There are quite a few different technologies employed by NASCAR that intrigue me. Granted, much of it is driven by the television networks, but the TV folk would NEVER do some of the stuff they do without heavy NASCAR involvement.
Trackpass is something NASCAR offers, both through AOL, and through a subscription system on their site. It’s based on Realplayer, and utilizes SMIL, Flash, RealAudio, and RealText to give the subscriber access to pretty much everything about a particular team. You can pick a team, and see real time progress of the car in relation to everyone else via a little marker moving around the track. You can also see current car statistics like speed, RPM, engine temp, brake temp, etc., all in real time. It’s incredible to me that the cars can transmit that data to MY machine that fast.
There are also cameras inside each of the cars, and you can see through those, essentially letting you see MORE than the actual driver of the car.
Then there’s radio. Trackpass lets you hear all the transmissions between the driver and his team members in real-time, raw and unedited. You can learn all SORTS of things about NASCAR that way.
NASCAR is shown on TV by NBC and FOX, and they each have gimmicks to help educate viewers. FOX has a cool cutaway car, full size. When a team makes an adjustment to a particular part, or some part fails, they take us to that car and point it out, and explain the significance of that part.
NBC has an announcer that runs in Busch (minor league) races. They have a demo car, and during the week he’ll go out on the track with a rider (usually someone famous) and do stuff, and explain how that fits into a race. So for example he’ll go out on used tires, and show what “loose” means. Since they’re not actually racing, they can afford to put cameras all over the car, and you get a much better perspective of what’s actually going on. During Busch races, when he’s actually competing, they’ll have him on the mic during yellow flags, and other times when he doesn’t need to concentrate as much.
NASCAR is the only sport I know of that plays a significant role in enhancing the life of every American consumer. Every manufacturer of every part uses NASCAR as a test bed for new technology. Goodyear makes a different kind of tire for every environment; cold, hot, rough, smooth, etc. Marathon tests different mixtures of gasoline for different engines. The oil companies, the steel companies, the aluminum companies, they all have a team at EVERY race, taking stats, watching wear, examining failures. There’s no way the car companies could do that kind of real world, high stress research on their own. It’s essentially open source research.
The first race I ever really watched was the Daytona 500, 2001. A guy named Dale Earnhardt hit the wall on the last lap and died. The name sounded familiar, but I didn’t realize until later just what a big deal it was.
Since that point, the interior of every NASCAR race car has pretty much changed completely. New seats, new helmets, and new devices that essentially tether the driver’s head to the seat have all become mandatory. Just recently Michael Waltrip’s car tried a roof-top door, so he could climb out a third place if need be. A couple weeks later he used to it escape a bad wreck in a hurry. All these new devices were developed and tested in shops of course, but the drivers were the ones that put them to the final test. NASCAR didn’t dictate which system would be official, but let the drivers choose from a range and try them out. After some wrecks and some driver input, THEN they started making some stuff mandatory.
Since Dale Earnhardt’s death there have been some REALLY amazingly horrible wrecks, and not only has no-one died, I can’t even think of one where the driver didn’t walk away, and many racing again the next week.