We’re never too old for a good 'Education Station'
Today we got to the track early enough to split another Elephant Ear. While we ate it we were surrounded by kids. Kids of every age, size, color and description. Kids walking, kids running, there were even kids in wheelchairs. The schools were out in force. It seemed to be ‘kids day’ at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - making this lively place all the livelier.
The track must have known they were coming because at strategic points around the grounds there were signs announcing Education Stations. As we devoured our cinnamon and sugar pick-me-up we noticed a bunch of kids congregated around a nearby Education Station. An older man was getting ready to tell them about an Indy car that was parked there for his demonstration. We decided to join them and it was a smart decision. The following facts are from his presentation:
There are five main factors that influence a car’s ability to go fast, weight, shape, tires, engine and driver. He started by asking for a volunteer and he picked a skinny young girl to come up to the front. He asked the group if he challenged this girl to a foot race, who did they think would win it? In a chorus they answered “She would!” He laughed and asked them why they thought she would win? The first answer was, “Because you’re old!” Then someone said, “Because you’re fat!” and that was the answer he was looking for. "Yes, weight makes a big difference! If this Indy car weighs 1,500 pounds and your family car weighs 3,500 pounds that’s an extra ton of weight that’s slowing your family car down." Makes sense!
Then he talked about shape, about aerodynamics and the channeling of air flow. He told them the car has three wings. The obvious ones are the rear wing and the front wings (which count as one wing). Less obvious but most important of all is the bottom of the car which is shaped like an airplane wing and functions as one, creating a vacuum that pulls the car down on the track. At racing speeds this creates a down force that is three times the weight of the car, and he told us that theoretically you could run a car upside down on the ceiling if you could get it up to 200 miles per hour.
Then he talked about tires and he asked the kids how the racing slick he was holding up compared to the tires on their family car at home. In addition to being wider and having no tread, he told them the rubber is softer and he passed out bags of rubber picked up off the track after a race. He had them rub their hands together to see how friction creates heat, and he told them how the heat softens the rubber and makes it hold better to the track. In a race the tires get hot enough to boil water. He told them that the rubber tread on racing tires is only 3/32 of an inch thick (about the thickness of a credit card). The tires cost $650.00 apiece and a team is allowed 32 sets of tires for this race - about $90,000 just for tires!
Next he talked about the engine. A Honda V8 Indy car engine develops about 650 horsepower, about three times the horsepower of the average family car. It burns pure Ethanol (which is made of corn) and it gets an average of 3.3 miles per gallon. An engine costs about $120,000 but the teams don’t buy the engines, they rent them. Finally he talked about the importance of having a good driver and he said “You can have the best and hottest car money can buy, but if you don’t have a good driver the car is not going to go fast!
He ended his presentation telling us how much different items cost, and he pointed out that by the time a team gets to the track they have $600,000 to $700,000 tied up in the car, and they haven't even started the engine yet! The last thing he showed us was the small radio transmitter each car carries and he said each radio operates on it’s own frequency. Sensors around the track pick up signals from the transmitters as they pass, and the sensors transmit signals to the Pagoda data center telling it the cars’ speeds and positions.
He pointed out that the transmitter is a piece of electronic equipment that can fail, so track officials keep track of the cars in two other ways as well. A camera located in a hole in the Finish Line wall (below the flagman’s perch) can take 10,000 photographs a minute, and it photographs every car that passes it every time. He said that if you question the officials and think you won the race, you’d better have 200 photos of your car crossing that line to back up your claim.
Finally, in addition to the transmitters and the camera, there is a room in the pagoda which overlooks the ‘yard of bricks’ finish line, and there is a table there with 33 chairs. Each team is allowed to have one representative sit at that table and count off each time his car passes the line. With these three systems in place on race day, track officials figure they have a pretty good handle on who is where, and who is out front.
Our teacher’s name was Augie, and we thanked him for letting us join his class. He said his father was into racing and he grew up around it all his life. He volunteers to do these classes, hoping to pass on some of his enthusiasm for the sport to the next generation. I think he did.
The rest of the day was more practice and more tours of the Paddock, joined by a crowd of race fans that is growing in size every day.