The Technology Behind Indy Car Racing…”Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines”

We are told the Indianapolis Speedway was built in 1906 primarily to be used as a test track by carmakers. The circuit launched its signature 500 mile race in 1911.   According to Dan Carney we can thank Indy for:

  1. Rear view mirrors
  2. Aerodynamics
  3. 4 wheel hydralic brakes
  4. Front wheel drive
  5. All wheel drive
  6. Turbo charging
  7. Seat belts
  8. Turbo engine
  9. Crash data recorders
  10. Renewable ethanol fuel

Watching the Indianapolis 500 was always a Memorial Weekend tradition while I was growing up.  However, I had not paid too much attention to the Indianapolis 500 in recent years. The second week of May 2013 during the Hewlett Packard (HP)Technology Event  for Higher Education in Indianapolis my racing motor was revved up one again as I had the opportunity to:

  1. Ride in a Indy two seater
  2. Go behind the scenes and see how the cars that race at Indy are made in the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Indianapolis.   
  3. The primary purpose of the trip was to attend sessions which laid out HP’s computing roadmap for the next couple of years and  a secondary purpose was to tour the HP manufacturing plant in Indianapolis.   

The ride in the Indycar was definitely a once in a lifetime or maybe even what some would call a bucket list event. I didn’t have it on my bucket list prior to this trip but I penciled it in while I was there. I didn’t know if this was OK but a cousin of mine had some pretty sage advice on this topic after I posted one of the event pictures to Facebook:   

Sometimes that bucket list is made as we live life instead of as we think about living life!! Way to go on living life, many people would have stood on the side and never got in that car!

I have been to many technology events over the years even some with notable entertainers and bands.  Up until this event my favorite had been sword swallowers and fire eaters.  I mean how in the world do you beat the excitement of a human stuffing a sword down their pie hole.  I’ll tell you how…  You put on a firesuit and zip around the track at the Indy Speedway at 180mph.  Not quite as fast as this years Indy qualifiers(Ed Carpenter 228+mph) and granted we did not go as fast as my last cab ride in San Francisco. but this now at the top of my “exciting scale” for conference events.   Exciting, oh yes……After the racing event we were getting back on the bus to head back for afternoon sessions the fine folks at HP tell us “we are going to have some exciting sessions this afternoon”…… exciting? Informative yes, Interesting..probably …. but exciting…..You have got to be kidding. I just rode around the Indy speedway at 180ish MPH in an Indy Car with racing legends Mario Andretti and Davey Hamilton.  My heart was still beating fast and still is a week later.  Way cool to say the least.  We knew we were going to the track, we just didn’t know who the drivers were going to be.  

It was the second day of the sessions we took a field trip to the Indy Speedway.  The size of the place is enormous.  400,000 race fans attend this annual event.  Never have I felt anything like it:  It Felt like my head was gonna be pulled off. It was so loud with only three cars going I thought it was going to scramble my brains. I could have touched the wall coming down the backstretch. Which would of course been a bad idea as I would be typing with only one arm at this point.  I certainly have a new perspective when seeing drivers moving at high rates of speed in races only inches from each other.

In the evening we visited the Dallara IndyCar Factory which is a joint venture between the IndyCar Experience and Dallara Automobili. It is located just southwest of the Speedway itself and is a short drive from Downtown Indianapolis – the Dallara IndyCar Factory is a destination for race-enthusiasts, and for rookies like me as well.  

The Dallara IndyCar Factory is 23,000 square feet of interactive and hands-on exhibits centered around the engineering and technology of the world’s fastest sport! There are walls lined with the current IndyCar’s blueprints and design concept drawings.   The theatre gives a historical look at the past, present and future of Gian Paolo Dallara and his company, Dallara Automobili!      Visitors get the opportunity to witness IndyCar chassis being made and produced right in front of their eyes! The Dallara factory isn’t like the assembly lines and robot-assembled cars that come to mind when you think of car production; every Dallara chassis is handmade by one of the many qualified technicians in the Dallara factory.

According to Chip Ganassi Racing Team Manager Grant Weaver the initial expense of an Indycar is about $375,000 for a rolling car. You add $100,000 worth of electronics.  Throw in a lease for an engines [from Honda], at approximately a million dollars per year per driver. Pay extra for the brakes and the drive shafts which don’t come on the car and all of a sudden there’s about a million dollars rolling around on the road.

Other Observations:

I posted on “Davey Hamilton & Me” at Indy Car Factory. I asked him if anyone had ever lost their helmet and he said one…it is a funny story.  The story goes something like this:

A young man  who only had one arm got the chance to ride in one of the Indy Racing Experience two seater cars.   When sizing helmets he stated the helmet he was given  was too tight and so they then fitted a looser helmet.  So as the ride began he told them he felt the chin strap slipping up and over his chin.  When it slipped off the chin he grabbed the strap with his teeth.   He then lost the strap and it got caught on his nose.  The helmet was over course over his eyes and tugging on his nose and as he was finishing the ride they saw the helmet pop off and shoot way in the air.  When they arrived back in the pit his firemask was up over his eyes and he was yelling “my nose, is  my nose still there”

Also according to Davey Hamilton the average day of a racer is as follows:

  1. Up Early to workout
  2. Team Meetings
  3. Lunch
  4. Drive simulators
  5. Work Out
  6. Meet with sponsors

The hardest part is not physical, we are all in very good shape.  It is mental part, the multitasking required to drive a high speeds, inches from others going the same speed while at the same time communicating with your team.  At the end of a race you are  mentally exhausted -Davey Hamilton

What a cool day….I smile every time I think about almost getting my face pulled off in the back of that car.

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