With a goal of producing more side-by-side racing during the May 21 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and May 29 Coca-Cola 600, engineers are using a combination of Global Positioning System technology and three-dimensional laser mapping to smooth the 1.5-mile racing surface at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Basically what we've got is a beautiful golf course but the putts aren't going exactly where we want. So we are smoothing out the greens," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "When we paved the track in 1994, we used a polymer in the pavement that was fairly new at the time. It has held up remarkably well, but like all high-banked race tracks it has developed deviations.

"We talked extensively about repaving the track but right now the way the race cars are set up, new pavement tends to create a one-groove track," said Wheeler, noting single-file racing is not what fans expect at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "When the grinding process is complete, the track is going to be so much smoother that I think it will make a tremendous difference in the racing."

The track grinding process began with engineers using a three-dimensional laser to map the track. So precise that it can detect bumps not visible to the naked eye, this system generated an extremely accurate 3-D map of the track's racing surface.

"This map is so accurate that it shows imperfections in the racing surface that even the best driver could never feel," Wheeler explained.

Engineers then attached a Global Positioning System receiver to a street vehicle Wheeler drove numerous laps around the track. Driving the same lines used by NASCAR competitors, the GPS utilized a satellite to produce a digital map of Wheeler's exact location as he circled the 1.5-mile track.

"There are three distinct grooves on this type of race track," Wheeler said about his laps around the speedway. "One is what I call a qualifying groove, which is the fastest. The second is a passing groove and it's just to the outside of the qualifying groove. Then there's a third groove up high that I call the Richard Petty groove."

Joe Bruno, executive vice president of ESP Associates, P.A., the Charlotte-based engineering firm that mapped the speedway, explained how his company combined the GPS and laser technologies.

"We took high-density scans of the track over a 32-hour period which produced a geometric map of the entire track," Bruno said. "We then took the X and Y coordinates from the GPS mapping that Mr. Wheeler did and dropped them on top of the 3-D laser scan. This showed the racing grooves and the areas in which they needed to focus the grinding."

Wheeler, who will celebrate his 30th anniversary at the helm of Charlotte Motor Speedway later this season, said he never dreamed computers and satellites would one day be used in this application.

"One of the interesting things is that you can actually use this data to improve the quality of racing," said Wheeler. "I never thought a satellite 22,000 miles up in the sky could help us pinpoint areas on the race track we needed to work on.

"We originally identified seven places we wanted to grind," Wheeler continued. "But after I got on the track, the places that had been ground were so smooth I said let's go ahead and do all of the turns."

Employees of Penhall Company, a highly respected leader in the grinding industry, began the track milling process early last week using a computer-controlled diamond-grinding machine. Work is expected to be completed late this week.

The renovated racing surface places added importance on the track's open testing days. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams are scheduled to test May 3-4 in preparation for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge on Saturday night, May 21, and the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday evening, May 29. NASCAR Busch Series teams will be on the track April 26-27 preparing for the May 28 CARQUEST Auto Parts 300.

"When the crew chiefs find out about this, they are going to want a copy of the data we've generated," Wheeler said. "In the past, they've had nothing to go by-the track's always just been here. The drivers would say there is a hump in the first turn and bumps in the fourth turn, but now we have a digital map of the track. One of these computer geniuses with one of the teams will figure out a use for this data that no one has ever thought of."

Tickets for all 2005 events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including the May 21 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and May 29 Coca-Cola 600, are now on sale. The ticket office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at 1-800-455-FANS or tickets can be purchased online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.