Upgraded Track Safety Light Controls at High Plains Raceway

High Plains Raceway has prided itself on trying to stay ahead of the game regarding the use of technology to improve both the experience that our customers get when they visit and their safety while they are out on the track. 

As the seasons progressed staffing the corner stations and being able to effectively communicate to the drivers during our Open Lapping Days and even during some of the club racing events was becoming problematic.  There are varying standards regarding the ability to leave stations unmanned and still hold an event, or be forced to run a shorter course due to inadequate staff, but everyone could agree that having more communication between the workers and drivers is a good thing.  To that end, High Plains Raceway began looking for a better solution and eventually settled on a Track Safety Light system offered by Race America, Inc.  If you’ve participated in an event at HPR in the last few years you’ve seen this system in action.

The system consists of sixteen LED panels, with one located at each of the corner stations, one at start/finish and one in the pavilion.  There is a central computer located in the Turn 1 tower (and a “mirror” computer in the control room) that wirelessly monitors and controls all sixteen lights.  Obviously, a worker in the Turn 1 tower cannot monitor the entire track so a second wireless network was set up that allowed workers around the course to use an app running on iPads to also send commands to the central computer to activate lights in their “zone” of the course.  This lead to having five stations around the course from which all sixteen lights were controlled.  This was great in the respect that it multiplied the effectiveness of a limited number of workers, as the workers could effectively communicate to the participants from any corner bunker regardless of where the worker was actually stationed.  However, because the control of the lights was limited to these five stations, in the event that there were enough workers to staff additional stations those additional workers were under-utilized since they had no control of the light mounted just a few feet away.  The other limitation was that while ANY “flag” could be initiated from the central computer, only a limited number (four) of them could be commanded from the iPads located at the corner stations.

In the meantime, responding to other customer feedback, Race America has developed the second generation of their product.  One of the options they included was a hard-wired hand controller.  This is primarily geared towards small oval tracks where they have multiple lights but they always display the same thing (compared to a road course where there may be multiple flag conditions around the course).  This eliminated the expense and complexity of having a central computer, they just have a single controller that looks like a large TV remote.  Additionally, the hand controller offered the ability to activate nine different flag conditions instead of only four available on the iPad app.  Here’s a picture of the hand controller:

We contacted Race America and asked if there was a way to integrate the hand controllers into our existing first-generation system to create a hybrid system where each light could be controlled either by the central computer OR by a worker in the bunker holding a hand controller.  They hadn’t intended this use, but were eager for a challenge and after a couple months of research they declared it could be done!

While the track was being repaved the lights were packaged up and sent back to Race America to be retrofitted and tested.  They have now been reinstalled at HPR and our staff will be undergoing training on the new system, which will be minimal since the new hand controllers are much more intuitive than the old iPad system was – push a button to turn the light on, push another to turn it off.

The end result is much more control and flexibility of the light system at High Plains Raceway.  We will still have the same five “primary” corner stations (the turn 1 tower and turns 5, 8, 12 and 13) that are manned during Open Lapping Days and other events that require minimal staffing.  The other stations are “secondary”.  Every light around the course can be controlled in different ways:

  • Wirelessly by the central computer
  • The primary stations are always staffed, lights at those stations are controlled with the hand controller plugged directly into the light
  • If a secondary station is staffed that day, the light is controlled by hand controller plugged directly into the light
  • If a secondary station is not staffed that day, the light is controlled by the hand controller located at the appropriate primary station (connected via a buried cable)

In a nutshell, there can be any combination of staffed and un-staffed stations around the course.  If the station is staffed, light control is local.  If not staffed, light control is remote.  The drivers still get the benefit of the lights, and the workers are utilized to their full potential.  A final benefit is that the light response to the hand controllers is immediate, where there was a slight delay in the iPad network system.  It wasn’t enough to be a big issue, except in the case of the passing flag where a little more precision is key.

The hand controllers give the workers in the bunkers access to the following “local” conditions:

  • Flashing Yellow
  • Yellow
  • Debris/Surface
  • Checkered
  • White
  • Passing

Here’s a video of the hand controller in action:

 

Note that flag conditions that are always “full course”, such as:

  • Red
  • Double Yellow
  • Police Lights (Black ALL)

Can only be activated from the central computer, lessening the chance for errors.

We’re excited that this addition will keep High Plains Raceway at the forefront of the technology being used at amateur facilities across the country, and will allow the tireless Corner Workers to maintain the local controls that they have grown accustomed to having in their efforts to keep the drivers safe.