NASCAR’s Pit Road Officiating (PRO) system helps race officials safely monitor car and team compliance, and increases accuracy in enforcing rules.
By Amie Sheridan
Amie Sheridan is a sports technology writer and professor of sports & entertainment marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
In auto racing, the pit stop is a highly refined art. Consider this: Up to seven crew members have to jump over a wall, refuel the car, replace tires, and even make repairs—all typically in under 20 seconds. Add to that whirlwind of activity the need for a NASCAR official, who’s assigned to a specific car with the job of enforcing the rules, which regulate such issues as the speed at which a vehicle can enter pit road, the number of crew members that can service the vehicle, and the precise timing of the crew’s entrance onto pit road.
The official has to do all this while dodging incoming traffic—coming in at about anywhere from 30 to 55 miles per hour—and pit crew members. While clearly dangerous, that official’s presence is a necessary step in maintaining optimum conditions for drivers and vehicles.
As of February 2015, that scenario changed. Thanks to the launch of the Pit Road Officiating (PRO) system, the danger to officials has been completely removed. Now, instead of potentially putting officials in harm’s way, the PRO system, which consists of 45 cameras mounted atop high points in the grandstands that track the vehicles as they enter their stalls, delivers video in real time to a PRO trailer, where eight officials monitor crew and car compliance in complete safety.
Bringing safety—and accuracy—to pit road
In addition to greater safety, the PRO system offers increased accuracy. “In the past, for example, it was difficult to judge whether the crew would move too early,” says Chad Little, NASCAR managing director of technical inspection & officiating. “Many obstacles made it difficult to manage that process: The official had to view the stop, make sure he got out of the way of the crew, and then get back over the wall. Now, officials don’t go over the wall at all. It’s more efficient, with one official monitoring several stalls.”
That’s just one example of the precision PRO has brought to NASCAR officiating. Before its advent, officials needed to scale the wall to make visual judgments; there was no video recording of the stop for officials or teams to review. Now, they can watch the entire pit stop as it happens from a safe location. The video can then be used to bolster officiating, be distributed to race teams for use in training, and more.
The PRO system also logs infractions. According to George Grippo, NASCAR’s managing director of technology, field and media operations, “before pit stop video became real-time, very few penalties would be called. There might have been four to six penalties in a race prior to PRO. The first time the system was utilized, it logged over 100 penalties.”
In part, the PRO system’s racetrack-monitoring innovation is being driven by high-speed Ethernet connections, which work to make the digital distribution of pit stop video nearly instantaneous. In fact, the integration of the PRO system and the addition of high-speed Ethernet connectivity are clearly spurring NASCAR’s racetrack evolution. The ability to receive, review, and distribute real-time video, which replaces a decades-old manual, minimally regulated aspect of auto racing—the pit stop—is just one example of NASCAR’s technology transformation.