MIAMI – Homestead-Miami Speedway suffered “significant damage” to light poles, the grandstands, catch fencing and the garage suites during Hurricane Wilma.

But the necessary repairs are expected to be completed in time for the speedway’s biggest event, NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend that runs Nov. 18-20, speedway president Curtis Gray said Monday.

“Yes, we’ll definitely be ready – no doubt about it,” said Gray, who rode out the storm at the speedway. “The track itself is fine.”

The major damage was caused by the quarter-mile long garage suites structure, which Gray said literally seemed to be lifted into the air around 6:30 a.m. The flying structure took out 12 of the custom-built light poles along pit road that are part of a new $8.5 million lighting project for night racing.

Parts of the structure landed in the catch fencing that is in place primarily to prevent airborne cars and flying debris from leaving the racetrack and hitting fans in the grandstands.

One part of the garage suites structure flew over the grandstand and took out another custom-built light pole.

Another part of the structure flew over the grandstand, landing on the outside of the track and doing damage to a sixth-floor suite along the way.

“When it landed it snapped a royal palm tree in half,” Gray said.

As soon as the high winds subsided, assessment of the damage began. No immediate dollar amount was available. Repairs will begin today.

“Folks from all over the country already are rolling,” Gray said.

On Monday morning he talked with Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s former CEO and current board member of International Speedway Corp., which operates the 1.5-mile speedway.

Operation teams from ISC sister tracks Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are being sent to help with repairs that will be both permanent and temporary in order to be done in time for the three championship races of NASCAR’s national series: Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Trucks. Iowa-based MUSCO, the lighting contractor, is working on those repairs.

Grandstand seating will be shipped from Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania, which recently went out of business, to replace the damaged 20 rows.

“There is a race that must go on, and I’m sure that Curtis and his bunch are very much like our group,” said Atlanta Motor Speedway spokesman Ed Clark, whose track suffered more than $40 million in damage from a tornado in July and worked hard to be ready for NASCAR’s Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 on Sunday.

“They will immediately recognize that they do not have a minute to spare and will do whatever they need to do,” Clark said. “But we had three months, and they only have a month. “But the urgency will kick in and dealing with the situation takes away from the shock of it happening.”

With the new Chase for the Nextel Cup format that was instituted last season, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has gained importance.

In addition to lighting, ISC also invested another $14.5 million into the construction of a Turn 1 Tower that features a luxury club and 16 corporate suites.

Gray said there appeared to be no damage to the outside of the new tower, which was still under construction. But he had yet to be able to check inside.

Several Nextel Cup teams had been scheduled to test this week, but cleanup will prevent that from happening.

They might be able to test next week, but the damaged 50 feet of catch fencing must be repaired.

With less than a month before the race, Gray said some temporary repairs might have to suffice, “but it will be things fans won’t really notice.”

CALDER DAMAGED

At Calder Race Course, several of the barns lost their roofs during the hurricane, but no horses lost their lives.

“The infield tote board basically is history,” said Mike Cronin, vice president for marketing at Calder.

Cronin is not sure when the track will be open for live racing and hopes to open for simulcasting Wednesday.



(Miami Herald sportswriter Clark Spencer contributed to this report.)



(c) 2005, The Miami Herald.

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AP-NY-10-24-05 1922EDT


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