryegrass,” Newpher says. The test strips were 1,500 long.
The planting produced the desired painted-on effect. From there, Newpher and team began changing the pattern on the 4-acre area each year. Missouri Turf Paint comes up with the design, and Newpher and crew execute the planting and care – no small feat.
The property is prone to disease because of the climate, which often is about 85 percent humidity during the day. Meanwhile, they battle poor soil quality because of the abundance of lime rock base under the asphalt track. “If you have high calcium, it ties up everything in the soil,” says Morgan, relating that the speedway uses an acid spray that breaks down calcium in the soil without hurting the turf. That brings the soil into a better balance so there is improved fertilizer uptake.
Meanwhile, the water quality is sub-par because of the calcium levels, as well – and because irrigation reserves are typical Florida groundwater that is high in bicarbonates. “Heat radiates out of Lake Lloyd, a 40-acre lake on the back stretch of the race track, and it is high in calcium, as well,” Morgan says.
Still, there are unexpected “guests” at the track – like pythium, a potentially fatal turf root disease that can take out overseeded grasses overnight. Newpher took a positive sample for pythium, but caught it immediately.
The next morning, Morgan drove to the site and made recommendations to get the disease in check fast.
Maintenance, against all odds. If you want a lesson in extreme landscaping, then watch a mowing day at the big track where a 60-foot tall, steep angled slope is maintained using a radio-controlled Spider slope mower. It’s not unusual to have a small crowd watch this process.
The space is mowed up and down, left and right. “We can put the same pattern on the hill that you see at the base,” Newpher says of the 27-acre total area. The mower operator, working from a tractor at the top of the slope, controls the remote mower, which is attached to the tractor with a winch. “That braces the mower so it doesn’t slip when he wants to cut at a 45-degree angle,” Newpher says.
The winch is attached to a 15-foot bar on rollers. “That way, when the operator is up high, he can do seven to nine rows before he has to move the tractor,” Newpher says.
Then, there’s fertilizing this steep slope. “You can literally see the color green sliding down the hill,” Newpher says of when nitrogen is applied. He must apply products in ¼- to ½-pound rates to avoid “the slide.”
You can calibrate anything, he adds. Of course, there’s plenty of math involved in getting the application down pat. “We have a physical measurement of how big the hill is and how many thousand square feet we are doing, so we tested calibration by running different speeds until we got it to where one load covered exactly half of the hill,” he says of the 900-gallon hydroseeder.
You get attached to a turf space you work so hard to maintain, he says.
“I feel honored,” Morgan says. “If a car spins off the track, you’re thinking, ‘Stop spinning!’ because you don’t want the turf to get torn up.”
For video of the grounds, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “Daytona video.”
Time for change
After more than two decades, Club Car rolled out updated versions of its Carryall cart.
By Brian Horn
ORLANDO, Fla. – For more than 20 years, Club Car has hesitated making any major changes to its Carryall line. But that changed recently as the company, in January, rolled out new models with improvements to fuel efficiency, horsepower and other modifications.
The company invited media members and dealers to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge in Orlando, Fla. to get an up-close look at the new vehicles and to test drive them.
Disney has almost 3,500 Club Car vehicles on its properties and has a 20-plus year relationship with Club Car. What Club Car has learned through its relationship with Disney (Club Car actually developed a custom solutions department because of Disney) were implemented into the updated Carryall vehicles.
In addition to lessons from Disney, Club Car sent 12 employees across the U.S. and Europe, visiting 46 locations that use Club Car or competitor vehicles to gather information.
What they heard from that research was that customers wanted a more powerful engine, more comfort in the vehicle and a fit-to-task-bed box.
Kurt Meyer, commercial/industrial marketing manager, said landscapers specifically asked for a better bed, and they wanted a pick-up truck-like tailgate that is easy to open. The new vehicle now has a single-handed latch and release tailgate, and a protected aluminum bed that will protect the inside from corrosion from any spillage.
Landscaper feedback also led to the implementation of movable bed dividers and cargo tie-down loops to prevent tools and other cargo from shifting.
“You are protecting your assets,” Meyer said of the upgrades to the truck-bed’s storage capabilities. The company also wanted a more truck-like look to the interior, and a truck-like feel to the seating area.
“We tried to decrease the gap between getting out of the truck and transitioning into this vehicle,” said Billy Dakuras, director of sales and business development for the Americas.
Mike Cotter, commercial/industrial and consumer marketing director, said the company expects to see a sales increase of 24 percent in the commercial utility vehicle market.
Cotter said UTVs can be a less expensive alternative to pick-up trucks and vans when moving people or tools around a facility on a limited budget.
“As budgets and teams shrink, they (facility managers) are always trying to do more with less,” Cotter said.
