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Daytona unveils revised crossover gate

January 09, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Daytona gate

Redesign takes place as effort to allow smoother fan entry, exit

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- An innovation at Daytona International Speedway has potentially improved one of the track's frontstretch crossover gates -- by removing the gate entirely.

As part of the facility's Daytona Rising rebuilding project, one of the track's crossover gates -- which allows spectators to travel between the grandstand and the infield area -- has been completely revised. Instead of a gate itself, the access point now consists of an aluminum platform that lifts up, a hinged area of the SAFER barrier that is winched toward the grandstand, and the bottom of the fencing rolling up to allow six feet and eight inches worth of clearance.

"It's really about moving fans in and out of the property faster," said Daytona president Joie Chitwood III. "What happens is, we can't really add more gates along the frontstretch. So how can we improve what we have from a fan convenience perspective? That was the key to this."

Crossover gates came under scrutiny last year when Kyle Larson struck one in a crash during the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona, and pieces of his car went through the crumpled fencing and injured several spectators. Gates at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, the other restrictor-plate venue in the Sprint Cup Series, were reinforced with additional steel cabling in the aftermath.

But Chitwood said efforts to improve the track's crossover gates had been underway well before last year's Speedweeks, and the primary reason for the change is to improve the efficiency of fan access between the grandstands and the infield for events like pre-race concerts. The Daytona Rising project, during which virtually the entire track will be remade over a period of years -- indeed, a steel framework already towers above the existing stands -- offered the perfect opportunity for the upgrade.

"We've been trying to come up with something like this for a number of years, and I think the renovation, Daytona Rising, helped us come to this point," Chitwood said Thursday as rain delayed the opening day of Preseason Thunder testing. "This is really separate from what occurred in 2013 from a fence perspective. We've added crossover gates in years past to try and get more units out there, but this was really something in the making years ago."

Before, fans crossed over the race track using a pair of portable staircases and an actual gate in the fencing itself. Now they'll walk up the banking, through the revised gate, and climb three built-in steps to the grandstand area. Chitwood said Daytona consulted with the University of Nebraska's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, which developed the SAFER barrier, as well as fence engineering firm HNTB and NASCAR before making the change. The price tag was "significant," he added.

Daytona has one revised crossover gate at present, about midway down the frontstretch, and not the one Larson's car struck last year. Chitwood said personnel will track the amount of time it takes to fans to get through the new gate, and if the results are satisfactory, the facility's other nine frontstretch gates will be converted prior to Daytona's July race weekend. In addition, the gates at Talladega would also be converted prior to that track's race weekend in May.

"We hope it accomplishes what it's supposed to, and that’s to move people quicker," Chitwood said. "Once we feel comfortable with that, then we'll look at finishing off this property as well as Talladega. And we hope it will be something the other folks will look at."

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