Using "lights, camera, action" to critique pit stop performance

March 10, 2009
Imagine being in second place when it appears you are neck and neck.  Here's where every 1/100th of a second counts!
When just 100th of a second determines a winner, car racing team owners and members constantly seek ways to shave time from every aspect of a race. Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) (formerly Gillett Evernham Motorsports) in Statesville, N.C. knows that the performance of a tire handler behind the pit wall can be as important to winning as the right driver. For its four teams that compete in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, consistent execution and continuous improvement are a way of life. NASCAR pit crews once relied on VHS video or DVDs to record, replay and evaluate pit stops. Unfortunately, the videos seldom recorded the important work of handling air hoses and tires behind the wall. It also took precious minutes to cue the videos up for replay following a pit stop. Indexing from one part of the video to the next was tedious and difficult. RPM eliminated these problems by using a sophisticated touch screen computer technology from Siemens Energy & Automation. Siemens’ compact, 19.1” SIMATIC® Panel PC touch screen color displays are mounted on each RPM team’s pit cart located just outside the wall of the pit box. Enclosed in durable metal housings, these panel PCs are built to withstand the intense vibration produced when 800 HP cars pit within feet of the cart numerous times during a race. They also hold up under the stress of being shipped to race tracks for 38 races in the United States, Mexico and Canada where they operate in hot, cold, rain, snow and sleet—and boot up every time.Timing the crew to a 1/1000th of a second while eliminating tedious editing.By using the very accurate playback capabilities of the Siemens touch screen panel PCs combined with the DB software, RPM can now time the crew to 1000th of a second. Also, with a very high memory capacity and a resolution of 1280 X 1024 pixels, the crew can easily see how they perform on the full screen. Every part of each pit stop is scrutinized immediately following a stop. Each corner of the pit box and the activity behind the wall are captured by two video cameras mounted on the pit cart. The video is converted to a digital signal then sent via FireWire to the touch screen panel PC.  The pit stop may be immediately replayed simply by touching the screen. An indexing device simplifies rewinding, zooming, fast-forwarding, pausing and slow motion.Eric Wilson, jackman for the No. 9 car driven by popular driver Kasey Kahne and RPM pit crew coordinator, says the Siemens touch screen panel PC technology allows him to identify mistakes and correct potentially dangerous problems.“One racetrack has small pit boxes with painted white lines,” Wilson says. “In our first two stops, our crew members were slipping on these lines. By using the touch screen, we were able to zoom in and determined the problem was caused by a little bit of brake dust sitting on top of the line.”Moreover, the touch screen panel PCs and software have reduced the editing time from a day to just a few minutes. Whereas the video once had to be converted to a digital signal requiring a tedious process of hitting stop, play and fast forward while looking at a stopwatch, it takes just a few minutes to break down the film while flying back from a race. Even with a great car, you don’t win races without a great pit crew. Today, the average RPM pit stop time is respectable 12.6 seconds. By next year the goal is to lower pit stops to the high 11s or low 12s. In sum, NASCAR visionary Evernham says RPM is partnering with technology partners like Siemens to beat every body at every pit stop.“Siemens has been a great partner in many ways,” says Ray Evernham. “The technology and knowledge they have provided to our team has allowed us to work on and develop some new strategies to be our best on every race day.”

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