Other features of the vehicle include:
- Key switch, shifter and gauges on the dash, right next to the ergonomically engineered soft-grip steering wheel. To deter unauthorized use, the company has upgraded from a common fleet key to an uncommon automotive-style key switch.
- The solid-state, global charger is 92-95 percent efficient, a 10 percent increase compared to the old charger.
- The new engines boost horsepower by 30 percent and fuel efficiency by as much as 50 percent over previous Carryall utility vehicle engines.
- The aluminum bed box features a floor protected with Rhino Lining, the same material used in the beds of many pickups.
- Newly designed rustproof aluminum side panels feature a configurable track-based attachment system for carrying shovels, rakes and other equipment for specific jobs. Just remove the accessories when you don’t need it.
- Movable bed dividers and cargo tie-down loops stabilize cargo and prevent shifting. The system also accommodates optional cooler holders, trash can holders and other accessories.
- Contoured seating and more space between the seat back and the steering wheel were designed to keep drivers comfortable. There is also no wheel well intrusion.
A fresh set of eyes
When Nufarm needed a landscape plan designed for its new headquarters, the company looked to the youth of the industry to help.
By Brian Horn
CHICAGO – Instead of using a local landscape architect to design the plans for the landscape used for its North American headquarters, Nufarm did something a little different.
The company called upon a few of high school students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences to design the project. The school was founded in 1985 with the mission to prepare urban students for careers in agriculture.
“The last couple of years we’ve been working pretty closely with them to expose the students to the agriculture and green industries and create some opportunities for them to learn what career opportunities are out there for them,” said Brian Rund, director, branding and marketing services at Nufarm. “It’s really a fantastic place.”
Nufarm worked with Andrea Briney, the school’s horticulture career pathway instructor, and three of her students during the project that took about seven months to complete.
“When students work alongside a professional they gain a deeper connection to the material they are learning at desks back at school,” Briney said. “During my school years, I always questioned ‘when am I ever going to need to know this?’ Projects like these take the lessons out of the classroom and make them real.”
Briney said the students were genuinely interested in working on something other than small design projects around the school campus or exhibit gardens.
“I think they saw the opportunity behind this particular project and really jumped at it,” she said. “However, I don’t think they realized the gravity of their decision until their first site walk and meeting with their clients at Nufarm. At that point, this project was no longer another assignment given by their teacher, but a real world project with real clients and real deadlines.
“I’ve known these students for over four years and I’ve never seen them as serious about a presentation as I did when they needed to present their ideas to their clients.”
After the students presented the plans to Nufarm last spring, the company took it to Brian Hornung, a contractor at William Quinn and Sons to get feedback on the plan.
“When I received the details of what the project actually involved – working with students from the agricultural school to implement a complete renovation of the property – the answer was a very obvious ‘yes.’
“It’s not every day you are able to introduce our industry to a group of high school students,” said Hornung, who was already doing general maintenance on the site. “The work we do is not as glamorous or glorified as a high tech job in Silicon Valley, but I believe it’s equally important.”
Rund said the experience was great, but he advised that another company thinking of taking the same process should expect it to take more time than if you were working with a professional designer. “The kids have to fit this stuff in with everything else,” Rund said. “High school kids are busy. It’s amazing to see the workload these kids have.”
Even with the delay, Rund said the experience was well worth it.
“You are giving those kids an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. “That’s what will inspire the passion in these kids and lead them into our industry. And we need people.
“We need the understating of what it takes and more than just the shallow, ‘Well there’s grass and there’s flowers.’
“It’s good for the industry, even if they don’t go into the business, it’s good to have kids coming out of school who otherwise wouldn’t know what it takes – why it’s important to have green space and good landscaping and some of the benefits that occur from that.”
The project was also an eye-opener for Briney. Prior to her teaching career she was an associate landscape architect and admits she didn’t understand how important an opportunity like this was to students.
“These opportunities are invaluable to a young person trying to carve out their niche in the world,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know you and your company helped with that?”
Advice on the move
Editor and Associate Publisher Chuck Bowen recently moderated a webinar with columnist Marty Grunder, and we wanted to share some of the feedback we received.
Loved the webinar last week. Some really great advice. Hey, is there any way you could email me the video and/or audio of the webinar as an mp3/ mp4 download, so I can download it and play it in my truck as I drive. Thanks!
Peek Landscaping LLC
Thank you for sending out the link. Is there any way to burn that webinar, or others from your site, to a flash drive for the purpose of being able to listen to them in my truck?
Del Vacchio Landscape & Garden Center
Editor’s note: You can download it via our Lawn Care Radio Network at bit.ly/lawnandlandscapeapp or you can stream it by visiting bit.ly/grundergrow.
Great webinar!! Awesome way to start the New Year!! I love the magazine and all the great information it provides. Keep up the good work!
Have an awesome day!
Scott’s Perfect Lawns