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Stainless Steel

Spectacle of speed

By Gretchen Salois

The NASCAR Hall of Fame offers a unique perspective into the world of racing

December 2010 - Capturing the essence behind the world of NASCAR racing and incorporating it into an architectural infrastructure was not an easy task for engineers and metal workers. Through teamwork, seamless coordination and communication, the NASCAR Hall of Fame was erected in Charlotte, N.C., in May 2009. "Curving, sloped forms are evocative not only of the dynamic and changing sinuous shape of the racetrack but also of the perception of speed, which is at the heart of the NASCAR spectacle," Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the architectural firm behind the project, said on the company’s website.

The 150,000-sq.-ft. building cost approximately $195 million to create, and it brings in $60 million annually for host city, Charlotte. Within the hall, there is more than 40,000 sq. ft. of interactive exhibits and artifacts for visitors to peruse.

In order to create the hall, Zahner, an engineering and advanced sheet metal surface producer, molded the intricate panels to bring the architect’s vision to life. The möbius strip-styled stainless steel roadway racing around the perimeter of the main building used the ZEPPS process (Zahner Engineered Profiled Panel Systems) to "enable simple and straight-forward construction of an otherwise immensely complex shape," according to Zahner’s website. The möbius is "clad in Angel Hair stainless steel, a product developed by Zahner to reduce the glare and bright spots while providing a gorgeous satin finish." According to Zahner, even in direct sunlight, the metal lessens glare more than alternative options, such as mill finishes on stainless steel.

Precise process
"All of our workers are local sheet metal workers," says Jim Porter, COO of Zahner. Using the ZEPPS process requires a lot of precision and "the skill sets we have out on the shop floor [allow workers] to really understand how to fine-tune and control the parts and pieces so that further down the road in their process, they don’t experience any problems." The ZEPPS assembly process is faster than build-in-place wall systems, allowing for quicker sealing times. The Angel Hair Surface used by Zahner is the "end product of an exacting process where precision-controlled machinery etches stainless steel with varying degrees of intensity." Zahners boasts the company’s Angel Hair Surface is the "finest, smoothest and most uniform light-diffusion metal surface available in the world." The process was developed more than a decade ago to scatter light particles and prevent glaring. Since its inception, Zahner has produced more than 1 million sq. ft. of Angel Hair Surface in stainless steel. Angel Hair is versatile and able to be used on aluminum, copper, nickel and stainless steel. Well-experienced "shop guys" are able to manipulate machinery to speed up production, while maintaining the necessary precision for each part needed to complete such an elaborate design.

Bruce White, associate partner at PCF&P, recalls the period of time when five cities sent in design submissions in hopes to host the hall of fame in their city. "Daytona Beach, Richmond, Kansas City, Atlanta, along with Charlotte submitted designs, but the Charlotte connection to the [metals] industry was very strong, so I think we hit," White says. Charlotte had the industry connection and also had strong financing and a business model already in place, according to White. White notes that the hall’s construction time and process was just as unique as the overall design. "For a building like this, which is essentially a museum that has a lot of interactive exhibits and complexity, was finished in about 2.5 years."

The hall of fame’s expedient construction was due in large part to the unique and innovative methods used. Zahner’s engineered panels are made out of structural aluminum. "You decrease the amount of rigid structural steel, which doesn’t tend to like to curve all that much," says Gary Davis, director of marketing at Zahner. "We achieved the curves by using structural aluminum and that way, at each point in space, we know the X, Y coordinates."

Davis adds that the step-by-step process employed by Zahner included the method of splicing plates into specific dimensions and then joined together. According to Davis, each panel is individually numbered, so construction knows exactly what spliced plate goes between designated panels. The construction of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a "testament to the skill sets that we have out on the shop floor," says Porter. "Architects these days can dream up anything they want and we [Zahner] are not ones to shy away from a challenge." FFJ

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