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Live From Daytona 500: SMT Digitizes 62-Year-Old Race With Broadcast, Team Data-Tracking


Live From Daytona 500: SMT Digitizes 62-Year-Old Race With Broadcast, Team Data-Tracking 2D, 3D applications have revolutionized coverage of motorsports By Kristian Hernandez, Associate Editor

Saturday, February 15, 2020 - 5:01 pm

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Over recent years, data-tracking and analysis have become engrained in the fabric of auto racing. On the NASCAR circuit, both fans and drivers alike have embraced the practice to open up a new avenue of content, and in some cases, appreciation of the sport's intricacies. At the heart of these efforts, SMT's broadcast and team analytics are gamifying the Daytona 500 for younger viewers and enhancing the skills of NASCAR's combatants to better the overall product.

Phil Cochran, Associate Producer Nate Karamanski, and AJ Mead play a big part in SMT's graphics.

The first year, we received input from teams and were also looking at other tools that they were using, says Paulus Weemaes, senior director, motorsports, SMT. We wanted to make it more useful for them and we've done that for three years in a row now.

The Installation of Hardware: Cars Get Fitted With SMT Vectors

In order to jump into the virtual world, there needs to be a physical and tangible item in play to grab the data. In every car that fills the grid on the starting line, a contraption known as a vector is clipped to the top of the roof and is the central hub for data gathering and retrieval as the radio antenna. Since each car needs to be visible on the digital track, NASCAR has penciled the installation of the vector into the pre-race routine.

If the car shows up to inspection and doesn't have the proper components, they don't get to go through, says Weemaes. Every [participating] car that's on the track, we need to track, so we don't want to have things running around that we don't want.

This is the most difficult part of the process. Just like the stock cars that drive around the track, vectors need time to warm up with a few warmup laps. When the GPS sensor on the device get acquired and the six cameras being used by Fox are tapped into, the SMT crew is one step closer to virtualizing the cars.

Team analytics provide raw data from the car, like RPM, miles per hour, braking, throttling, and more.

When they do the first practice, it's sometimes a little bit of a challenge to get the lock on the car. Worst case scenario, its only one or two laps, he continues. Connectivity's a bit of an issue. Once you're at the track, there's a lot of stuff going on, but [it hasn't been a problem] in the last five or six years.

Although the car has a lot of moving parts that run off of the same power source, the vector runs independently by itself. It's a strategy to maintain autonomy over their own piece of technology.

The vector itself gets powered by the battery, so there's no car power that goes through this, he says. We have our own little power unit. Which has another advantage because we can turn it on and off whenever we like.

Back to the Drawing Board: Teams and Drivers Interact With Analytics

Aside from tracking on the course, the vector is critical to understanding the dynamics of the actual car. For teams operating in the NASCAR Cup Series, the system is able to compute other information like fuel levels, revolutions per minute, speed, and more. This numerical data that is coupled with 3D virtual renderings of the car is an application called Team Analytics.

One-car qualifying is being executed by another product of SMT named GhostCar technology.

[Some other examples include] steering input, brake and throttle points, if they're doing that good, says AJ Mead, digital product manager, SMT. On top of that, we also give them strip charts, so they can see what is going on all those [2D] telemetry data points.

Sharing information freely wasn't always the case. Prior to 2018, teams were not able to see the activity being done by other participating teams. After deep discussion and the decision to let the information go public, SMT was chosen to facilitate the transition.

They came to SMT to offer some solutions, and that was pretty much the genesis, says Mead. It's driven by Unity [graphics engine] on the front end, and on the back end, we built the database that can archive every lap, every session, and every car.

When it comes time to break down a driver's session, pit crews can use a specified software that allows multiple GhostCar overlays of previous races to adjust performance.

Car locations are captured via six cameras being used by Fox Sports and a GPS signal through each vector.

Drivers can look at this [application] and say, Why is this guy so much better than me? Oh, he's doing this. Let me try that,' continues Mead. From an engineering standpoint, they can look at this and realize that the driver is loose in Turn 2. Just by looking at the charts, they can make wedge and car adjustments.

This application not only improves individual attributes, but also the work ethic of other drivers. As the old saying goes, iron does indeed sharpen iron.

Unlike anywhere else in motorsports, NASCAR opened up this data for everybody, says Weemaes. It has definitely brought the competition a little bit closer.

Broadcast-Bound: Fans Become Educated With On-Air Telemetry

For the fans, the broadcast is their way of seeing behind the data curtain. Talent like Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon are able to work with the virtual renderings from up in the booth.

The broadcast is leveraging SMT virtual graphics like this football field to compare a car's speed over a span of 100 yards.

We had a scenario during qualifying last week and the Fox team wanted to talk about launch,' off of pit row, says Mead. We were able to go b
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