Every time I watch an F1 race on television, I am always amazed at the number of crew members standing in the paddock staring at monitors. Those big race teams have all the cool toys. Well, NASA race teams can have something similar, and it isn’t as difficult as you might think. Building a “command center” for a pit area is actually pretty easy with a few components.
These days nearly everybody has a beat-up flat screen TV that was replaced by something larger and better for their living rooms. Take that old unused TV screen and use it to keep your crew informed about what is going on at the next endurance race.
For the 25 Hours of Thunderhill race last December, Keith Kramer designed a portable board that could be assembled at the track to hold two flat screen TVs separated by a white board. We used one television to show the Race Monitor app, which kept the team informed about lap times and class standings. We used the other television to show the crew an Excel spreadsheet, which kept track of fuel mileage and a number of other wear items that needed to be tracked during the long race. We used the white board in the middle of the command center to list the tasks that would be completed during the next pit stop, things like driver swaps, fuel, tire changes, windshield cleaned, etc. The white board also listed when the next pit stop would take place so crew members would know if they could take a nap or hit the rest room before things got busy in the pits again.
The command center, which was run by the crew chief, kept everyone on the team informed about what was happening, when it would occur and what each person’s job was at every moment. This enormous amount of information is crucial to a team’s success. A lot goes on during a long endurance race and having all that information centralized is great for keeping a tight and organized pit crew. Plus, it makes your team appear professional, even if it is just a piece of plywood, a junk flat screen, a laptop, and a fold-up table. If it works for Sebastian Vettel and Team Red Bull in F1, it can work for you too in NASA.