Sunday, May 17, 2009

NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge

Just got back from the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte. Really, really cool event. Tons of pressure to get it perfect, because the show is very tightly coreographed, and so much is happening simultaneously, it would be difficult and time-consuming to go to manual backup. We got it perfect, but I was not without sleepless nights.

The show was live on SPEED for two hours. TV graphics in HD 720P. My AKISPORT CGs performed admirably, the graphics really looked crisp. I designed a cool lower-third animation which blasted the two clocks and two NASCAR door numbers onto the graphic with lightning bolts, and it got on the air a couple of dozen times, which was something I wanted out of the deal.

Had a nice dinner with my friend Trampass and his wife at my favorite Soul Food restaurant, Mert's Heart and Soul.

Check out this photofinish. Almost a dead heat. The two teams weren't actually running against each other, they were running against the clock, in a qualifying round.

Time for car 24: 23.846
Time for car 39: 23.855

Margin of victory: 0.009 (Nine one-thousandths of a second)

39 was later assessed a penalty for this push, so they were docked 3 seconds (for a loose lug nut). So ultimately, it wasn't this close.

The cars are moving very slowly (they are being pushed by the crews, not driven), and the event in indoors in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, so JimmyBob (operating the Lynx) had to back the speed of the Lynx camera way down, since the lighting isn't that great. The frame rate we were using here was well under 1000 fps, although my Lynx Pro 5000 camera, under ideal lighting, is good for 5,000 fps. Calculating out the various factors, but without having a speed trap or RADAR to know exactly how fast the cars were going at the finish, my figures tell me the margin of victory here was about 1/2 cm.

It's a good thing JimmyBob sighted in the Lynx carefully.

And it's a good thing we replaced all the clown-nose switches just before the event. A redesign of the pit wall enabled the crews to use the clown-nose as a vaulting point. Even though the clown-noses are solid steel, I worry.

The calm before the storm.

Think these guys aren't taking this seriously? Given the financial trouble the teams are experiencing, and the subsequent mergers & consolidations, 1/10 second more or less in this competition may very well be the difference between keeping your job and hitting the bricks.

Very possibly, there's nobody who takes it more seriously than Yours Truly. Sitting with two NASCAR officials.

But then again, perhaps Tony Stewart aka "Smoke" takes it more seriously than I do. Here he's looking at the clocks on the Daktronics displays, trying to figure out exactly what happened. By the way, Smoke won the All-Star Race two days later up at the track.

Floor coordinators Anne Stamper and Michael Verlatti from JHE Productions are taking it pretty seriously, too.

The Skunkware timing team talks things over. The blurry figure in front of the gas cans is Jay Howard, principal of JHE Productions, and the brains behind this entire concept & event.

Locked & loaded in our aloha crew shirts, waiting for the Preliminary Round, which is held before the doors open as a TV rehearsal.

Preparing for Media Day.

Keyboards & laptops, anybody? Actually, we used less equipment in 2009 than in 2008, since the AKISPORT GS2 CGs each do the work of three of the old Matrox CG machines.

Getting Andryroo-san ready over in the TV Graphics department.

Special thanks to Mike Walker Photography for these most excellent pikkies:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Daniel Albrecht Finally Leaves Hospital - At The End of April


Jeebus! Swiss Super-Kombined World Champion Daniel Albrecht finally left the hospital THIS WEEK, after being severely injured in a crash during the Hannenkamm-Rennen in Kitzb├╝hel in January.

I saw it from the zeitmessungraum in the KSC Zielhaus (about 200m away), and it wasn't pretty. Almost identical to Scott Macartney's crash the year before.

The thing the strikes me about Albrecht's crash is that while Macartney is a very good ski racer, the American has a history of bad crashes on sections involving big air; Albrecht, on the other hand, is a GREAT skier, a World Champion, a perennial threat to win any speed race on the World Cup.

Both guys simply made a mistake. It happens.

Both crashes have made our RADAR TV graphic speedo famous across the ski world, as YouTube has had millions of hits on the various videos. Our RADAR data will also be used in analyses of the crash by various safety committees.

Abrecht peaked out at 138.2 KmH coming into the Zielkompression. Weather, visibility, and course prep were perfect. Note our little speedbug above the clock.

He had plenty of time to react if he felt he was off-balance going into the Zielsprung.

Goes into the jump clean.

Gets lift up under his chest and starts to come apart in the air.

At this point, he's got to know he's in serious trouble.

As with American Chad Fleischer's almost-identical crash about ten years ago, Albrecht's skis vaporized into cloth from the force of the hit.

He slid a good 200 meters on his face before coming to a stop.

The Austrian on-mountain rescue team was on Albrecht in around 10-15 seconds.

This chopper, which is HQd year-round on a pad across the street from the Kitzb├╝helerhorn gondola (across the valley from the Streif racecourse), normally is on 24-hr reserve to help out with road car accidents. During the HKR, it is relocated to a pad less than 300m from the finish line, with a pilot in the hot seat at all times.

After watching these rescue guys in action for three HKRs now, I am more in awe of them than I am of the athletes who actually ski in the race. They are extraordinarily skilled at a very tough and dangerous job.