DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR's new laser platform doesn't tighten the box in which crews work feverishly to find the slightest advantage on a car. It's just a more accurate way of measuring those things that exist inside the box, said NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.
"A lot of the gadgets and trickery we had going on underneath the back ends of the cars -- the sideways stuff -- will be much, much easier for us to control," Darby said.
The platform, developed by NASCAR with the help of outside sources, does not provide a scan of the car body. What it does record are items on the underside of each car, logging precise measurements -- within 1/1,000th of an inch in some cases -- of parts such as front and rear wheel cambers, wheel base and rear axle location.
"The way it does that," Darby said, "is that as the car rolls up on to the platform, it will identify the car from one of the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips that was put on it at certification. It will then go through the entire database of all the cars that have been certified ? find that car, pull the certification file, look at it and position the car on the platform exactly in the location that it was certified.
"So if it's got a frame rail that's 100/1,000ths crooked or something like that, the laser knows it, compensates for it and repositions the car just as it was certified."
The machine was not designed specifically to save time -- the entire process took approximately three minutes per car as vehicles were scanned Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway -- although it does combine two of the previous inspection station stops.
Where it excels, Darby said, is that the process erases any doubt by providing more exact measurements.
"Right now we used probably 10 different gauges or pieces of equipment to do the same measurements that the platform does, especially when they are put on at two separate stations. Wheels are turning, cars are getting pushed, you don't have a guarantee," he said. "? We felt pretty good about where we were ? but this eliminates any questions about that."
Most team officials say such a piece of equipment wouldn't be beneficial for individual organizations. There is not as much of a rush to check the measurements as the cars are being constructed, and teams have the ability to send their cars to NASCAR's Research and Development Center for verification if they choose, according to Hendrick Motorsports' Doug Duchardt.
"We have a different process to accurately measure cars as we set them up," Duchardt, Vice President of Development for HMS, said. "So we have invested in our own process, if you will, so we don't have to do it in two and a half minutes a car.
"We do it in our environment in our shop. So I don't see that we are going to need to duplicate that. What we work on is making sure we understand the correlations of how we measure our cars in the shop to what happens at the race track. If we are measuring this, do they measure the same?"
As is the case with any piece of equipment or process, a backup system is in place should a problem arise. When just such an issue developed with the laser platform prior to qualifying for the Daytona 500, NASCAR officials were able to revert to measurements taken manually without much hassle or delay.
"It's days like today that, as a series director, you get more proud of your troops than ever," Darby said. "They know we're going to go, one way or the other, and they know there is a group of cars out there that have to be inspected and be inspected accurately and consistently and they never missed a beat.
"It was a little chaotic at first because this was our first fire drill, everybody had to remember their places and their training and everything else. But it was five minutes of getting the gauges out of the trucks, five minutes of setting them up and calibrating them and five minutes of everybody figuring out who was where. It actually went really smooth."
- Motor Racing