A black, 18-wheel, semi-trailer truck sat in a parking lot about 200 yards north of Kansas Speedway, where it was surrounded by a pack of TV trailers. On the outside, the vehicle looked rather inconspicuous.
On the inside, though, it’s home to NASCAR’s rapidly expanding world of technology.
More specifically, that would be pit-road officiating technology, which NASCAR added this year and introduced this week to Kansas Speedway races.
The PRO system monitors potential violations — such as crew members hopping over the wall too early or drivers crossing over more than three boxes to leave pit road — and alerts a group of eight officials in the trailer.
Much like other professional sports, the system is designed to remove a bulk of the human element in the violations process and replace it with more consistency.
“Everybody’s got to be a little more on their game, but it’s black and white now,” driver Ty Dillon said. “Any kind of flaw, you know what happened and they can go back and show you. It’s pretty cool. It’s unique and it shows our sport’s advancing with technology. It makes pit road that much more important every time you come down.”
Chad Little, managing director of technical inspection and officiating for NASCAR, oversees the operation. While he was tight-lipped on the exact numbers, he says the new system is catching “several more” violations in each race, though the number is consistently dropping as drivers make adjustments.
So how does it work?
NASCAR lines 50 cameras along the top of the grandstands and rooftops at every track — a process that takes more than eight hours, said Stephen Dwyer, the PRO senior systems technician. Those cameras are locked in-tune with Hawk-Eye technology that identifies every pit box, and their feeds are displayed on more than 20 computer screens inside the trailer.
Every pit stop is monitored, and when the system determines a driver has broken a rule, an alert pops up on the screen. If an official affirms the rule, video replay is sent directly to the crew.
The process has eliminated three-fourths of the on-site officials, who were previously asked to climb the pit-box walls to make determinations. Instead, they sit inside a cozy, state-of-the-art truck.
“In the past, you have the human eye looking at this 3,400-pound car and making sure he didn’t get run over while trying to make those calls,” said Little, a former NASCAR driver. “We’re able to get those officials off pit road.”
That’s provided an increase in safety for the pit-road officials — the remainder of which aren’t asked to clear the wall, except on rare occasions. It simultaneously offers the drivers an advantage, as well.
“Officials aren’t in the way as you are trying to get in or out of the stall. That was always frustrating with those guys trying to be on the right side of the car,” driver Jamie McMurray said. “... Other than there just being less people on pit road, it’s been a seamless transition for me.
“I was a little nervous about the driving through three pit stalls, because I felt like all of us cheated on that or that we all maybe drove through more pit stalls than we should have. So being a little bit conscious of that is the only thing I haven’t noticed, and I don’t even pay attention to it anymore.”