On July 31, the AMA Pro Road Racing Series will take to the 2.5-mile Heartland Park Topeka road course for the first time since Scott Russell won the AMA Superbike final there in 1991 – a race that ended the AMA’s three-year run at the Kansas facility that they’d visited annually since the track opened in 1989. What awaits them this time around is up for debate.According to Yamaha’s Josh Hayes, who visited the racetrack last week as a member of the safety committee, racetrack management at Heartland Park is willing and eager to make changes and he’s confident the track will be ready to hold the race by the time the series shows up there for the August 1-2 races. Though he does admit that could all go out the window if it rains.”The track to me looks like it’s fun to ride,” Hayes said. “It’s got one area one area in particular that has not been addressed yet that I don’t think will be addressed before the event. That will be a pretty big concern… I think in the wet it’s going to be a big concern, but I don’t think the dry will be as bad. It’s still not ideal by any stretch. I think with the amount of time and work it’s going to take to do it, these guys don’t even know if this is going to be a win or lose situation for them yet with it being a first-time event. Their feedback to me is that they are very concerned about safety and they are interested in fixing the track in the areas that are bad and I am confident that it will happen for 2010.”Although he didn’t do any laps on a motorcycle (Roadracingworld.com’s Chris Ulrich did a few and provided input, Hayes said ), Hayes worked with the track to change some of the things that could be changed – like the removal of some of the non-permanent walls. And the track says that the suggestions for change that Hayes and Ulrich made that weren’t done on the spot will take place prior to the August race, Hayes said this morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.”Several of the other things that we did, smaller projects that we did address, especially the easier things which were to remove the removable walls, the K-rail walls. All those things are going to happen and some of those things had happened before I came back here this past week. They said they had contractors coming in to do some work and that the other stuff would be moved before we came back for the event.”The area that can’t immediately be fixed is a wall on the outside of the fast turn one-two combination, Hayes said.”It’s an area that they call Alpha, which is turn one-two combination,”he said. “When you drop down the backside, there’s a permanent wall that encases a drainage area so it’s really soft ground, but there’s a bit of a drop-off down into it where it could have almost been a retaining pond. My idea for the future was just to give us a lot of grass. We don’t care if it’s soggy, just give us a lot of grass that we could run out into. It would take quite a while [to fix] because the wall is a permanent wall that’s concrete down pretty deep into the ground and then they’d have to move some earth around to smooth off so we could just slide out there. It’s a pretty big undertaking and it would have to happen for next year. It will have to be in phases, kind of like what Road America did. It took a couple of years for them to get rid of a bridge and change this and change that, but it all happened over time.”One area that has been fixed and fixed well, according to Hayes, is the corner that takes riders to the front straight while avoiding the staging area and start of the drag strip.”The drag strip is not incorporated and I thought the way they brought it on to the straightaway was actually very good,” Hayes said. “It’s a very tight turn that brings you a bit shy of the drag strip and there’s a rumble strip area and I think behind that they are thinking of putting some other things so that riders don’t just ride across the rumble strips onto the pavement behind it. Perhaps they’ll use some Astroturf like they do here at Laguna Seca and at Miller. It looked pretty good as far as that goes.”So the bottom line?”I think we are going to race,” Hayes said. “Turn one is really fast, the area that I talked about being bad, but you come at that wall at a pretty shallow angle. It’s not at all like what Road Atlanta was when we used to come down turn 12 – where you came at a pretty direct angle at the wall. It’s nothing like that, but it’s still entirely too close to the racetrack and an ideal situation is we need more room. I think we’ll be able to run. I don’t know that it’s going to be 100 percent as to what’s the best way to approach covering the wall. It’s such a shallow angle that Air Fence might not be the best idea because you could catch it and peel the air fence off the wall. The bike is probably going to beat you there and could grab into it. They have their own foam barriers that are pretty decent looking barriers that we may use, and maybe even stack ‘em up a little bit and put something up against the wall and put something 10 feet from the wall to give you a little bit of a buffer area to slow you down before you got to it.”I think the race is going to happen and I’m actually looking forward to riding around the racetrack and seeing it. I have yet to do any laps around it other than in a car.”AMA Pro Racing’s director of road racing Bill Syfan was also at the inspection, but isn’t allowed to speak on the record without permission from senior AMA management. When we attempted to speak to him, he said that he would have to get permission from Ollie Dean, AMA Pro Racing’s vice president of marketing and communications. When contacted directly today at Laguna Seca, Dean said that all questions to Syfan would have to be emailed to him (Dean) and at that point he would decide who best to answer them, naming another possible alternative. Because Syfan deals specifically with track safety and has the most knowledge of the facility, it was essential that he be allowed to answer the questions. Given the possibility he might not be the one to answer the questions, Cycle News declined to accept the pre-conditions.
Hayes Says Topeka Will Work
Paul Carruthers | Editor
Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.