Tuesday June 28th, 2016

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Technology, start your engine.

One hundred miles from Silicon Valley, Sonoma Raceway will be the debut location of new racing technology. On Friday, NASCAR and Microsoft will unveil their first Race Management app to be used during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday.

Microsoft’s principle architect of the app, Mike Downey, and NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, Steve O’Donnell, introduced the new technology during a 30-minute presentation on June 24.

“NASCAR has really put an emphasis, especially over the last 18 months, on technology and new technology and how we can bring things more quickly to the fans, really put them inside the driver’s seat,” said O’Donnell. “But equally as important is how we can work together to be more efficient from a governing standpoint, especially when it comes to race control.”

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The app consists of six data categories; historical data, timing and scoring, pit road officiating, video replay and car positioning. The app hopes to push fan engagement as well down the road, introducing a “41st car experience.” The current options will give race directors the ability to send messages to teams efficiently and cut out the hassle of analyzing multiple screens on multiple feeds, among other restrictions. Data will be relayed during the race, as well as after. Sending information such as video cuts or messages will be easier to get to teams than the current method of airwaves.

The app was built using Windows 10, which leverages the Microsoft Azure platform. Although this technology is only the earliest 1.0 version, NASCAR and Microsoft expect updates and improvements to continue as the app grows each race.

“This first phase is around consolidating operations and systems like this, collecting more information,” Downey said. “As we go forward, we want to help NASCAR better utilize that information that we are helping them collect. ... So this is really the first of a multi-staged approach to use data to better inform how NASCAR both runs their races and how they tune their races to create an even better product for their fans.”

[youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Mjf_qvISGY]The race management app is not the first in technological advancements between Microsoft and NASCAR.

The Mobile Inspection app was also developed by Microsoft and it is used to collect and verify visual inspection data. This process could take up to six hours, but cuts the time in half. The app skims 10 hours from each race weekend and Microsoft claims it saves more than 20,000 sheets of paper.

Microsoft and NASCAR hope these upgrades will improve the safety of the sport, as well as moving past the paper-driven world into the sport’s digital age. “What [AI] will allow us to do is take race data and put it into a model and start making predictions about things,” said Downey. “That can be about safety issues. For example, given a certain scenario, what’s likely to happen? We’re just starting to dabble with these things.”

Five bold predictions for the rest of the NASCAR season

The combination of these two apps thrusts the sport of NASCAR into the foreground of the technology space.

“For our sport, every second of every race is under replay,” said O’Donnell. “Building the race management app on Windows 10 is a game-changer for us. By digitizing the video feeds we’re able to analyze calls and send data to the pit box in real-time. The Race Management app allows us to make calls more quickly and confidently.”

NASCAR is developing into more than fast cars and roaring engines. With Microsoft behind the wheel, NASCAR is racing into the technological future with a heavy foot on the gas.

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