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Tuesday Morning Memo: Keep The Carbs

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 25 2009
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton could have hands full if fuel injection ever arrives. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton could have hands full if fuel injection ever arrives. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s just see what’s in today’s Tuesday Morning Memo:

* Technical difficulties

Standing near the NASCAR hauler in the infield at Dover several years ago, then head of NASCAR’s research and development department Gary Nelson admitted he was nervous and not just because he was thinking about the post-race traffic he would soon encounter.

Nelson was nervous because he had recently returned from Europe where, upon orders from NASCAR, he had given the Formula One Series the once over. He had seen some things that caught his attention and fanned some serious concerns.

Those concerns centered on the technology of the time in F1. They centered on the use of computers in the cars.

Nelson saw racing Armageddon in Europe.

He saw a future in which drivers in automobile races would become passengers.

I recalled the conversation I had with Nelson that day in Dover after recently reading an internet report – probably false – that NASCAR may abandon the use of carburetors and switch to fuel injection.

Such a move would seem to make sense for a number of reasons.

First, carburetors have not been widely used in street cars since the 1980s. Placing them in Sprint Cup cars would give the series a kick forward in terms of relevancy.

Second, fuel injection is cleaner and more efficient than are mechanical carburetors.

Third, use of them in NASCAR might actually save teams money in the long run as they are able to cut back on carburetor technology R and D.

So why was Nelson so concerned?

You get a hint of why when you consider another name for fuel injection, one that is more descriptive. Fuel injection is also called electronic engine management systems.

That is, simply, functions like amounts of fuel sent into combustion chambers and the spark and ignition of the fuel is controlled by a black box, a computer. And that computer can be programed.

So what?

Well, as Nelson talked about this at Dover, he was standing next to a long table. On that table were illegal parts which had been confiscated from Sprint Cup teams in recent days. Real, actual parts that a person – an official – could pick up, examine and then put on a table by the NASCAR hauler.

When it comes to computers and computer programs, you are not dealing with parts, you are dealing with something much more etherial. You are dealing with binary codes, the exact purposes of which are virtually impossible to determine by technical inspectors.

Many things can be hidden in those black boxes. Including things like dreaded traction control.

In the years leading up to 1993, use of computers got so sophisticated in Formula One that the cars could literally drive themselves around the race courses and perhaps do a better, more efficient job of it than, say, Ayrton Senna.

F1 has wrestled with this problem for decades. How much technology is too much? How big of a role do we want technology to play in racing?

NASCAR has long prided itself in being low tech. It does not feel a need to defend the use of carburetors and push-rod engines and that is all kind of charming. It is also used as a defensive mechanism in a sport populated by very smart people.

You think that cheating in NASCAR now is a sticky donut? You think policing and inspecting now is an inexact science? You think conspiracy theory is high drama now?

Wait until they start putting black boxes in Cup cars.

Memo to self: Clear the decks on the day that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a race in a car with a black box in it.

* Say what?

Prior to Sunday’s IndyCar Series race, the Versus cable network showed some highlights from the weekend at Infineon Raceway.

One of the segments was about Helio Castroneves and Mario Moraes getting involved in an on-track incident in the morning warmup session. They spun each other out and then had words in the pits.

So the Versus announcer comes back live and says he sure hopes they wreck again during the race. And, “Don’t you?”

Well, dude, not really.

The guy – I did not catch his name but obviously some rookie happy-talker who thinks he looks good in a faux fire suit – said this a day after two of the series’ top drivers were seriously injured in a practice crash.

One of those injured in the practice wreck, Will Power, fractured vertebrae in his back. The other, Nelson Philippe, sustained an open fracture of his ankle.

I hate to take shots at the job TV does. I have done some TV and radio and it is hard to do it right. But Versus, ugg. Amateur hour. No feel for the sport, though plenty of condescention from the “talent”.

Memo to self: See if the IndyCar Series is on radio.

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Memo to self: Shut the TV off and read a book once in a while.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 25 2009
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • RenegadeX says:

    Whoops, previous post linked to the *thousands* of Infineon attendees who watched the race and who each got a free red “Team Penske” hat all courtesy of Philip Morris(Marlboro). The correct image link for the Versus dummies is this one. (Jack Arute(on the left) / some guy named Robbie Floyd on the right)

    • Will E says:

      I saw the Versus telecast.

      It’s the guy on the right who seemed inexplicably eager to have Castronevas and Moraes mix it up again during the race.

      Of course, this was the same network that pronounced Franchitti as Frank-Chitty during the voice over during a promotional ad for an upcoming race.

  • RenegadeX says:

    re: the Versus moron who hopes to see crashes – was it the guy on the left or the guy on the right in this pic?

  • Andy Roseannadanna says:

    You need a good bass boat?