NASCAR and consumer technology still experiencing growing pains

Tyler Barrick - Getty Images

When my cable went out during Sunday's NASCAR race at New Hampshire, my first thought was: "Damn technology!"

But moments later, when I loaded ESPN's broadcast onto my computer (from WatchESPN.com), listened to scanner audio via my iPhone (Sprint Cup Mobile app) and used NASCAR.com's RaceBuddy as a supplementary viewing experience, I had another thought: "Technology is awesome!"

For about 10 minutes, everything was perfect. I was listening to the drivers talk to their teams from hundreds of miles away – for free – and using both my computer and phone to watch a live broadcast.

Incredible! I love living in 2012.

But then the ESPN site started buffering and freezing, the Sprint iPhone app shut down and wouldn't reload for the rest of the day and RaceBuddy was a sputtering disappointment.

Again, it was: "Damn technology!"

If my experience was at all similar to what fans go through on a weekly basis, there's a love/hate relationship with the handful of ways to watch a race aside from TV. The concepts are great, and it's amazing when they function correctly. But when it doesn't? It's enough to make you want to throw a helmet.

We're all spoiled by modern technology. I get that. But as long as the stuff exists, is it too much to ask for it to work when you need it to?

Complaints about this stuff are reminiscent of comedian Louis C.K.'s bit where he observed how everyone is unhappy with technology even though it's amazing. As C.K. said about cell phones: "Give it a second! It's going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space?"

The same could be said about listening to scanner audio on your cell phone. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that incredible? Yes. When it does what it claims to do.

When it fails, it all seems like a cruel tease. Really? I can listen the drivers talk for free? Wow! Oh, only for 30 seconds at a time before the app crashes and won't reload? Crap!

The Watch ESPN app worked most of the time (my lagging internet connection was likely to blame), but it was roughly a minute behind what was actually happening on the track. I'd read something on Twitter and I'd see it five or six laps later. That's a lot!

Eventually, I settled for this combination:

• Twitter.com and GoPRN.com for play-by-play/race updates;

• Watch ESPN app for a replay of something Twitter/radio said was interesting;

• Sprint iPhone app for making my blood pressure rise.

Every time I raise the watch-from-home topic, I always hear from people who say, "Why don't you just order HotPass from DirecTV?" Well, guess what? I don't have DirecTV.

And then there are people who suggest using NASCAR.com's TrackPass features. I'd love to, but I can never seem to get it to work. And when it does work, the information is so far behind that it's not worth it.

There are more improvements on the way, but it may take time. Brian France was ridiculed by some fans when he announced there are "glass dashboards" in development, but it's actually a good idea.

France is hoping to use telemetry to send real-time data from the cars to fans at home or in the stands. That could be a really cool upgrade to the viewing experience – if it works.

What NASCAR really needs is a device like FanVision, except for home use. FanVision is an at-track handset (for rent or sale) which is only a fraction of a second behind the live action. It has video, scanner audio (including playback if you missed a recent comment), stats and more.

If FanVision's technology could somehow be adapted for viewers who aren't at the track - and with the same real-time feel - it could be a big boost for the whole sport.

There's no question simply watching the TV broadcast is enough for most fans anymore, because you can't get a full sense of the race from TV. You need other technology to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Twitter and the online radio feed of the race seemed to be the most reliable ways to do that on Sunday.

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