Timing really is everything, at least in motorsports. It doesn't matter how fast you drive, how well your car holds up, or how good your pit crew is, if the official record doesn't show yours as the first car to cross 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. You can have faulty lap charts, stopwatch problems, or tabulation troubles. These situations and more can lead to inaccurate results in a hard-run race with the resulting hard feelings, arguments, and erroneous awarding of trophies, or even worse-cash prizes. It all happens because the official 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 and scoring people. That can be difficult at small local tracks where timing personnel are often wives, girlfriends, or other family members whose volunteer services can range from highly capable to not-so-capable. It's a little easier to encourage paid timing people to upgrade their skills, but even additional training and costlier stopwatches and lap charts can't eliminate all the potential for honest mistakes.

Track owners are turning to electronic timing and scoring systems as a means to eliminate human error and the shortcomings associated with manual stopwatches and other hand-operated equipment. When used properly, electronic timing systems are virtually 100 percent accurate and eliminate the possibility of accidental (or even intentional) scoring error.

AMB-US is the world's largest supplier of electronic timing systems. Its systems are used at virtually every level of motorsports, from Nextel Cup to local tracks, as well as for Indy Cars and ChampCar racing. The systems are also widely used in motocross, karting, snowmobile racing, motorcycle racing-even in radio-controlled car racing, the X-Games, and Olympic speed events such as cycling.

The various elements of the system are the essence of simplicity. A loop of wire is embedded in the track at the start/finish line (an inch down in asphalt, 12-18 inches down in a PVC pipe in dirt). Each car carries a transponder that emits a unique seven-digit signal using magnetic induction technology, which is not affected by lighting systems, TV cameras, RFI, or other electrical interference. When the transponder passes over the loop of wire embedded in the track, the signal is picked up and relayed to a decoder that identifies the transponder number, registers the passing time, and sends this data to a computer which processes the signals. The standard system is accurate to one-thousandth of a second and is suitable for vehicle speeds up to 180 mph (wouldn't we all like to see that kind of speed).

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

A feature of particular interest to drivers is a specially-dedicated AMB Web site called www.mylaps.com. All racers and track personnel can view and print results online for free anytime they want. The entire system is designed for easy use by a single operator with minimal training.