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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
NOLA Motorsports innovates with new track

By Alejandro de los Rios
ESPN The Magazine

Go-Karts
Kart racers at NOLA Motorsports create user profiles that update in real time with every lap.
For decades, professional motorsports have been on the cutting edge of racing technology. At the same time, all the fun gadgets and equipment used by the pros have been inaccessible to the common gearhead.

But now, the NOLA Motorsports Park outside of New Orleans is integrating modern technology into every square inch of its $60 million, 750-acre park, which opened last year. Track general manager Wesley Ratcliff has spearheaded an effort that is raising the bar for tech in motorsports.

"The technology of our track uses everyday hardware. Anyone can get it and use it," Ratcliff says. "The magic is in the application of the technology, the philosophy and how we monitor trends in our customers.”

To mark NOLA Motorsports' first pro event -- the AMA Big Kahuna bike race on Friday -- here's a look at the park's five coolest high-tech features.

Classic cars
NOLA accommodates karts, motorcycles and cars.
1. Timing is everything.
Every lap of every car that has ever gone around a track at the motorsports park has been timed, logged and stored on a track database. When people show up to the kart track, for instance, they log into a computer and create a user profile they can access every time they go to the park. The karts are fixed with racing transponders, GPS and accelerometer units that update anywhere from 10 to 100 times per second with accuracy measured to the centimeter. Users can even link their track profiles to Facebook and automatically post their results online.

2. There’s an app for that.
NOLA Motorsports has developed its own in-house applications to run television scoreboards so people at the kart track can instantly see how they are racing against the competition, both that day and all time. Flat-screen TVs at the kart track and in the Kart Kitchen (run by James Beard Foundation Award nominee Scott Boswell) display lap times, and it all can be accessed on mobile devices.

3. Push it to the limit.
Ratcliff has started NOLA Skunkwerkz, a “private, invite-only group” comprising some of the best creative minds in the field of motorsports technology, to try to push the hardware in place to its absolute limit. "One developer is working on a lap timer that will audibly tell you how far the guy in front is and how far back the guy behind you is," he says. "I don’t know of any other racetrack that has done this."

NOLA Motorsports
The entire park is connected wirelessly.
4. A web of wireless.
The entire track is coated with point-to-point and mesh wireless connections that include radios, Wi-Fi high-speed Internet through AT&T and Cox and mobile devices. The track has integrated all of this technology so a track manager can access a scoreboard, control a TV or PA system, or check in on lap times from anywhere on the track. Lap results and important information also can be broadcast over a wireless MP3 stream, and people can even stream music from their iPhones over the park's PA system.

5. Don’t forget the fiber.
There are hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable running through the track's foundations. In the past, people looking to do a major TV event or film a race at a motorsports park in the U.S. would have to bring their own cable and gear to get the job done. At NOLA Motorsports, the 12 corner stations at the main track are connected through fiber, so all a crew has to do is plug in its equipment, saving countless hours in buildout time to run a televised event. In the future, NOLA Motorsports will be streaming live video to mobile devices.