News & Media

Rise of technology has transformed scoring style

August 28, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Today's instant results have come long way from the days of hand scoring

Figuring out who finishes first in a NASCAR race has become a high-tech endeavor, requiring in-car transponders, metal scoring loops embedded in the track surface and powerful computers to crunch the data.

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Scoring is available almost instantaneously, allowing officials to determine the exact running order at any given time during the race. The added ability to monitor the television broadcast -- including calling up replays -- has made it nearly an exact science.

But that wasn't always the case. For decades, the finishing order of NASCAR races was determined by the tried-and-true method of hand scoring. That required pencils, paper, a master clock, an electronic recording device connected to a series of buttons and an army of volunteers.

Until electronic scoring was introduced, every race was scored by hand. In the beginning, that meant writing down the number of every car as it crossed the start/finish line, then tallying up the totals.

But as the races became longer -- with pit stops and lapped cars complicating the issue -- NASCAR began to modify its scoring system, using scoring cards and a timing clock.

How did it work? Each car supplied a volunteer to sit in a designated area with a view of the start/finish line. They were given a scoring card -- with spaces designating the number of laps to be run -- a synchronized clock and a button connected to a recorder.

When their car crossed the line, they were to write down the time shown on the clock and press the button. By checking the cards at 10-lap intervals, NASCAR officials could spot any discrepancies.

However, the system was only as good as the volunteers who kept track of the scoring cards. And that created a major snafu in the 1978 Dixie 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- eventually resolved by a 16-year-old kid who would later go on to hold a prominent position in the sport.

Donnie Allison had one of the fastest cars that day, but lost two laps to the field early on when he had a lengthy pit stop to repair a damaged left-front fender. Allison made up one of those laps when the rest of the leaders later pitted.

"Brian told his daddy and his mama that I won the race. He said my scorer had been pulling for Richard and not paying attention to the race."


And when leader Buddy Baker retired with a blown engine with 17 laps remaining, that should have put Allison back on the lead lap. But when NASCAR officials double-checked the cards, the data didn't match up.

A five-car pileup a few laps later complicated matters further. For the restart, Allison lined up behind leader Dave Marcis and second place Richard Petty, but the track scoreboard was still showing him as a lap down.

Allison passed them both and was first under the checkered flag, while Petty beat Marcis to the finish line by a fender for what nearly everyone in attendance thought was for the win. While timing and scoring frantically tried to sort things out, Allison drove into Victory Lane, only to be told he didn't belong there.

While Petty was busy doing post-race interviews, an angry Allison packed up and headed west toward his hometown of Hueytown, Ala. But team owner Hoss Ellington wasn't done arguing his case. He was certain his driver had won, and he just needed confirmation from someone in the scoring tower.

That came from a somewhat unlikely source: 16-year-old Brian France, who had been scoring Bobby Allison's car that day. France noticed that in the excitement of the closing stages of the race, Donnie Allison's scorer had been distracted.

"Brian told his daddy and his mama that I won the race," Allison said later. "He said my scorer had been pulling for Richard and not paying attention to the race."

So more than two hours after declaring Petty the winner -- and believing they had made the correct decision -- Donnie Allison's scoring card was inspected again. Just like France had guessed, the recorded lap times were off significantly, meaning there was a lap missing.

That left France's father, NASCAR President Bill France Jr., to make an unusual and embarrassing pronouncement to the media, long after everyone else had left the speedway: NASCAR had the wrong car winning the race.

With the advent of electronic scoring, the chances of a situation like that happening again are remote. But just to be sure, NASCAR continued to use manual scoring as a backup system for a number of years, phasing it out fairly recently.