Lengthy rain delays in NASCAR could become a thing of the past thanks to the Air Titan, a new track drying device developed by NASCAR’s Research and Development Department.
The Air Titan utilizes compressed air to push water off of the racing surface and onto the apron where vacuum trucks will remove any remaining moisture. Standard issue jet dryers will follow the Air Titan, drying any excess water that remains on the surface. The machine will debut, if necessary, this weekend at Daytona International Speedway and will feature two identical pieces of equipment on both sides of the track. The machines will cycle around the circuit for one complete pass, which should completely dry the track.
The ultimate goal of the project is to shorten the track drying process by up to 80 percent. NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell estimates Daytona's 2.5-mile oval could be dried in 30 minutes.
The project officially began over eight months ago when NASCAR CEO Brian France tasked his R&D department to develop a means to shorten rain delays. Today’s announcement was the first step of several that could see the discontinuation of jet dryers, a decrease in both fuel emission and noise pollution. NASCAR says the next stage of the project will be to optimize the power source of the air compressors.
The current machine is powered by a diesel fuel-powered air compressor, but O'Donnel hopes the machine could evolve to become more eco-friendly. He compared Phase 1 of the Air Titan to the earliest computers, massive in size, believing the number of air compressors -- currently 17 -- could be decreased as the device becomes more efficient – much like the iPad evolved from the computer.
Daytona is currently the only track equipped with the Air Titan but NASCAR could lend the equipment to other tracks if the first few usages during an actual rain delay are deemed successful. The plan, long-term, would be for tracks to buy their own Air Titans.
"We want to see how it goes," O'Donnell said. "Keep in mind that this has never been tested during a race or during full rain conditions at a track, so we've still got some work to do once we see it, if we do see it in play, and we'll learn from there and make sure we've got the best model going forward possible for other tracks."
Last year's Daytona 500 was the first to be postponed by rain. Once the race finally began on Monday, an additional two hour delay occurred as a result of Juan Pablo Montoya's collision with a jet dryer under caution. O’Donnell said the project was discussed prior to last year’s race but the delays served as a reminder for the need of a more efficient drying system.
"We actually had plans starting prior to that," O’Donnell said. "But certainly, having the first Daytona 500 rained out put more of an emphasis on the importance for the fans attending and obviously those watching, and for us to get off to a really strong start to the season.
"The good news with this new innovation is it will really improve safety, there won't be any cars on the track during the track drying process, so we can avoid what happened in the past. And it certainly helped us to gain some momentum internally to make this a priority."