Dennis Smith’s firm seemed to be the logical choice when the National Corvette Museum (NCM) in Bowling Green, Ky., decided to expand and create a motorsports park. Smith, PE, PLS, M.ASCE, president and CEO of DDS Engineering, PLLC, and his wife have been Corvette fans for decades, owning four models of the iconic sports car. They were founding members of the NCM and soon became lifetime members. In 2002, Smith was appointed to the NCM Board of Directors, where his expertise as a surveyor and engineer became a valuable asset as a consultant to the board. His firm was called on to provide many conceptual plans, preliminary designs, cost analysis and various consulting services over the years.

In 2005, the board began exploring ideas on how to attract more visitors and the idea of a motorsports facility was hatched. Smith was asked to serve on the Motorsports Park Planning Committee, and remained as a consultant to the board after his term ended in 2010.

“A number of sites nearby to the NCM were evaluated, and some as far away as 8-10 miles. These were narrowed down to a couple of locations with one really showing promise, and that was directly across Interstate 65 from the National Corvette Museum,” Smith said. “The initial purchase only involved approximately 13 acres, but very shortly included another 59 acres and soon grew to include purchases and/or options for up to almost 500 acres.”

DDS Engineering then began the work of performing boundary and topographical surveys to begin preliminary project planning.

“Just to have the opportunity and privilege to be involved with what will become a major automotive sports venue was thrilling,” Smith said. “And then, add to it the opportunity to work with a nationally-recognized road course designer, the National Corvette Museum and their team and Corvette racing in their efforts to establish a home track on this side of the pond was just icing on the cake.”

Smith said some interesting elements of the project included designing features from famous race courses around the world, including the Mulsanne Straight, Mulsanne Kink and Corner, the Porsche Curves from LeMans, and the Carousel from the Nurburgring Course. “The recreation of these track elements, especially from LeMans, were essential to Corvette racing, as it meant that they now have a location where they can test and tune prior to arriving at LeMans,” he said.


The Process

Smith said his firm encountered very few difficulties along the way and even the zoning map amendment process went relatively smoothly.

“Very early, the NCM decided that they would go above and beyond what was required by regulation to make sure that all issues were addressed and that all parties were heard and treated fairly during the project approval process,” Smith said. “Since there was no sound ordinance in the county, it would not be necessary to address noise pollution; however, the NCM retained a nationally-recognized sound engineering firm to do sound studies in order to identify sources and levels of existing ambient noise, and even went so far as to retain the firm to do a sound study of an actual NCM event at Sebring International Raceway. Interestingly, what we learned was that the ambient sound levels from a nearby Interstate highway exceeded the anticipated levels of sound coming from a typical NCM event planned for the facility.”

After the initial planning began in 2005, Phase 1 of the project, approximately 186 acres, went into final design in late 2012 with construction of the track beginning in June 2013 and finishing in August 2014.

“This completion of the track coincided with the 20th Anniversary of the National Corvette Museum, bringing Corvette owners and their cars to the NCM for the celebration in major Corvette caravans from all across the country,” Smith said.

Still to be completed include a new control tower and administrative office building, day garages, long-term lease garages and commercial lease space.

“The timeline did go pretty much as expected,” Smith said. “We had allowed sufficient time to adequately plan the project, do the necessary feasibility studies, and complete the necessary research, traffic studies, and noise studies and noise abatement planning.

“It might be worthwhile to note at this point that, for future planning purposes, the Motorsports Park still has over 220 acres under option for future expansion and development.”


Disaster Strikes

In the midst of construction of the new facility, on Feb. 12, the National Corvette Museum experienced a sinkhole spanning approximately 40 feet and of unknown depth inside the Skydome, the trademark of the facility’s façade. Eight one-of-a-kind Corvettes had fallen into the opening.

Within minutes of hearing of the disaster, DDS personnel, including Geotechnical Engineer Matt Rogers, PE, SI, M.ASCE, and Smith, responded to offer their assistance.

During the first hours following the collapse, various methods and means were utilized in order to gain as much knowledge of the extent and severity of the collapse and stability of the structure as possible. Options included using GoPro cameras suspended by lines over the side of the hole and one mounted to a UAV (quad copter) developed by Western Kentucky University engineering students to view areas within the collapse otherwise inaccessible or unsafe for personnel to access at the site.  This project offered the WKU engineering students their first true test of the value of their efforts to develop a UAV.

Since the initial reconnaissance, DDS has been retained as the civil and geotechnical engineering firm for the remediation and reconstruction of the museum’s Skydome, working with the firm of Scott Murphy and Daniel, LLC, structural engineers from K&S Engineers, and subsurface and geotechnical engineers and constructors from Hayward Baker.

In the days following the collapse, DDS remained on site performing continuous monitoring of the Skydome structure to ease the concerns of museum visitors and to provide added safety measures to those working in and around the structure. 

In order to provide peace of mind of the stability of other areas around the frustum and the adjacent museum facility, a local geophysical investigation firm prepared to conduct a microgravity study of the facility, primarily to detect the presence of any other underground voids. While one of DDS’ field surveying teams was on hand to monitor the structure itself, a second field team, working closely with staff in the DDS office, provided extensive layout services in and around the structure itself in order for the geophysical investigation firm to conduct that detailed microgravity study. No other significant voids were detected.


Firm’s Most ‘Visible’ Project

The NCM celebrated the grand opening of the Motorsports Park over Labor Day weekend.

“We attended the grand opening and, as a ‘One Acre Club’ member, we were able to participate in the first parade lap around the track along with several other Corvette enthusiasts from around the world and with the governor of our state!” Smith said.

“In addition to the grand opening, I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in the first High Performance Driving Event hosted by the National Corvette Museum in late September 2014. Having had the opportunities to attend and participate in driving schools at both the Bondurant School in Chandler, Ariz., and Spring Mountain in Pahrump, Nev., it was an absolute thrill to finally get to participate in such an event right here at home and to be able to say that we were a part of making it a reality.

“It also afforded me the opportunity to meet with, ride and drive with some of motorsports’ biggest names including former Corvette racing driver Andy Pilgrim and former Corvette assistant engineer and racing driver John Heinricy. It further afforded me the opportunity to very candidly get their impression of the track, how they felt it functioned and how it compared to other tracks on which they had competed. In general, their thoughts were that it was a very challenging track that included elements for the novice and beginner, as well as the more seasoned and professional drivers. Both commented that they felt once you had mastered the NCM Motorsports Park Track as a driver, you could master any other track in the country.”

Smith said the Motorsports Park project was probably the most “visible” one his firm has worked on and was the first project that was constructed completely utilizing automated machine control. This included everything from the initial clearing operations and rough grading work to  finish grading and paving operations.

“Having had the opportunity to work on the General Motors Corvette Plant when it came to Bowling Green in 1980, and the National Corvette Museum and its expansion, and then to get to be involved with the NCM Motorsports Park, it felt as if I had had the unique opportunity to touch all facets of the only true American sports car,” Smith said.


Benita Mehta is managing editor of POB. She can be reached at mehtab@bnpmedia.com.