Dollars and Sense · Tony Lumbis · Thursday June 28, 2012
With the 2012 season approaching the halfway point, thousands of NASCAR fans have already been able to experience the sport’s newest electronic gadget while at the track. FanVision, a hand-held controller which has been a familiar sight in the stands of Formula One races and NFL games for years, made its NASCAR debut this season, providing fans with live stats, replays, the leader board, lap times, audio of every driver and much more, all within the palm of their hand. No matter how the view is from their seats, fans can know virtually everything that is going on in the event by using FanVision. Such a device has quenched many fan’s desire to know everything about every competitor instantaneously. However, another group, whose job depends on knowing about every pass, lap time and position at any given time, has also greatly benefited from the newest addition to the NASCAR fan experience.
That group would be the sport’s eyes in the sky, the spotters.
Joey Meier, who spots for the Brad Keselowski, was one of the first spotters to utilize FanVision. Meier, who is also a licensed pilot, has been spotting for 13 years and realized that using FanVision would not only help him do his job, but benefit others on the team as well. “It allows the crew chief to focus on other areas rather than worry about lap times or what lines other competitors are running on the track” explained Meier. “Now, I basically have all the same information right in my hands that Paul [Wolfe] has on his computer in the pits.”
Soon, word spread atop the spotters’ stand about the advantages of using FanVision and others started adapting their routines to include this new technology as well. Included in that group is Rocky Ryan, a 16-year veteran who is in his first year of spotting for Joey Logano. Ryan began using the device at Texas and hasn’t looked back. “It totally changed everything. It gave me all sorts of different angles and helps with the challenges of working with a new team for me, like looking for a different car than what I’ve been used to in years past” said Ryan, who has spotted for numerous drivers in his career including David Ragan, Jeff Burton and Ward Burton the year he won the 2002 Daytona 500.
FanVision provides over 11 different features to keep fans busy during the course of a race including live broadcasts, driver bios, team content and updated points standings. Spotters however, are quite a bit busier on race day and tend to focus their attention on key aspects of the tool. The leader board and lap times are what Meier tends to use the most. “It helps if we’re trying to get lined up or deciding whether or not to pit, I can easily relay how many cars are on the lead lap to both driver and crew chief. For example, if there are 18 cars on the lead lap and we are in 16th, then we know immediately that there are only two behind us for position and we can make the call to pit much quicker”.
The live leader board already had an impact on Logano’s race at Dover. “There were three occasions where Joey was coming up to pass a lapped car that I thought was on the lead lap” explained Ryan. “I glanced down at FanVision and realized they were not on the lead lap and was able to immediately inform Joey. Having that information helps him know that he should race those guys differently and gives him the confidence that he should be able to get by them as quickly as possible. It also allow me to ensure that the spotter of the lapped driver realizes we are on the lead lap so they can give us some courtesy.”
Another feature that adds to the ease of use is the ability to choose three favorite drivers. FanVision allows the user to receive updates on those drivers and compare their race statistics side by side. While spotters don’t root for specific drivers (other than their own of course), they use the same feature to easily track their driver as well as two other key competitors on the track. “I will pull up the split screen to compare Brad, the leader’s time, and the guy in front of us or behind us” said Meier. Ryan utilizes the feature in a similar manner. “If I know there are specific cars that are the fastest, I will highlight them on FanVision so I can see their times and watch their lines.”
Even though they have their favorites, Ryan indicated that it doesn’t mean other features go unused during the course of a race. “We might watch a replay if things slow down during a caution the see what happened. We didn’t always have the luxury of the replay before FanVision and every now and then, we are just as curious as the fans are about exactly what happened. We watch an incident as it unfolds, but sometimes it takes a few minutes to fully understand exactly what happened.”
For decades, spotters have been used to getting all the information they need by watching the track and listening to the radio. Now, while the visual component enables to them to provide even better information to their driver and team, it also provides an additional challenge of knowing exactly when to use FanVision. “When we’re in the middle of racing three wide, I’m not looking at my device and quite honestly Brad doesn’t care what his lap time is at that point. It probably never comes out of my bag at Daytona or Talladega except for maybe under caution” Meier stated. “As everyone knows, at a restrictor plate track, you can be fifth one lap and 40th the next, so lap times and position mean a lot less there “ added Ryan.
At all other venues on the circuit however, FanVision has been a valuable asset to the spotters and it will be just a matter of time until other team members starting using the device as well…and that time is actually now. “Brad is given a FanVision when he comes in after a practice” explained Meier. “He doesn’t have to get out of his seat to look at the computer while his car is being worked on. Since you have no idea how you are actually running until you compare your times to others, he will watch his competitor’s lap times and may even ask me on the radio about a certain driver’s line. So FanVision allows us to continuously communicate, even when we’re not on the track.”
While providing fan’s with excellent service is extremely important, having participants actually use FanVision to do their jobs takes reliability to another level. That means buffering, downloading or a delay of any kind is unacceptable and FanVision answers that challenge. The device does not work off of a cell phone network, but rather, a radio signal that receives direct feeds from Sprint Vision, NASCAR, MRN, PRN and SPEED. To ensure this level of service, every weekend the FanVision crew arrives at the track early and lays down over 15 miles of cable and sets up several antennas on the track premises. During the event , the team works out of their own trailer monitoring each and every aspect of the FanVision from a control room that looks similar to what NASA uses to launch a spacecraft. This kind of effort is necessary since now, the outcome of driver’s day may very well be impacted by FanVision.
After several successful seasons in Formula One, FanVision’s maiden voyage into NASCAR appears to be paying off just six months into its first season. The growth will not stop here however. For one thing, FanVision will evolve as new features becomes available. “Everything that users see on the device is run off of software that they can easily update from their computer when new versions become available” said Kevin Weinhoeft, FanVision’s Vice-President of Sales and Operations. Not only will fans and participants alike in NASCAR have the most updated technology available to them on this device, but soon other series may benefit as well. “One of our main goals is to have a presence in all forms of motorsports” Weinhoeft added. If the success in NASCAR is any indication, that certainly spells good news for fans, spotters, drivers and team members in all form of racing, who will certainly have their experience enhanced by FanVision.
Frontstretch Readers – Would you like the chance to win a free weekend of FanVision for your next trip to a Sprint Cup race? All you need to do is answer the following question based on this article: “Rocky Ryan referenced a specific track where FanVision helped him immediately identify lapped traffic for Joey at several points throughout the race. What track was it?”
E-mail your answer to FrontstretchTrivia@gmail.com. A winner will be chosen at random and you must have the correct answer to be eligible.
The winner will receive a FanVision device and subscription to use for one race weekend of their choice. The race weekend must accompany a Sprint Cup event. Note that travel expenses and ticket costs are NOT included, only the use of the device. Sorry, Frontstretch staff and their families are not eligible.
The winner of this event will be entered into a grand prize drawing at the end of the year. The grand prize winner will win a device of their very own to keep. (Note: Subscriptions must be purchased at each Sprint Cup event).
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