The management of New Jersey Motorsports Park made a lot of friends in the AMA road race paddock by moving quickly on a number of safety issues prior to hosting their inaugural AMA Pro Road Racing event, the Sept. 6 Labor Day season finale.Acting on recommendations made through a series of meetings with riders at last month’s two-day test, track general manager Kevin Wittman set in motion remedies for the 2.5-mile Thunderbolt Raceway’s two most glaring safety issues, the first and last turns.A 50 by 100 foot gravel trap was added to the end of the paved run-off area in turn one, a corner where riders could reach 170 mph if their brakes failed and where they’ll roll through at well over 100 mph. And in turn 12, the fastest corner on the track, and some believe the entire AMA calendar, extra run-off was added to the rider’s left. The 130-135 mph knee down right-hander, was in desperate need of a greater safety margin before the riders reached the guard rail. The barrier is being moved a section at a time and will increase the run-off by an additional 30 to 50 feet.”It’s cool to see another track being proactive and moving so fast,” Yamaha’s Josh Hayes, who toured the track with Wittman following the first day of the test, began, “and hearing what we have to say as far as rider safety goes. Hopefully it’s a trend that will continue and we can continue to do it with more tracks that we race at.”It’s pretty cool that both new tracks both had some issues and they’re willing to address them so quickly. What can you say except thanks? Hopefully that trend continues and we’ll build more trust between the tracks and the riders, the AMA, the tracks, the riders and the AMA. Everybody. Hopefully we can all do that so we can improve the sport for everybody.”Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Tommy Hayden also helped track management formulate a plan. Hayden said that “any time you move walls back, that in particular is, I think, a good thing. Turn one is…that’ll help with the gravel trap there,” but he thinks the corner could use more run-off. “Hopefully, eventually, with a little more time we can even, maybe, get the wall moved back there. But it’s encouraging that they’re showing some effort. They had a limited amount of time, so they are working. Hopefully we’ll have a good event and good turn-out and they can see it being feasible to keep making the track more motorcycle friendly and we can have another good venue to go to.”Meeting with participants in all disciplines has been standard operating procedure for the South Jersey track, which opened about a year ago. Wittman said “our meeting in July led to some suggestions that we felt we could implement before our September events, including the AMA Superbike Championships. These adjustments should benefit all of the motorcycles and cars that use Thunderbolt Raceway, not just professional racers.”During the test, Wittman revealed that motorcycle clubs book the two tracks twice as often as car clubs. Any changes made for the AMA pro racers will certainly benefit the track day and club riders.Asked what they’d next like to see addressed, both Hayden and Hayes mentioned the pit-in and the bridge. Hayden said the right side of the track pit-in was a “pretty big issue. They seem very receptive to a lot of things we had to say. How and when they can fix these things and which direction we end up going, I really don’t know.”Hayden said pit-in would only be a problem during practice and qualifying.”I mean, hopefully the riders can all use their heads and make the right decisions and make pit-in as well as possible, he said, adding, “but I do think that that could be a little better. In a race situation that’s probably not going to be a problem.”Hayes is hoping to spend time with track management on the race weekend so that they could have “364 days leeway that they can look into what they can get accomplished. If they can do this in a month, and they have a good event, which I’m hoping that they will for a first event, who knows where we could end up coming back next year? It could look a lot different as a race track for us?”Moving the bridge that spans the approach to the final corner is a tall task, Hayden and Hayes agreed. “I’m not sure what the best option is,” Hayden said.
NJ Motorsports Park Gets Safer
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.