If you have spent any time at a local NASA event, you are probably familiar with the RaceHero app. This handy application allows you to see your qualifying times, ensure your transponder is working, compare your times against competitors and ultimately see your final results. Many of us have screen captured winning results from RaceHero and posted them to our Instagram accounts for a bit of humble bragging. RaceHero is a powerful tool that can be harnessed for much more than social media likes.
Instead of using RaceHero just to check out what happened after the race is over, we use RaceHero for live timing data during sprint races and especially during endurance races. During NASA Western Endurance Racing Championship races we project the RaceHero data from a small cellphone screen to a large flat-screen television we have set up on pit lane. This allows the entire race team to be a part of the strategy as a collaborative group as opposed to being individual “phone faces.”
One of the outstanding features about the RaceHero app, especially on a big screen that everyone can see, is the fact that the header of the screen changes from green to yellow to red in accordance with the flags flown on track. This allows our spotter to tell the driver instantaneously “Yellow, Yellow, Yellow!” which is key during long multiclass racing events like enduros where there is a lot of passing. Nobody wants a five-minute stop-and-go penalty for passing under yellow. That is a race killer. Additionally, we want everyone on track to be safe, so the more people that know the course is yellow the better.
For the pit crew in the paddock to be able to view race data live, and to be able to see if the track has gone full-course yellow is extremely beneficial because a full-course yellow opens up a number of different NASA endurance racing rules you have to navigate. This is where solid race strategy comes into play, but that strategy can only be employed if you have information. To ensure the crew chief, spotter and the guy who makes hot dogs for our team all have the same live information, we use our portable display setup in the pit lane.
The cost to put together our portable RaceHero display was a lot less than you would think. Flat screen televisions are almost free at Walmart these days. A foldable table at a race is worth every penny of its price. HDMI cables on Amazon are less than $10. All of us already own the RaceHero app on our phones because the app is free. When you think about how much you would pay not to have a penalty during a race or how much you would pay to make sure you pitted at just the right time, then the infrastructure costs of putting together a RaceHero app display is a no brainer.
The decision to build this sort of display has less to do with money and more to do with more stuff you have to bring to the track, more stuff you have to store, and more stuff you have to deal with in general. Yes, you can get overwhelmed with lots of gear and infrastructure. On our team, we call it, “setting up the circus.” We have canopies, tools, boxes, flooring, televisions, and custom lighted ice coolers on wheels filled with Tactical Ops Brewing Double Nickel Nine IPA for after the race. Sometimes we are so busy setting up the circus we struggle to find time to remember to put gas in the car. Regardless of the added setup, we realized the RaceHero app display was worth the effort.
The trick to not being overwhelmed with extra infrastructure is organization. It is for this reason that I try to make everything easy to store and travel. Additionally, I try to make things easy to store at the track, which is why I love table covers. I store all kinds of unsightly stuff under the tables, and to keep things easy for setting up by helpful crew members who may not be familiar with what things should look like in the our pits, I label everything with my favorite tool, my Brother P-Touch label maker.
One of the obstacles we had to overcome when we were dreaming up this display setup was power for the television. We could use a generator, but that is noisy, requires the gas to be refilled and has more cords all over the pits to trip over. I found a Yeti Goal Zero 400 portable power source that will power the world. It is a portable power source that you can charge before a race weekend and it will run almost anything. This was the most expensive part of our setup ($450 –yet half the price of a Honda generator) and we use it all the time for all sorts of things. You want to plug in a shop vac and run it really quick on grid? Plug it into the Goal Zero and go crazy. This portable power allows freedom.
Running the RaceHero app is simple. Turn it on, find your race and look for your run group. There are no changes needed on the app to connect it to a television, this is all done via an HDMI cable. The app allows you to switch between looking at overall results or class specific results. This is extremely useful during multiclass racing. If you are racing in the E3 class, you aren’t trying to win overall, you are trying to win E3. What you care about are the cars in your class. Switch the app to class-specific results and start working your race strategy.
Once your television is powered up all that is left to do is to connect the RaceHero app from a digital device (cellphone, tablet, etc.) to the television. This is easily accomplished with an inexpensive HDMI cable. Use the television’s remote control to change the input to the HDMI port you plugged the cable into and you should have the signal. Now, what was on a small cellphone screen for one person to view is now on a large television for all to see.
The only real obstacle we ran into when creating this system was connecting an iPhone to an HDMI cable. We had to source a special converter cord that would push the app from an iPhone to the television. Because the iPhone only has one port to connect to we had to make a choice, charge the phone or connect the television? Luckily, after some searching and trial and error we found a converter plug that allowed power to be supplied via an iPhone charger and an output to an HDMI cable. This solved all of our problems and it the system worked perfectly without us worrying about a cellphone dying during the race. We charged the cellphone through our portable power source.
Once we had our setup ready to go and tested it at numerous races, we realized we could use the same setup for other types of events. We started bringing our TV/table/portable power setup to car shows. Instead of answering the same question over and over again, “What kind of racing do you do?” we just run race videos like this one for people to see what NASA racing is all about. The Goal Zero power source runs the television and a laptop flawlessly for hours.
Most of us already own a lot of the components we used to create this RaceHero app display. It is just a matter of connecting the dots and prioritizing setting it up at the track for your crew. Remember, racing smart equals racing fast. You need information to be smart. Set this up and then go fast.