Transponders keep it all in order

From first to 43rd, NASCAR officials always know the order, timing and scoring for Nextel Cup races thanks to transponders mounted on the fuel cell of each race car.

Updated: June 20, 2007, 7:37 PM ET
By Brett Borden | Special to

There was a time when human beings were relied upon to manually track the laps and running order of the field at each NASCAR race. Those days are long gone.

Nextel Cup scoreboard
John Cordes/Icon SMIComputers have made scoreboard watching more timely at NASCAR tracks.
Today, wireless devices surround each race track and feed the track position of each car to the centrally located timing and scoring computers in the scoring tower. It's all done using a redundant fiber optic system with transponders that are mounted to the fuel cells of each race car.

Of course, human beings still have to make sure the data is coming in correctly. But just as in many aspects of modern day life, computers have, for all intents and purposes, taken over.

The transponders constantly broadcast their location to the multiple scoring units around the track.

When NASCAR throws out a caution, its scoring officials know instantly what the running order is and can freeze the field. This is of utmost importance, as safety crews no longer have to wait before responding to an accident for lap leaders to race back to the start-finish line to preserve their place in line.

Accurately freezing the field as it approaches 200 mph is impressive, but the advantages of the technology available to scoring officials isn't limited to the track. NASCAR sorts through a mountain of information on Mondays that it gets from its system.

The processor-powered servers created by the mobile timing-and-scoring command centers receive information four times per second from each car. This adds up to more than half a million data points per race.