Anyone who has ever attended or watched a NASCAR race knows that these high-octane events are not just about speed, but also about overcoming a host of challenges, not least of which is the weather. Rain, in particular, can play havoc with racing schedules.
When a NASCAR track is wet from rain, NASCAR uses a combination of the Air Titan, traditional jet dryers, and smaller drying equipment to dry the track. This process, involving the displacement of water and evaporation, can take from 30 minutes to two hours depending on length of the track and the amount of water.
Do if you ever wondered what happens after the rain stops? How does NASCAR get a soaked race track ready for high-speed competition again? This article pulls back the curtain on NASCAR’s impressive track-drying process.
The Science Behind Track Drying
The challenge of drying a race track is a delicate interplay between surface materials, temperature, and moisture. NASCAR tracks are primarily made of asphalt, a surface known to absorb less water than concrete, but still susceptible to becoming slick and unsafe when wet.
The process of drying a track essentially involves displacing the water and then accelerating evaporation. Displacement gets rid of larger quantities of water, pushing it away from the track surface, while evaporation deals with the residual moisture.
Both require energy and the right equipment, which is where NASCAR’s innovative machines come into play.
The History of Track Drying in NASCAR
Track drying in NASCAR has come a long way. The early methods were decidedly less efficient, often involving just time and the hope for a strong sun or wind to aid in evaporation. But as NASCAR grew, so did the need for a faster and more reliable method.
Enter the jet dryers in the 1970s – vehicles fitted with jet engines that blew hot air onto the track surface to evaporate water. For decades, these jet dryers were the standard method for drying tracks.
However, the desire to improve led to the development of a ground-breaking machine in 2013 – the Air Titan. The advent of the Air Titan marked a significant evolution in NASCAR’s approach to drying a wet track and deserves its own section below.
The Invention and Role of the Air Titan
Designed to revolutionize track drying in NASCAR, the Air Titan was unveiled in 2013. The brainchild of NASCAR’s Research & Development Center, this innovative machine uses compressed air to blow water off the track.
Unlike traditional methods which relied heavily on heat, the Air Titan displaces the bulk of the water using air, reducing the reliance on evaporation. A convoy of vacuum trucks follows the Air Titan, sucking up the displaced water.
This giant leap forward has made the track drying process faster, more energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly.
In-depth Look at the Air Titan
Unveiled in 2013, the Air Titan revolutionized track drying in NASCAR. This product of NASCAR’s Research & Development Center brought a whole new approach to the process. Unlike the traditional methods which relied heavily on evaporation, the Air Titan displaces the majority of water from the track surface, using compressed air. This is a more energy-efficient process that speeds up the track drying time significantly.
The Air Titan system comprises several components: a primary towing vehicle, a compressor which generates the pressurized air, and a set of air nozzles mounted on a trailer which the vehicle tows. The air nozzles direct the compressed air onto the track surface, pushing water away from the asphalt.
A fleet of vacuum trucks follows the Air Titan, sucking up the displaced water to prevent it from resettling on the track.
But it’s not just about the machine itself. The Air Titan system reflects a change in NASCAR’s philosophy towards track drying. Instead of focusing on evaporation, which is largely dependent on weather conditions, the emphasis is now on displacement, giving NASCAR more control over the drying process.
The introduction of the Air Titan has significantly reduced the time taken to dry tracks after rain, a huge win for drivers, teams, and fans.
The Role of Jet Dryers in Track Drying
Jet dryers have been a part of NASCAR’s track drying arsenal since the 1970s. These vehicles, equipped with jet engines, blast hot air onto the track surface to evaporate water. While the Air Titan leads the way in terms of displacement, jet dryers still play an essential role in the drying process.
They are especially useful for completing the drying process after the Air Titan has done its work, helping to evaporate any remaining moisture. The high-temperature air from the jet dryers also helps increase the track temperature, which is vital for ensuring optimal tire grip when racing resumes.
Coordination and Logistics of Track Drying
The process of drying a wet NASCAR track is an exercise in coordination and logistics. The effort requires a fleet of Air Titans and jet dryers working together in a choreographed fashion to cover the entire track surface efficiently.
Alongside these, pickup trucks equipped with smaller jet dryers are used for precision drying. NASCAR and track officials maintain constant communication to manage this fleet effectively. They have to consider the size and layout of the track, the severity of the rain, and the available drying equipment.
The ultimate goal is to ensure the track is dried as quickly and safely as possible, minimizing the interruption to the race.
Drying Hard-to-reach Areas
Despite the efficacy of the Air Titans and jet dryers, some areas of a racetrack are harder to reach. This includes places like pit road, the apron, and other narrow areas. For these spots, NASCAR uses smaller, more maneuverable drying equipment.
This could include smaller jet dryers mounted on pickup trucks or even, at a push, leaf blowers. It’s a meticulous process that underscores NASCAR’s attention to detail.
The Timeline of Drying a Wet Track
The duration of the drying process varies greatly depending on factors like the length of the track, the severity of the rain, and the ambient temperature.
For example, drying a two-mile track like Michigan International Speedway, following a brief shower, could take approximately an hour and a half.
In contrast, a shorter track like Martinsville Speedway may only take about 30 minutes to dry after a light rain. NASCAR strives to reduce this time as much as possible.
The fans might be eager for the race to restart, but NASCAR will not rush the drying process at the expense of the drivers’ safety.
A striking example of NASCAR’s track drying prowess came during the 2012 Daytona 500. A fiery crash involving Juan Pablo Montoya’s car and a jet dryer caused a massive fuel spill on the track. The resulting fire led to a two-hour delay.
Despite this challenge, the NASCAR track drying team, using a combination of quick-dry absorbents, jet dryers, and sweeper trucks, managed to clean and dry the track successfully, allowing the race to resume and finish.
The Future of Track Drying in NASCAR
As NASCAR continues to innovate, the future of track drying looks brighter than ever. The organization is actively exploring new technologies to speed up the process without compromising safety.
One such avenue is the use of advanced absorbent materials that can rapidly soak up water from the track surface, effectively reducing the time and energy required for drying.
Moreover, NASCAR is researching improvements to the Air Titan and other drying machines to make them even more effective. For instance, incorporating better fuel technologies could result in a more eco-friendly track drying process.
While predicting the weather may always be out of NASCAR’s control, how they respond to it is a testament to their commitment to safety, innovation, and the spirit of racing.
From the early days of simply waiting for the sun to shine, to the development of jet dryers and the revolutionary Air Titan, NASCAR has continually risen to the challenge of weather disruptions.
The process is not just about machines but also a coordination of efforts, attention to detail, and an overarching commitment to safety.
As NASCAR continues to push the boundaries of technology, fans can look forward to even shorter delays and more racing, whatever the weather.