Photo by Racing Electronics
"It works best when everyone has it," Martell says. "If your light comes on, you may be reluctant to back off for fear the guy behind doesn't have a light and may plow into you. The systems are guaranteed for a year. In some of these cars, you're going to spend $1,000 or $1,500 fixing crash damage that you might have been able to avoid with the system."
Martell holds patents on the system, which has led to legal battles, including an ongoing suit with a corporate rival. The chips are programmable to flash or remain steady, set to the desires of the safety coordinator. The current ARCA system flashes for five seconds, remains lit for 20 seconds, and then is turned off. The newest lights use a display of 13 LED segments that are four times as bright as before while taking little draw from the battery.
Martell has heard the criticism of stray signals and inadvertent triggering of the light. "You can't get a fault trigger. The light won't come on unless we trigger it. I've had people tell me they could trigger our system, but nobody has been able to do it because they can't. Our transmitter is the only way to turn it on."
The transmitter in race control can also activate lights in the pace car, safety vehicles, or portable beacons to supplement the track's caution lights. Martell offers a program to provide the tracks with the transmitter at no charge.
Martell is an auditory specialist by trade, but chose to go with a light rather than a sound to alert drivers. "It can be too noisy in a race car," he says. "Sometimes it's so loud the driver can't hear the radio-and he may also have someone talking in his ear, like a spotter. When I was driving, I could never hear when under acceleration."
Even though Racing Electronics specializes in verbal communication equipment, they understand the ambient noise factor. "We've had to develop special headsets to help the drivers hear inside the cars," Silver says."The ambient noise can be a factor in a driver's performance."
The Audible Side
David Skeen developed the idea of an audible driver-safety system while working with the Invader Super Vee team in the late '80s. This car had a system that allowed engineers to monitor gauges through the use of audible tones. During the running of an open-wheel race in 1991, Skeen witnessed a driver going completely around the course to become involved in an accident that had happened just behind him on the previous lap. It gave him the idea that a driver warning system was needed.
The Audible Alert System, marketed through Invader Technologies of Morrison, Colorado, was developed and patented, with extensive testing done at Colorado National Speedway. "We wanted to make sure this system was going to work," Skeen says. "There have been plenty of accidents that could have been avoided and lives could have been saved. We wanted to get a system that had value to a driver sitting in a race car, because that's the life that can be protected. It's something that should have been out 20 years ago."
Efforts are underway with sanctions and racetracks to implement the Audible Alert system. The system was also tested by the PPI Motorsports Winston Cup team of Cal Wells III.
"Ricky (Craven, PPI driver) thought it had potential, and everyone that Audible Alert has come into contact with has liked it," says PPI Motorsports General Manager Jeff Huber. "I sincerely believe that NASCAR is taking a good look at it."