NASCAR Nerds: Red Bull Racing Uses Tech to Get an Edge

This week I am getting to fulfill a NASCAR fan’s dream. I was invited to join the Red Bull Racing team as they prepare for the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte, NC this Sunday, May 30.

NASCAR has come a long way since the early years of racing stock cars on the beach of Daytona Beach, FL and the dirt tracks in rural areas of North Carolina. Now it is a multimillion dollar sport and they look for any edge they can get on their competition. That’s where technology comes into play.

Red Bull Racing (RBR) uses around 150 different computers including rugged tablet PCs from Mobile Demand and HP Laptops to keep track of everything from tire pressure to lap times with hopes of giving them a competitive edge.

I’ve been a NASCAR fan since I first moved to central North Carolina in 2000. But as a transplant from the North my primary prejudice regarding NASCAR people is red neck gear heads. But what I learned is some of them may be good ole boys from the South, but regardless of their geographical background, they are sharp people deeply involved in high tech.

There is more technology surrounding a NASCAR team like RBR than most small high tech businesses. The RBR IT guy manages around 150 PCs. And he has to network all of them in a mobile environment where there is no Cable or DSL to get online. Being with the Sprint Cup Series they use Sprint broadband devices to get all the computers online and communicating with one another and their garage back in Mooresville, NC.

If one of those computers goes down or is not able to get on the network, then it could cost them a race by adding seconds to a pit stop. In NASCAR a split second can be the difference between first place and making The Chase, NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, and having to say, “Maybe next year.” So the RBR tech guy has back-ups like any good IT manager will. But he has the pressure of millions of dollars on the line. And like all IT people, he is usually only noticed when something fails. Add to that the fact that they are moving their office all over the country to various races 38 times a year, then you can see he has a lot of pressure. But he also gets to do it in the environment of a big league professional sport.

After spending just one day with the RBR team, my stereotype of what a NASCAR racing team is all about has changed. Maybe they are gear heads who see laptops, tablet PCs and smart phones as tools rather than toys like many of the geeks who love tech, but they are sharp and professional people who use tech in a very exciting but difficult environment.