MTSU concrete students thrive in pre-race ‘mix’ for Aug. 8 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix

Aug 05, 2021 at 01:15 pm by WGNS

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix CEO and MTSU alumnus Matt Crews, left in white shirt, observes as then-MTSU Concrete Industry Management senior and Missouri native Cody Gange, center left, and lab assistant and then-senior T.J. Paul of Readyville, Tenn., right, assist professor Heather Brown, center, with making an eco-friendly concrete mix inside a lab in the Voorhees Engineering Technology Building on the Murfreesboro, Tenn., campus in a November 2020 photo. The mix was tested for use in race barriers for the Aug. 8 event in downtown Nashville. In the background, from left, are alumnus Denny Lind of Master Builders Solutions and then-senior CIM majors Austin Gaydosh of Rockvale, Tenn., and Autumn Gates of Murfreesboro. Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has a formal partnership agreement with MTSU and its CIM program. (MTSU file photo by Andy Heidt)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Autumn Gates can already anticipate the rush of IndyCars reaching 200 mph soon in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

But the Middle Tennessee State University alumna and former Concrete Industry Management student is equally excited about taking some of her Irving Materials Inc. customers to the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, and getting goose bumps seeing some of her work and that of her peers on display that play a critical role in the race.

Through a partnership between the university and race organizers signed last fall, Gates and 15 students in professor Heather Brown’s senior lab class helped research and test an environmentally friendly concrete mixture for both barrier wall and pit lane. Many will attend the NTT IndyCar Series race, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8, on the 2.17-mile course on city streets.

They will watch as Nashville’s Josef Newgarden and Indy Racing League points leaders Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon navigate the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and road course at such high speeds. More than 100,000 spectators are expected to attend three days of food, music and racing.

At a 7 p.m. Aug. 6 Freedom Friday Tribute Concert to honor military, police, fire, first responders and frontline heroes in Nissan Stadium’s parking lot, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Keith M. Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, will be on stage as a video featuring the late country music legend Charlie Daniels will bring awareness to military charities, including MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.

Meanwhile on race day, MTSU concrete students and alums like Gates will be looking on knowing that they’ve made a unique contribution to this inaugural event.

“It was awesome and cool helping out with this national race, especially working with students I had been in school with the past four years,” said Gates, 22, a Murfreesboro resident, May graduate and third generation in her family to pursue concrete industry.

Students were asked to take a look at mixes for the barrier wall that would be implemented by the grand prix and Ashland City, Tennessee-based Jarrett Concrete Products — the precast company led by alumni Travis Jarrett (owner) and Frank Bowen (business development manager). 

The pit row concrete was produced and delivered by Irving Materials Inc. (IMI) and was integrally colored black to blend in with the rest of the asphalt parking lot surrounding Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL Tennessee Titans. Brown monitored installation and hardened testing to ensure the concrete would withstand race conditions. 


Gates, whose father, Clark Gates, and grandmother, Betty Gates, preceded her in the industry, said students were “asked to take a look at the mix design and weigh out all of the materials, adding they had “to mix through a period of time (two minutes), let it rest and then mix it for three minutes.

“We had to test the concrete, so we ran a slump for the consistency and flowability of the concrete (before it sets). We ran the density to find the unit weight of the concrete. We ran an air test to see how much air was in the concrete. We ran a temperature on the concrete.” They created concrete beams and 4-x-8-inch cylinders as part of the test.

In November with MTSU alumnus and Big Machine Music City Grand Prix CEO Matt Crews in the lab, students reenacted the tests.

The partnership calls for MTSU to provide the grand prix with future guidance on barrier construction and suppliers and vendors. The grand prix will offer a minimum of two internships to qualified and approved undergraduate students each year.


“We are working to create environmentally conscious concrete mixes while not sacrificing durability and strength for the race barriers and pit lane,” said Brown, noting that the more eco-friendly mixes could reduce energy and landfill impacts.

“This partnership will create advanced learning experiences for students and expand our manufacturing relationships,” she added. “Experiential learning is what MTSU works hard to bring to their students and it wouldn’t be possible without Music City Grand Prix’s commitment to local institutions as well as STEM education and the trades.”

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