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.


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