The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

Egg drop contest at Vulcan makes science fun

(D. Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

How do you drop an egg from a perch more than 100 feet high without breaking it?

Hundreds of students from around the Birmingham area put their theories to the test during an egg drop contest at Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham. The contest was organized by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Lizzie Ryan, a senior in mechanical engineering at UAB. “And then seeing the ones that actually make it, it’s super awesome.”

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Elementary, middle and high school students were asked to design devices that would protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the perch atop the Vulcan Park statue’s pedestal. Ryan said of the first five that dropped, four of them survived.

“They are screaming, ‘Drop it! drop it!’ for every egg. It’s a lot of fun.”

Zoë Penko, president of the UAB Society of Women Engineers, says the goal of the contest is to inspire students to consider science, engineering and mathematics as possible career options.

“Students will attempt to achieve what seems impossible — dropping raw eggs from the top of the Vulcan without breaking them,” said Penko, who is also president of the UAB American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “We want to encourage engineering education and inspiration in our next generation of engineers.”

If you want to compete in next year’s egg drop competition, Ryan has two pieces of advice.

“Start early and then just make it fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

New tunnel opens at Talladega Superspeedway

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

A new, larger tunnel opened Tuesday underneath Talladega Superspeedway, giving fans and crews the ability to enter and exit the infield at any time before, during or after a race.

NASCAR driver Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, officially opened the tunnel. He rode through it inside John Ray’s iconic big rig, which has carried an American flag around the track for every race since 2001.

“Anytime I get to participate in anything here at Talladega, it’s guaranteed fun,” Earnhardt said.

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The new tunnel in turn three is 28 feet wide and more than 16 feet tall, enough clearance for two RVs or two car haulers to move through the tunnel simultaneously. Without this tunnel, oversized vehicles could only enter or exit the infield across the track when it was not in use because the tunnel in turn four is not big enough.

Track Chairman Grant Lynch praised Taylor Corporation for staying on schedule despite the wet winter.

“They (Taylor Corporation) worked 11 straight days over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, 24 hours a day, and they did that to get a jump start on the project, and I would say if you hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Taylor Corporation President Lance Taylor praised his crew for getting the work done on schedule.

“It was a team of us out there getting that done,” Taylor said. “We fought that thing from the first week.”

The new tunnel weighs about 3.2 million pounds. It sits on a 4-foot-thick layer of concrete. A special pump system is in place to keep groundwater from flooding the tunnel.

Taylor said his crews are now focused on repaving the section of the track cut open for the tunnel. The first of three layers of a special mix of asphalt has already been paved. Taylor said his team is working extremely hard to make sure the track will be smooth and safe for racing.

“Before we took the track out, we took a laser scan image — over a million shots of the track. We built a computer image of exactly what was there so when we back-filled the tunnel going back up, we knew the specifications to eliminate the settlement that can cause dips,” Taylor said. “When these guys are running across it at 200 miles per hour, we don’t want them to feel anything.”

The tunnel is the first of several projects happening this year as the track celebrates its 50th anniversary. A new Finish Line Premium RV area and infield shower trailers are scheduled to be complete in time for next month’s NASCAR race. After that race, a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” will be constructed in the infield for fans to interact with drivers and crews. Fans inside the Talladega Garage Experience will have:

  • “Locker room” access to NASCAR’s top drivers and crews inside a new infield garage bay.
  • Open Air Social Club featuring a bar, a large 41-foot diagonal video screen, lounge chairs and tables.
  • Celebration Plaza featuring victory lane.
  • Watch Zone featuring a 40-foot-by-80-foot video board, a Kids Zone, a beer garden and plenty of seating.
  • Free Wi-Fi.
  • Enhanced concession stands, restroom complexes and guest services.

The Talladega Garage Experience is scheduled to be built before the October race. Earnhardt said he’s most excited about the Wi-Fi.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the track and you just can’t get nothing to go out,” Earnhardt said. “Now y’all can tweet and Snapchat and send everyone all kind of videos of how much fun they’re missing out on.”

Xtreme Concepts of Birmingham will serve as the “presenting sponsor” of the Wi-Fi in the new Talladega Garage Experience. The company’s founder, Landon Ash, was on hand today to announce a partnership between Talladega Superspeedway and 1st Foundation, a volunteer organization he oversees that assists first responders in foreign and domestic conflicts. First responders can get tickets for next month’s races at discounts up to 60 percent off the regular price.

To learn more about the Transformation project, the Talladega Garage Experience or to buy tickets, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama construction, workforce development leaders team to empower women

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A growing number of women are finding career success doing construction work traditionally reserved for men. The problem is that many teenage girls and their mothers don’t know those opportunities exist.

To encourage more women to seek careers in construction, a group of volunteers started Power UP: It’s a Mother Daughter Thing! They held their fourth annual workshop Tuesday night in Birmingham, bringing hundreds of mothers and daughters together with successful women in the construction industry to become educated, engaged and explore career opportunities in carpentry, electrical, welding and plumbing.

