SONOMA, Calif. — A year ago, NASCAR and Microsoft unveiled the sanctioning body’s new Race Management app here at Sonoma Raceway.
A year later, upgrades now allow officials to oversee the running of races more efficiently and with more information at their fingertips than ever before.
The initial version of the app combined approximately six screens’ worth of information into a fast, efficient, usable app.
But as more data became available through advances in technology and officials began to grasp and understand how such apps could improve their workflow, the need for upgrades became evident.
It’s not an unusual situation, according to John Probst, NASCAR’s managing director of competition and innovation, who noted that such advances are what led to the development of the initial app.
Time passes, Probst said, “and (pretty soon) you’ve got 19 apps doing 19 unique things and you still have some combination of print and paper … and as you add more complexity to what we do with the pit out cameras, the PRO system, loops, freeze the field … the next thing you know you end up with this monstrosity of a system that very few people can get their head around and it’s not efficient.”
The upgraded version of the app includes a layout of each race track, as well as information such as lap counters, running positions of every car, pit stop information such as what lap a car pitted on and if the car took two or four tires and estimated time until end of the race. Officials can monitor a single car, a select group of cars or the entire field. The “track” changes colors (green vs. yellow) depending on the race conditions; pit road is displayed in red when it is closed two laps from the end of a stage.
Previous events, going back to the start of the 2016 season, are archived and accessible.
“The advantage of that is now we not only have our system updated and upgraded with the latest and greatest technology, but we also now have the ability to look back at past events and see how we performed, what our decisions were given certain circumstances as well as answer questions that come up from the garage as to why we made certain calls,” Probst said.
“On pen and paper we’d never be able to relive the action, if you will, from a particular race. I’ve used this with series directors … there have been times, especially when we have a yellow, for instance, with like four laps to go in a segment. They feel like we should have been able to get back to green. Why were we not able to get back to green?
“We are able to back up four laps from the end and watch how everything unfolded, when the yellow came out and the relative position off the cars will be correct for when it came out. Oh, the leader was already by the pace car so the pace car wasn’t able to capture the cars first time by and we lost that lap.
“In the past we might have had to pore through video (or) we might not have had it.”
While the app is currently used only by NASCAR officials, Probst said he could easily see it becoming something used by broadcast partners, other media and even fans.
For now, however, the focus is on helping officials do their jobs more efficiently.
“Everything here happens so fast and races are decided in less than a tenth of a second,” Probst said. “It happens quick on the track. As we’re up in the tower, we have to make decisions quickly as well. … if you have to go one more lap because we can’t get the lineup right, that frustrates people; that frustrates us.”
With the help of Microsoft and the Race Management app, such instances are occurring less frequently.