Timing really is everything, at least in motorsports. It doesn't matterhow fast you drive, how well your car holds up, or how good your pitcrew is, if the official record doesn't show yours as the first car tocross the finish line.

It sounds so simple, yet it really isn't.Consider factors such as restarts, pit stops, passing under the green,passing under the yellow (even if it isn't legal), and human error. Youcan have faulty lap charts, stopwatch problems, or tabulation troubles.These situations and more can lead to inaccurate results in a hard-runrace with the resulting hard feelings, arguments, and erroneous awardingof trophies, or even worse--cash prizes. It all happens because theofficial results are not the same as the real results.

What's a racer to do? What's a track owner to do? What's a sanctioning body to do? Certainly, the system can be improved by using better-trained timing andscoring people. That can be difficult at small local tracks where timingpersonnel are often wives, girlfriends, or other family members whosevolunteer services can range from highly capable to not-so-capable. It'sa little easier to encourage paid timing people to upgrade their skills,but even additional training and costlier stopwatches and lap chartscan't eliminate all the potential for honest mistakes.

Track owners areturning to electronic timing and scoring systems as a means to eliminatehuman error and the shortcomings associated with manual stopwatches andother hand-operated equipment. When used properly, electronic timingsystems are virtually 100 percent accurate and eliminate the possibilityof accidental (or even intentional) scoring error.

AMB-US is the world'slargest supplier of electronic timing systems. Its systems are used atvirtually every level of motorsports, from Nextel Cup to local tracks,as well as for Indy Cars and ChampCar racing. The systems are alsowidely used in motocross, karting, snowmobile racing, motorcycleracing--even in radio-controlled car racing, the X-Games, and Olympicspeed events such as cycling.

The various elements of the system are theessence of simplicity. A loop of wire is embedded in the track at thestart/finish line (an inch down in asphalt, 12-18 inches down in a PVCpipe in dirt). Each car carries a transponder that emits a uniqueseven-digit signal using magnetic induction technology, which is notaffected by lighting systems, TV cameras, RFI, or other electricalinterference. When the transponder passes over the loop of wire embeddedin the track, the signal is picked up and relayed to a decoder thatidentifies the transponder number, registers the passing time, and sendsthis data to a computer which processes the signals. The standard systemis accurate to one-thousandth of a second and is suitable for vehiclespeeds up to 180 mph (wouldn't we all like to see that kind of speed).

Easy-to-use Windows-based software provides practice, qualifying, andrace results during and immediately after each race. It can providereal-time position and lap times for announcers and spectators, and canbe integrated with scoreboards or TV monitors.

A feature of particularinterest to drivers is a specially-dedicated AMB Web site calledwww.mylaps.com. All racers and track personnel can view and printresults online for free anytime they want. The entire system is designedfor easy use by a single operator with minimal training.

While it soundsnice, it also sounds expensive for both driver and track owner, but it'sreally not. Transponders, either the hard-wired or rechargeable style,run about $300 each and are covered with a three-year full warranty. Thetrack owner can buy loop wiring, decoder, and hardware for about$8,000-$10,000. Installation by any qualified electrician takes about2-3 hours, and the AMB software package adds $1,950 to the cost. Thecomplete package includes comprehensive training materials, 24/7 techsupport, and a three-year warranty, although many AMB systems from the'80s are still being used today. Using the training materials, techsupport, and some practice, an operator should be system-capable withina week. The entire system is virtually maintenance-free.

There areseveral reasons a track owner would want to fork over ten large for anelectronic timing and scoring system. "Once installed, an electronictiming system offers a number of key benefits for the track owner," saysBalton Aulls of AMB. "It improves accuracy and greatly improves theracetrack experience for spectators by providing them more, and moretimely, information on the entire pack--backmarkers as well as frontrunners--leading to increased attendance by paying customers, accordingto track owners who have gone this route. And, of course, it eliminatesdisputes and misunderstandings among competitors. It can also save moneyin the long run by greatly reducing payments to multiple timing andscoring personnel at each event."