“We are bringing the mothers and daughters together so that they can support one another and have a night out of intimate discussions with successful women in the industry,” said Rachel Roque, executive director of programs for Power UP. “It supports the young girls and also supports the parents, giving them some understanding of what the programs have to offer.”

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According to a 2017 U.S. Department of Labor report, more than 11 million people work in the construction industry, yet only 9 percent are women. Roque says the organizations supporting Power UP need more women to fill jobs.

“We want an extra pipeline of women going into construction to fill the need for skilled craft employees.”

Among the dozens of contractors and businesses at Tuesday’s event was the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute, the architect of the Go Build Alabama initiative. Jason Phelps, executive director of the organization, says events like Power UP are important for women and the businesses that need to hire them.

“Our careers are seen as traditionally a male career, so anytime they can come to an amazing event like Power UP and get the opportunity to do some hands-on activities, to talk to some women in the trades or talk to other women that are involved with these companies, that opens that door mentally for them that says, ‘this is a real opportunity for me, this is something I can do,’” Phelps said. “There are not a lot of events like Power UP, so it’s really commendable for everybody involved that puts this event on and that comes and participates to expose these mothers and daughters to this great event.”

Power UP: It’s a Mother Daughter Thing! is a collaborative effort between Central Six AlabamaWorksRegion 4, Girl’s Inc. of Central AlabamaAIDT/Alabama Workforce Training Center (AWTC), Wood and the Academy of Craft Training. Antiqua Cleggett, executive director of Central Six AlabamaWorks! and co-chair of Power UP, says the workshop will be in five locations worldwide in 2020, including Guam.

To learn more, visit poweruploud.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Talladega Superspeedway leading ‘experimental stage’ of NASCAR

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Darrell Waltrip loves Talladega, and for good reason. He made his first NASCAR start at the Talladega Superspeedway back in 1972.

“I love coming here. It’s a great place to come and bring your family and see an incredible race.”

Waltrip returned Thursday to talk about renovations to the 50-year-old track, including the new tunnel under construction in turn three.

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“I love the tunnel. I know lots of tracks have tunnels, but this is the be-all end-all of tunnels. Two of those big haulers can go through there at the same time, which is kind of unheard of, so great job, great planning, great foresight.”

Track chairman Grant Lynch praised Taylor Corporation, the general contractor on the project, for keeping the tunnel work on schedule, despite the rain.

“It started raining when they (Taylor Corporation) cut the racetrack and, for those of you who live in this part of Alabama, y’all know it hasn’t quit since,” Lynch said. “For them to be on schedule now with what they’ve had to do – 30 million gallons have been pumped out of that hole since we first started building it, so they have done awesome work – and they are on schedule and I couldn’t be prouder of what they have done for us.”

Lance Taylor, president of Taylor Corporation, said three pumps his company installed to keep groundwater and rainwater pumped out of the tunnel are working properly. He said crews are backfilling the tunnel and plan to have everything finished by the first of April, just in time for the Geico 500 on April 28.

The tunnel is just one of several infield projects the Talladega Superspeedway is planning this year as part of its $50 million “Transformation.” The track is building a 69-spot premium RV park near the finish line and a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” for fans to interact with drivers and crews.

Waltrip, who is an analyst on FOX NASCAR broadcasts, admits some drivers may not be excited about fans being in the garage area, but he said they will tolerate it if it will help the sport grow.

“I think we are kind of at an experimental stage with our sport. We’ve had these hardcore folks like a lot of us in this room, we have how we think the sport should be run and our expectations, but we have a lot of new fans that can’t understand, ‘Why can’t I go in the garage? Why can’t I wear open-toed shoes in the garage? Why can’t I wear shorts in the garage? Why can’t I wear a tank-top in the garage?’ So, we’re going through that whole transition from the core, older fans to the younger, more current, everyday, what we see everywhere else, so I think it’s going to be interesting. I don’t necessarily think the teams will be in favor of that, but we all understand it and we all want the sport to thrive and grow and be bigger and better than it’s ever been before, so the teams will be willing to tolerate that.”

Waltrip said the drivers control the excitement.

“The drivers control how the race goes. They decide how they’re going to run the race and then they decide if they’re going to make it exciting or not. We can’t have cars riding around the top all day long – nobody’s going to watch and everyone’s going to get upset if that’s all we see.”

Waltrip praised the Talladega Superspeedway for giving fans plenty of opportunities to have fun on race weekends.

“It’s like going to Mardi Gras. They line up the motor homes and they get out to karaoke and they put up all the lights and they throw beads … it’s a pretty wild and crazy place to go.”

Lynch thanked Waltrip for taking time out of his schedule to visit.

