By Jean Whatley
The venerated, 70-year-old Martinsville Speedway will light up the night this weekend, as NASCAR drivers compete for the first time ever under it’s new LED sports lighting system. Racing fans and lighting industry insiders will be keeping a close eye on this debut event, as it could set the pace for other venues to follow. All this is the result of an innovative, pitch-to-completion partnership between Eaton and Graybar.
Last year, when Eaton was eager to show off their newly acquired Ephesus Sports Lighting capability, Graybar was hearing from their long-time customer, International Speedway Corporation (ISC) that the lack of light at Martinsville was hindering their operation; from both a racing safety perspective and fan experience.
“Immediately, once we knew there was an appetite for sports lighting, we brought in the best-of-the-best with Eaton Ephesus. All the years that we’ve been introducing new technology to ISC, it was just second nature to come in and bring the manufacturer that could deliver,” said Keith Guzy, National Account Manager for ISC at Graybar. “Martinsville looked at that as a great partnership which could deliver the entire solution.”
“I think what’s happening in the world of retrofit and sports lighting is that it’s a new industry that’s evolving and customers are looking for value from their partners. When you can partner with a company like Graybar and bring the collective value from both organizations, it really creates a winning proposition,” said Michael Lorenz, President Eaton Ephesus Lighting. “It’s a strong opportunity to assist the market which clearly has a demonstrated need.”
It was a need for speed that drove the racetrack project, once the manufacturer-distributor team landed the deal. They had to erect and install lighting for the track, which had never been lit before, and retrofit all of the visitor areas in a short time span, from fall 2016 to spring 2017.
“In order for us to get the whole team there, all the subs and all the equipment, we needed to do the job over the winter, within their time frame and the budget we presented,” said Guzy. “It was a huge challenge and speaks to the level of Eaton’s Ephesus commitment that it was done as presented. Also, being a 70-year-old track, there was a lot of history there. We had to make sure we preserved the look of the track. We did that.”
On time and within budget; that’s the gold standard for any project. Lorenz and Guzy agree, this one was sizable. Among the eye-popping factoids: more than a mile of underground boring, 13 miles of wire, 81 cubic yards of concrete and some 442 fixtures, the lighting equivalent of eight football fields. When they flip the switch this weekend for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Martinsville will become the first major motorsports facility to be illuminated by LED lighting.
“We brought power to the site. We excavated and put foundations in for the poles, the lighting infrastructure. We installed the lights, the control systems, got them all tuned, met NASCAR’s requirements to make sure they were satisfied and obviously, got feedback from drivers that were testing the lighting,” said Lorenz. “From the driver’s standpoint and safety, we can control where the light is being angled, so we can avoid typical zones that might impact the driver’s ability to drive on the track.”
“Better than daylight! That’s what we’re hearing the most from the drivers,” said Guzy. “No glares, no blindspots. The feedback has been phenomenal, from the drivers to the broadcasters, it’s just making the overall experience that much better.”
In addition to potential revenue gain from broadcasting, and hosting other events at the track at night, the LED lighting system, said Lorenz, “is safer and better for visitors and the environment. In the past when they’ve done events there, they’ve brought in temporary lights and generators. In addition to being bad for the environment, they were costly and operated poorly from a safety perspective. The technology that we’ve deployed at Martinsville is state-of-the-art, it will last a very long time, be highly efficient, will operate at a fraction of the energy that typical sports lighting would operate, down in the 10-20 percent range. It’s versatile, very efficient and very innovative, lasting for many, many years.”
Which just might sum up the evolving partnership between Eaton and Graybar, who are already pitching their next joint projects. It could even be a topic of conversation this weekend in the suite they’re sharing high above the “Paperclip” where they’ll be watching top NASCAR Late Model Stock Car drivers compete for a $25,000 prize at a grand old track, given new life through light.