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SETTING THE BAR

by Britt Chester

INDOOR TRACK AND FIELD VENUE IS THE CURE FOR THE COMMON COLD

If you think there is something boiling the water in Winston-Salem, it’s the diverse and innovative volcano that sits on the edge of eruption. The past ten years have seen monumental growth for a city once known for cigarettes and underwear (among other things, of course), but the real jump has been in the expansion in the fields of fitness, and more specifically track and field.

JDL Fast Track opened doors at 2505 Empire Drive in January of 2012. What was once a warehouse utilized by Jostens for the production of yearbooks was turned into a full service indoor track and field arena. Inside the 105,000 square foot facility rests a 200-meter flat track, two pole vaulting lanes, long jump sand pits, practice tracks, and ample room for both the shot put and weight throw events. The exterior of the facility is misleading: The front of the brown building welcomes you into a typical front office that leads to the vending end of the athletic area, which is vast.

But one of the downsides of the facility is that it did used to be a manufacturing facility, and with that comes the structural components required to house those types of machines. Inside, the renovated open space is filled with columns and beams, some of which used to be used at anchors for wall partitions, and some which are strictly loadbearing. When JDL acquired the building late in 2011, they gutted the place. And whereas some fans and attendees have complained about the view in the facility, track manager Craig Longhurst said it’s actually a benefit for the room. Mounted at every corner of the flat track are TVs for the spectators to watch as the competitors race, and there are also five projector screens that display the times and placing of each competitor before, during and after the races. Teaming up with RunnerSpace.com has allowed JDl Fast Track offer live-streams of the races, as well as real-time updates as the day moves forward. On the interior of the 200-meter track lie the sand pits for long jumps, the high jump pads, pole-vault tracks and the shot put and weight throw areas. Because of the latters proximity to the track, and because there are beams and columns, Longhurst was able to utilize these by adding net walls to keep competitors and spectators safe during all of the events.

The entire facility floor is covered in Mondo, a rubber carpet of sorts that has become the standard for track and field. More than 70,000 square feet of the material cover the floor with thickness changing depending on where you’re standing. The difference, though, is barely noticeable. The only change in topography is by millimeters. This material was also used during the Olympic games held in London in 2012. The reason for sparing no expense is because David Shannon, founder of JDL Castle Corporation Development, a Winston-Salem commercial real estate firm, is an avid runner and wanted a facility that would be top of the line.

“Originally we were looking for a place to run indoors and get out of the cold,” Shannon said. “We looked around for a piece of dirt to build on, or for an existing building”¦ and found this one.” Shannon also said that part of the reason for this facility was that his personal affinity for running was sidetracked because of the cold weather – a factor he does not like to have to take into consideration when he goes for exercise.

Shannon is a graduate of Wake Forest University, and spent two of his years there as a walk-on for the track and field programs. “I was not any good,” he said with a laugh.

Going into the venture with the understanding that it would primarily succeed as a winter-use facility was something that he and Longhurst knew, but the success for the venue has been something of another venture.

With the lack of facilities in the southeast for high school and collegiate athletic programs to practice in year-round, JDL Fast Track has been somewhat of a savior. Within the four years since the facility has been operating, they have already hosted meets for schools within the Big South, CIAA, and Atlantic Sun conferences, as well as almost every high school in the state for high school meets. Even for the local colleges like WSSU, UNCG, High Point University and Wake Forest, this venue has been a saving grace.

“Winston Salem State comes to almost all of our meets,” Longhurst said. Aside from the actual use of the facility, the schools are able to save a lot of money – especially in these economic times where program after program is being nixed due to budget cutbacks.

The economic impact the facility provides is also an important factor according to Longhurst. Recently hosting the Atlantic Sun conference meet, which is made up of schools from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey, and South Carolina, was a triumph given the proximity to Birmingham, Alabama where another facility resides. That facility, Longhurst admitted, is much larger and even more state of the art. But that venue is operated by the city, and costs taxpayers upwards of $50 million to construct. It’s thought that the facility bankrupted the city.