“He’s just been a great spokesman for the sport. To take his time to come down here and help us get started with our first race as part of our Transformation Project is great for us. We think the world of him.”

Lynch presented Waltrip with a piece of the track he drove on during his first race in 1972.

For more information on the Transformation Infield Project at the Talladega Superspeedway or upcoming races, visit talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

(Dennis Washington)

Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

“The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

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Lance Taylor, president of Taylor Corp., said the company has installed a special drainage system underneath the tunnel, which has already pumped about 25 million gallons of water.

“The groundwater down there was terrible — we knew that when we got into the job, that’s part of what we’re dealing with,” Taylor said. “It’s something we’re having to fight all of the time along with rainwater.”

In addition to the special drainage system, Taylor said workers have placed 15,000 tons of stone and a 4-foot-thick mat of concrete underneath the tunnel to stabilize it.

“That tunnel is a different animal,” Taylor said. “It will be something I will remember for years to come.”

The new tunnel has been on the wish list for decades. Legendary NASCAR drivers Red Farmer and Donnie Allison said during the news conference that many of their friends would have to wait for races to conclude before being allowed to drive their RV’s or vehicles into the infield.

“Now they can just load up, drive on out through there,” Farmer said. “It’s going to be a blessing.”

“It’s going to make a world of difference,” Allison added.

Allison drove his first lap at Talladega Superspeedway 50 years ago in 1969 — the first stock car driver to drive a lap at the track. Allison said Talladega is the best track in NASCAR.

Talladega Speedway has always had the best race,” he said. “I know I’m a little prejudiced, but it’s the best.”

In addition to the new tunnel, the track will feature a new premium RV section this spring called the “Finish Line Premium RV.” It will include 69 paved RV camping spots for both motorhomes and fifth wheel travel trailers. Each spot will be 21 feet wide by 50 feet long and offer full hookups to power, water and sewer. The area will be secured and have designated quiet times.

“We feel good about how we are positioning ourselves to market to our fans,” Lynch said. “Seventy percent of our fans come from outside of Alabama. Half of our crowd comes from more than five hours away. That’s the draw of Talladega.”

After the April race, construction will begin on a new Fan Zone building. Fans will be able to interact with the top 22 teams in a new Fan Zone building where drivers, crews and cars will be parked.

“It’s going to be a spectacular experience for them because the No. 1 through No. 22 teams are going to be garaged on both sides of that big building,” Lynch said. “You’re basically in the middle of the sport with the greatest stars of the sport just a walk to the left or a walk to the right.”

Lynch, who announced last fall he will be retiring as chairman of the track at the end of the year, said he is thrilled to be leaving the track better than how he found it.

“To get $50 million to rebuild my favorite race track is a thrill for us and the whole team here at Talladega,” Lynch said. “We’re going to do things never been done before in the history of NASCAR.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

‘Exceptional experience’ for Birmingham Bowl teams

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Players and coaches from Wake Forest and Memphis created memories of a lifetime Thursday, and none of them were on a football field.

The teams participated in fun and games with more than 35 special-needs children and adults from The Exceptional Foundation. The event, called the “Exceptional Experience,” was held at the Sheraton in downtown Birmingham. Participants joined the players in a variety of games, including football toss, putt-putt and bean bag throws.

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“Their parents are going to hear a lot about this,” said Robbie Lee, the athletic director for The Exceptional Foundation. “I’m going to say well into January our guys are going to be brimming and their parents are going to hear about this for weeks to come.”

Alabama Power was the presenting sponsor of Thursday’s event as part of the Jared Birmingham Bowl. Foster Ware, External Affairs manager and Marketing manager of the Birmingham Division of Alabama Power, said this event is a great way for the players to interact with the community during their visit to Birmingham.

“It’s really bigger than football,” Ware said. “They’ll leave Birmingham, experience a city, the rich history that we have, but also a lot of the great work our nonprofits are doing in the city.

Lee said events like today are not just fun, but also serve as a great way to tell others about the work of The Exceptional Foundation.

“There is always someone out there who has not heard about us that’s in need of our services, and anytime we can put our brand out there and let people know what we are all about and who we’re here to serve, all the better.”

For more information about The Exceptional Foundation, visit their website. The Birmingham Bowl will take place at 11 a.m. at Legion Field on Saturday, Dec. 22.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama caves will become less spooky for endangered bats

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve could become ground zero in an effort to save the nation’s bat populations threatened by white-nose syndrome.

Tuesday, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced more than $1.1 million in grants to combat the disease. Bat Conservation International at Ruffner is one of the grantees working to defeat the fungus behind the disease found in caves where bats hibernate.

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The project dubbed “Bats to the Future Fund” is a partnership of the NFWF, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Southern Company and Avangrid Foundation.

Bat Conservation International is working with ultraviolet light and polyethylene glycol, two nontoxic agents, to fight the disease-causing fungus.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)