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April 8, 2023

NASCAR to use drone marker to signify choose area at Bristol dirt

BRISTOL, Tenn. — NASCAR will use an LED drone marker to signify the choose area ahead of restarts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Cup Series races on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

This weekend marks the first time drivers will be able to choose their preferred lane on an impending restart on dirt, darting to the left of the marker to choose the inside lane or right for the outside lane. The drone will fly to the frontstretch just past the start/finish line, with the box lighting up to signify the choose zone.

MORE: Bristol schedule | At-track photos

With an ever-changing racing surface, an alternative way to mark the location of the choose section was necessary, noted Jesse Little, NASCAR’s senior coordinator of competition operations.

“The project I think was spearheaded by Tim Bermann (senior director, competition operations) and the folks in broadcasting, productions and then competition operations,” Little told Saturday. “And the question that was thrown to the group was, hey, we’re choosing everywhere now, that includes dirt. Can’t paint on the track. We don’t want anybody running out there. We don’t want anyone on pit road that would in the event, retrieve something from the racetrack. So what do we do?

“And Tim immediately started brainstorming and coming up with some thoughts and questions and what can we implement? What can be seen during the day? What can be seen at night? What is visible to drivers? What will be visible to spotters, fans and TV? And you know, I think so far it’s been received very well.”

Two-time and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano was one of the competitors spectating an early demonstration of the orange LED drone marker from pit road on Saturday afternoon. His first impressions?

“Cool!” he told “I don’t know, I think it’s neat. It’s a unique way of doing it, right? You look at other Saturday night short-track stuff on dirt and they do the cone and they pull the cone across afterwards and we’ve one-upped it. I think it’s cool.”

At paved facilities, a choose “V” is painted on the track to designate the choose area. If competitors drive over the orange square centered in the “V,” a penalty is issued to the driver. Officials will be closely monitoring drivers’ decisions this weekend to determine whether a driver will be subjected to penalty.

“We’ve communicated it to the competitors as don’t put us in a situation that might even resemble a questionable look,” Little said. “And they understand, and we’ve given them a good outline of how that will look. And it’ll be discussed thoroughly and vetted extensively up in the tower, and we’ll make sure that it’s fair and consistent and at the end of the day the right call will be made.”

Logano will be competing in both the Truck Series and Cup Series events this weekend. Having the ability to choose a preferred lane on dirt is a new wrinkle — and yet a familiar one.

“It’s just like everywhere else, right? What’s the preferred lane?” Logano said. “It’s going to probably change, the preferred lane. Are you willing to give up rows for that preferred lane? It’s risk vs. reward on all of it.”

With the drone sitting above the track surface, visibility won’t be a concern, he added.

“It’ll be more visible than what you see on the track,” Logano said. “You can never see it on the track, so that’s much better. Might want to do it everywhere.”

Little said there are no current plans to implement the choose drone elsewhere, but NASCAR will welcome feedback regarding the process.

“It’s pretty fun to know that we, as NASCAR, I think, are going to be one of the first (motorsports sanctioning bodies) around the nation to fully officiate with the drone,” he said. “So we’ll certainly take what we learned from this week in a way and see what happens.”