During the winter months, JDL Fast Track is a highly sought after venue. As it enters the 2015-2016 seasons, there are already more than 40 events scheduled over the course of five months. In that time, schools from all over the country will attend meets at the facility. And some for different reasons than others.

For teams to qualify for various meets, the competitors must set their times for various races. Because there are three different types of tracks used – 200-meter flat track, 200-meter bank track and 300-meter oversize track – there is a conversion factor for times. That conversation factor can play to the advantage of those running at the Winston-Salem track.

“If you run a 4:03:00 mile on our 200-meter flat track, the conversion puts your time at 3:59:94,” Longhurst said. This has been one tool that JDL Fast Track has been able to utilize in securing that collegiate teams hold events at the venue. Longhurst added that Duke University, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Syracuse, to name a few, have already agreed to come back to the venue. One of the other options for schools is to go to Notre Dame where there is also an indoor track, but the conversion factor allows for competitors to secure a better time.

Managing all of this, as well as booking events, hosting, planning, and the operations of venue management is a lot of work for one man, which is why Longhurst sought out a team to help him.

Veronica Rodriguez and Garrett Mansfield, aside from Longhurst, are the only two other employees of the place. Rodriguez started with Fast Track back in April and Mansfield was just accepted in the internship program.

Rodriguez is no stranger to track and field events, though, nor is Mansfield. During a happenstance meeting with Longhurst at an event last year, Rodriguez revealed that she would be relocating to Greensboro to start a family with her spouse, an employee of the non-profit organization Atlantic Coast Conference based out of Greensboro. Longhurst said that he had been searching for the right employee to be willing to oversee operations and event coordination, and upon meeting Rodriguez at the USA Track and Field Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships last March, found the perfect fit with her.

Rodriguez had already come out of coaching at the collegiate level at University of Miami, but moved to JDL Fast Track from USATF where she was handling the meets. Connecting with Longhurst was kismet, to the say the least.

“We went down to the world relays meet just as fans,” Longhurst recalled, “and Veronica was talking to guys from Puerto Rico and Mexico”¦ national coaches!” He joked that they probably should have set up a table for people to come talk to her.

Mansfield came from Appalachian State University where he gained experience in the athletic field managing the student recreation and intramural sports operations. He was also brought in to help with the tech-side of the venue, which includes live-streaming video and real-time clocks and times for the racers and competitors.

It’s this type of growth, though, that is being felt all throughout Winston-Salem, especially in the fitness sector. With the recent groundbreaking of the forthcoming National Cycling Center in downtown Winston-Salem, and the national coverage from the Cycle Classic and fringe bike races, there is more momentum than ever to help push Winston-Salem to forefront of athletic thought. And given the proximity to so many schools (Wake Forest, WSSU, Salem College, Forsyth Tech not included) the facility is in the best place it can be: Open and willing to meet the needs of regional athletic programs looking to maintain and grow in what might otherwise be the off-season.

Longhurst did joke about the rest of the year, though, when most people are outside running in the sunshine and nice weather. He’s open to new events, even tossing out ideas about doing adult Olympics and other activities.

Themed marathon events are nothing new – look at any major city across the country and you’ll see a roster of neon paint 5ks, color runs, and the like. The next step, naturally, would be to host these in an indoor setting where the weather is no longer a factor and where the decorations could be a bit more inclusive. With the success of Color Run this past March, there is not a reason JDL Fast Track could not become the go-to venue for hosting these types of events.

Until then, though, it’s up to the schools and the spectators to keep the buzz alive with fitness in Winston-Salem. And if you’re looking for the next batch of Olympic athletes, keep an eye on JDL Fast Track’s upcoming schedule – there is no shortage of meets. !

WANNA go?

Learn more about JDL Fast Track at jdlfastrack. com. Go to the calendar portion of the website to see upcoming events. The first event is to be held on November 20.

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