Flashback Friday #7

 A Day at the Races

There is nothing quite like the smell of aircraft fuel, super-heated tire compounds, popcorn and hot dogs all mixed up into one giant aroma that can only mean one thing. It’s race day, and I am in heaven!

An up front confession – I was a racing whore.  As a young man I was fortunate enough to connect with a fledgling race team, backed by an awful lot of money, that eventually rose to become a significant player in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am racing series.  And my involvement?  Eager to be around racing and race cars at almost any price, I volunteered a great deal of my time to the long, tedious hours of work that go into producing and maintaining championship race cars.  In exchange for my services, the owner of the racing team provided me with airfare, lodging and meals so that I could be a part of the pit crew as the team participated in the Trans-Am racing series around the country.  This was pretty heady stuff for a teenager, and I soon grew addicted to the sport of auto racing.  Eventually, like all good things, this came to an end as my life began to take other paths.

Later in life, while I was engaged as a computer/business consultant, I managed by chance to become involved in automobile racing once again.  This time my position with the race team was a more respectful one.  Now I was working in the capacity of an independent contractor, and actually received substantial pecuniary renumeration for my efforts.  The type of racing which I was involved with had changed as well.  Now I had a chance to rub elbows with the “big boys” of the American racing scene at the time, the Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) racing series.  For those unaware of the racing scene, CART was the sanctioning body for the Indianapolis 500 event, prior to the formation of the Indycar Racing League (IRL) by Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner.

My role with my client racing team was that of a database programmer.  At this time in racing, radio telemetry systems were all the rage.  Real-time monitoring in the pits of all vital automotive systems was being developed and advanced, and all of the major teams were involved in a race to see who could perfect their systems first. Telemetry systems proved to be an important factor in winning the races in the CART racing series.  The team I worked for, Arciero and Sons, wanted to extend the usefulness of the data that was being transmitted in real-time from the car to the technicians in the pits.  And that is where I came into the picture.  My role was fairly simple; capture the data stream as it was received in the pits, creating a database of the various data parameters.  The database could then be used in various ways after the race had ended.  The biggest benefit from this new addition to telemetry systems was in the postmortem failure analysis that occurred when things went wrong on the track.  The team engineers could sift through the recorded data, performing various analytical techniques to try to isolate probable causes of the race cars’ failure.

Fine tuning engine control modules

The photo above shows two automotive engineers at work on the race car prior to the start of the Long Beach Grand Prix in Southern California.  What they are doing here is checking, double-checking, and then triple-checking the telemetry sensors and transmitters vital to this new system (winning teams have a peculiar quirk, they like to triple-check everything).

Checking the transmitter for signal strength

As the engineers verify the proper functioning of the various automotive systems, they put the car back together in preparation for the race.

All details must be checked prior to the race

Here, a rival competitor’s crew member checks the air pressure in the tires that will be used at the first pit stop.  Usually each team will assign one crew member with the responsibility of checking tire pressures every 15 minutes or so, to adjust for pressure changes resulting from changes in air temperature.  It is an exacting process, and no detail goes unchecked (by winning teams, that is).

 Excitement builds before the start of the race

The excitement and tension begins to build amongst the folks involved in the racing effort.  A lot of time, effort, and money have been allocated to the racing endeavor, and all are hopeful for the best results, but each racer knows that only one car will cross the finish line first.

Huge crowds attend the race

When the race finally gets underway, thousands upon thousands of race fans gather and cheer along the teams that they favor.  And once again, I get to savor the pungent, almost sickening-sweet aroma of aircraft fuel, super-heated tire compounds, popcorn and hot dogs.  And I love every moment of it!

4 thoughts on “Flashback Friday #7

  1. That’s SO COOL… I sound like SUCH a DORK!

    I never really got into racing, but I love the mechanics of it (oddly enough, since I’m so non-interested in most things mechanical) because it just blows my mind that they can get something to go that fast with a person inside and not a) kill the person or b) leave the ground. Bizarre, I tell you!

    I’m going to be sharing this one with my husband – he’ll really enjoy this. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your mention of aircraft fuel and speed prompted me to write my latest Tjilpi post.

    I think I would prefer to die spearing in – rather than running into a wall – but then I guess the surface of the earth is a wall!!

  3. Tjilpi – I thought glider pilots didn’t have to know anything about aircraft fuel 😉 Just kidding – the more I read your blog, the more I’m convinced you must know at least a bit about everything! My own personal preference for manner of death (hopefully in the distant future) would be to just not wake up one morning.

    Mrs S. – while we’re on the subject of grizzly deaths, I’m sure you realize that both your points A) and B) DO occur, and with alarming frequency. As a nineteen year old pit crew member in Ponca City, Oklahoma, I witnessed your point B) a car going airborne before hitting a tree, which lead to your point A), the drivers death. It happened on a Saturday, during qualifing runs on the track, and as things worked out, I had the awful, uncomfortable experience of sitting next to the newly created widow on the long flight home. I did not cope with the situation very well then, and I doubt if I would do any better in that kind of situation today either.

Leave a Reply