Friday, July 18, 2008

It's The Little Things...

It used to be that when you went racing you did all your timing with a stopwatch. With the coming of small computer chips new types of watches became inexpensive and very exotic. I collect timing devices and the new digital watches blow the old analogs out of the water. I have one which records lap times to the thousandth of a second and then pauses while you write down the lap time. Never fear, it has already started timing the next lap. After giving you fifteen seconds to record the time it shifts back to the new lap it is timing. Pretty slick.

Even slicker is the system of transponders currently in use by most tracks.

It used to be that among the volunteers who came out to help put on a race were the timing and scoring people. One recorder could time maybe two cars, sometimes three in a pinch. That means in a field of thirty there were fifteen to thirty people required to keep track of the lap times for all the cars. At the end of the race someone had to sit down and sort out who was in what position based on the lap times. It was cumbersome, difficult and required a lot of dedicated but unsung helpers.

Now it is different. Each car is required to carry a transponder. As it runs over a control point on the track it sends a signal to a receiver which records the passing of the car down to a thousandth of a second. A computer then sorts it all out and it only takes one or two people to manage the whole show. The information is published at the track but it is also sent off to a national database. When you get home from the track you can download your lap times for the whole deal, both qualifying sessions and the race, from the database. Not only that, you can get a lap chart which shows you where every car on the track was at the end of each lap during the race. Neat.

Our team still manually records lap times however, because it gives us a handle on what is going on while the race is in progress. This is all done and recorded on a time sheet which has, in addition, places to write down things like weather, special track conditions, problems with the car, spinouts, crashes, and stuff like that. It is also provides a reminder for the shop sessions that will come between this and the next race. If you look over several sheets and see a recurring problem then you know where you have to work next before it bites you again.
Click the image above to download a sample timesheet

At the bottom of the time sheet is a little formula that lets you compute the average speed in miles per hour for the lap based on a number divided by the lap time in seconds. Simple. I added this so that people could convert lap times to something they are familiar with. Unfortunately I think it is misleading and not very important.

Miles per hour is a good handle if you are on a long drive, say from New Orleans to Houston, Chicago or Atlanta. Most people are familiar with it. It lets you do a little mental arithmetic and estimate when you will arrive or how long the trip will take. On a race car, miles per hour are not important but feet per second are. That gives you a real scale to use not only in judging how fast you are going but how fast you are in comparison to other drivers.

Lets say that at No Problem Raceway you post a lap at one minute and forty four seconds. That gives you an average speed of 62.3 miles per hour for one lap of the one point eight mile track with fourteen turns. Not bad. If I post a lap of one minute and forty two seconds the average speed is 63.5 MPH. 1.2 MPH, not much difference.

But remember we don’t drive for an hour. These are racing cars. Our average race is only thirteen laps or twenty three and a half miles.

The difference between laps of one minute forty four seconds (91.38 FPS)and one minute forty two (93.17 FPS) seconds is roughly one point eight feet per second and that is significant. In the one minute and forty four seconds you took to cover a lap I am now (one hundred and four (seconds) times one point eight (ft) = one hundred and eighty seven feet ahead of you. Multiply that by thirteen laps.

I’ll take that anytime.

In racing every thing is measured in inches. From building the cars to computing the speeds, it is the little increments that catch up with you.

Musical Cars

It is starting to look like the formula one “silly season”. In formula one’s off season the drivers play hop scotch with the different teams as they align the next years rides. With us it seems to be the cars.

Hugh an I had helped Mike Norton find and purchase a car from a guy in North Carolina. We had even gone over to Georgia and picked it up for him. As it turned out, Mike got so busy he wasn’t able to race the car at all and decided to sell. We got busy and found him a buyer.

The car has now been purchased by Gary Scurlock, the Wizard of Hammond. Gary took it to his first outing a week ago and had a ball. I think he is hooked for good. I went out and crewed for him, just to help out.

We now have five cars, for sure, for next season. Eventually, Gary will probably finish the Autodynamics he was already working on and we might have still another.

John Hose sold the Panther he bought from Rory to Pat Fox without even driving the car. I think he has decided to race his Corvette instead. That’s a shame but not all bad. At least he will still be racing.

Fox is an ex-drag racer who specialized in Volkswagen powered cars. He has decided to try road racing and has also purchased a second Vee which he plans to use as a rental car. That will be a big help. Not only will we have another car racing but with a rental car available, people will be able to try out the cars to see if they are interested in the class.

Barry should have his C4 ready again by the beginning of the season. He has also purchased a Spec-Miata and is planning to drive them both. Good thing they run in different classes. I don’t know what is happening with Oren and his plans to build a car. So once again it looks like we have a promising field.

Hugh Warrior

Frank Grinch Phoenix ?

Gary Zink C4 Autodynamics ?

Barry Zink C4

Pat Panther Rental Car ?

If we get five cars out and people can see how much fun we are having, the class will really start to grow.

I like that.