With the start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season coming up fast with next month's Daytona 500, everyone will be remembering what happened at last year's race: a day and a half late in running due to poor weather, a further in-race rain delay brought the jet driers back out on track and in a bizarre accident Juan Montoya's car spun into the back of one of the machines and ignited its load of aviation fuel in a huge fireball.
Fortunately Montoya and the driver of the jet drier were uninjured, but that incident combined with the more typical frustration of having to wait for hours for a track to be laboriously dried by jet driers after a downpour has spurred NASCAR on to take a new look at how it can dry tracks more efficiently and safely.
"It has always been a difficult thing for our fans, both on television and certainly at the track, that once it rains, how long it takes us to get the track dried again," agreed NASCAR chairman Brian France.
"Let's change the way we do it, let's innovate, let's get a system," France had told his in-house technical development team. "The goal is to improve it by 80 per cent. So that means if we're drying Daytona off, where it usually took two and a half hours, we get it down to 30 minutes. That's the goal. And we're real close."
With the 30-minute target for the two and a half mile Daytona International Speedway, shorter tracks such as the half-mile Martinsville circuit could be ready in just 15 minutes after the rain stops. As well as safer and more efficient, the new process will be more eco-friendly according to France: “We are going to do it in a much more green, carbon-emission friendly way,” he said.
The answer to the perennial track drying problem appears to lie in using compressed air rather than the brute force of a jet engine. NASCAR was circumspect about the details as some patents are still going through, but the overall principle seems to echo that of the innovative Dyson Airblade hand-dryers which blast off moisture with a thin concentrated 'edge' of air rather than older driers that use heaters to do most of the work.
“It uses compressed air as opposed to a jet engine," explained NASCAR President Mike Helton. "It's designed to expedite the removal of water using compressed air and heat. Where the jet dryers were simply designed around blowing and depended more on hot air, the new system depends more on compressed air.”
"There's a lot more use of vacuums as well," added NASCAR's senior vice president of operations Steve O'Donnell. "It's just different technology."
Helton added that the new driers would vary from their jet counterparts “quite a bit, visually and operationally," although it proved difficult for him to describe their appearance in words: “a gain of pipes behind a pickup truck that the air is being pushed through as opposed to a jet dryer," he offered.