DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In one of the most highly anticipated, well-received technological developments in the sport’s recent history, NASCAR shared details and photos of its innovative Air Titan track drying system Tuesday.
Although the project is still in the developmental phase, the ultimate goal is to cut the time it takes to dry a race track by 80 percent — drastically reducing rain delays.
It’s welcome news for fans, drivers, track owners and television producers alike. But mostly for the fans, to whom NASCAR Chairman Brian France promises a “dramatically improved” race-viewing experience.
The Air Titan project was initiated by France himself last year and was developed at the NASCAR Research & Development Center by six in-house project managers during the past eight months.
It uses compressed air to push water off the racing surface and onto the track apron where vacuum trucks remove the water. Five jet dryers will follow behind drying any excess moisture.
There will be two systems on track at the same time (running at a speed between 4-5 mph) each tasked to dry half the track. Ideally, according to NASCAR Senior Vice President for Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell, there will only need to be one pass.
For logistical reasons — there are large hoses connecting the power source to the air compressors — the race cars will be parked on pit road during the process, which should increase safety as well.
Another benefit of using compressed air will be a reduction of the “weepers” created when water rises to the track surface — a situation exacerbated with jet dryers.
“When you go back and look — and all credit goes to Brian for saying, ‘we have to get this done’ — jet dryers were 1976 technology with Roger Penske and before that we were scraping the track with tires,” O’Donnell said. “So it’s been 45 years of the same technology tweaked a little bit, but not dramatically. We’re not all the way there yet, but we think this could be a significant game changer for the industry.”
The drying system is already at Daytona International Speedway awaiting this week’s start of the 2013 NASCAR season and may get its first test as early as Saturday night’s season-opening event, The Sprint Unlimited.
As part of its initial development the Air Titan system was actually tested at the famous 2.5-mile speedway, home to the Daytona 500. The engineers and project managers are continuing to develop the system — specifically fine-tuning its power source — to make it available at other tracks in the near future.
“This is an area where NASCAR and the tracks are perfectly aligned,” said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood. “We want the same thing. We want to give fans, competitors and television, a great experience and any chance to get the track dryer quicker is good for everyone.
“Fans travel from a far distance and especially if you’ve come from out of state, you want to see the race that day. Instead of a two-hour delay you have a much shorter delay, that’s a big deal to us. This is an area where we’re like, ‘great job NASCAR, what can we do to help.’ With our current technology and what they’re going to do it’s really going to make a big difference.’’
NASCAR cautions that the system is still being developed, but with two weeks of track activity on the schedule at Daytona, there may be a prime opportunity to give it a “real world” test.
“Similar to any new technology you see, from how big computers were to how small iPads are now, if you look at the Air Titan as a device, we’re really excited about that,” O’Donnell. “We have to find ways to make the power source small and more efficient, but it’s something we can come to the table as a solution not only for our race tracks, but it could have utilizations in many different aspects.”