Whelen Engineering: more race track safety lighting

announcing the races at Spencer Speedway this past Friday night, I had the opportunity to talk with Whelen Upstate NY sales rep Mike Martin and his local supplier, Jerry Fedele, owner of Task Force Emergency Vehicle Lighting in Webster. Mike had a Dodge Charger equipped with the police package on display, which serves as an excellent way to feature their new LED based emergency lighting systems. We also discussed Whelen’s role in developing race track emergency lighting systems, which I became more aware of by attending the PRI show last December in Orlando FL.   Websites: www.taskforcelighting.com and www.whelen.com.

There is a wide variety of subjects I could blog about from my experiences on the road. Maybe some will show up here soon. In the meantime, I thought I would show you some items NASCAR (along with Whelen Engineering) have come up with to make some of the most dangerous spots at a racetrack just a little safer.  (This is an update to an earlier blog published almost a year ago.)

Yet another innovative Whelen product is one that nearly all racetracks could benefit from:

(Illustration courtesy of 2007 Whelen Engineering catalog)

This product (RTR12AG) is a self-contained LED track warning signal system made specifically by Whelen for race tracks. The enclosure is weatherproof and includes its own control unit. The amber LED’s have different flash patterns that, along with the bottom-mounted amber LED “beacon”, provide an eye catching alert for drivers when the caution flag comes out. The green and red LED’s are on solid whenver those flag conditions occur. The advantages of this system are obvious: low electrical current draw, much brighter and “attention grabbing” than either rotating or strobe lights and able to stand up to year round weather conditions.  (My opinion is that it would be great for racetracks around the country to adopt this system all around the perimeter of the racing surface–one installed just before the entrance of each corner (for a total of 4) and another on the starter’s stand.)  The folks at Whelen have done it AGAIN!

(The original blog, reprinted below, shows how Whelen is not just a sponsor but a partner in promoting race track safety…)

On race weekends, there is one person whose job puts him or her in actual “harm’s way”: the pit exit official who holds the “STOP & GO” paddle at the end of pit road. This individual has the overwhelming responsibility of making sure pit road traffic can exit safely off pit road, back onto the track. At first glance, some might compare this job to, say, a school crossing guard holding a “stop sign”–except that NASCAR drivers aren’t known for too much patience during a race. In an effort to afford protection to this individual, but still control traffic off pit road, NASCAR and Whelen Engineering have created a new “Pit Exit Light” system. Instead of standing in the middle of the exit of pit lane, the official is situated safely behind the wall on pit road, with a control box for the new lighting system. Here’s an illustration of the system:

(image courtesy of NASCAR, copyright 2006)

The light is attached to an “L-shaped” arm and is mounted just over the “pit out” line. The official uses the control box to activate various lights in the system. Here’s the way it works: when it is safe to leave pit road, the green light on top is lit solidly “on” (this has the same meaning as if the official was displaying the “go” side of the paddle). If, while this light is green, it is also safe for pit road traffic to “blend” into the racing line, the row of 5 white lights immediately below start flash-sequencing “left-to-right”, a similar pattern to what most normal drivers see in a construction zone indicating a lane change.

Whenever a “pack” of cars is coming towards the pit road exit under green flag conditions or during a yellow flag situation (as the pace car leads the field around the track and starts to approach the area where pit road exits out onto the track), the two green lights begin flashing in an alternating sequence pattern, letting the drivers on pit road know that race traffic is coming and the pit road exit will close shortly. Once the pack of cars under green OR the pace car under yellow is close to the pit road exit area, the green lights go out and the red lights flash in a similar alternating fashion, which means the drivers exiting pit road must stop until race traffic clears (similar to what they would do if an official was there holding the “stop” sign).

Does the system work? Well, the drivers still try to “beat the lights”, which NASCAR certainly frowns upon and they will hand out “drive-thru” penalties to violators. But that’s really no different than the old way of trying to beat the official changing the paddle from “GO” to “STOP”–except that now, the official is safely behind the pit wall.

I think it’s pretty cool that Whelen is involved in our sport, not just strictly as a sponsor but a partner–one whose knowledge and products help make the sport safer for drivers and officials alike.  As most fans know, they sponsor the former “Featherlite Modified Series”, now known as the “Whelen Modified Series”–AND, are still the major sponsor of the weekly NASCAR tracks now as well.   At the races, most, if not all, of the pace cars feature Whelen lighting–same thing goes for the caution light systems at most racetracks.

I, too, am proud to say I’ve used their products. I am an exempt member of the Chili Fire Department on the southwest side of Rochester NY. While serving as a volunteer fire fighter and ambulance medic, I invested in one of their mini Edge strobe lightbars. I decided that if I was going to put my personal vehicle in dangerous situations while responding to emergency calls, I wanted that vehicle to “be seen”. I never even came close to having an accident while on the way to a call or directing traffic as a fire policeman at an emergency scene.

Some people have criticized NASCAR in the past for “not doing enough” in the area of safety. This is one shining example where the opposite is true–they have taken the lead to try to make pit road safer!

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer


At Daytona, NASCAR’s not sleeping on the COT

While some teams from the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series have already tested at Daytona for the upcoming 2006 season and the rest will test at the beginning of next week, NASCAR is looking ahead by testing the so-called “Car of Tomorrow” (COT) at Daytona International Speedway. On Thursday, Chemung native Brett Bodine again donned his driving suit and helmet to put the car through its paces at the “World Center of Racing”. Here’s a look at it:

Although the car looks very similar to the current crop of NASCAR racing machines, there are several significant changes. One is that the body style, when finalized, will be the same for all makes of cars.  Some reports have it that the only differences among makes will be the powerplants underneath the hood and any graphic illusions that paint schemes and decals can provide.  (NOTE:  NOT true! See UPDATE below!) Another change is the location of the driver’s seat: although not directly in the middle of the interior, it has been moved inboard slightly to increase driver safety in the event of an impact involving the left side of the car.

Since being built earlier this year, the car has been tested previously at other tracks but Thursday was the first time the new machine had seen the high banks of Daytona. One of the more obvious things being tested at Daytona was the aerodynamic package, specifically as it relates to the rear of the machine. When first seen in the afternoon session, the car had a small wing on the rear decklid as shown here:

Later in the session, officials changed it to a more-conventional looking spoiler on the car:

Unofficial times could be heard on the NASCAR radio frequency, indicating that the car turned quicker lap times with the “wing” than the spoiler. (See related story at Jayski here: http://jayski.com/teams/car-future.htm)

Among other things being tested was various spring and shock combinations.

Several current Nextel Cup teams have built their own versions of the COT and NASCAR officials are anxious to get more than one out on the track at a time. They have already gathered significant amounts of data from single car testing but they have indicated that what’s needed now is information on how the car races with others in front, in back and around other cars. Once that data is compared to the single car info, more changes could be forthcoming.

Although no official timetable has been set, NASCAR officials would like to approve the final design soon. The plan is to race the car in 2007 and they would like to give the teams plenty of time to build the cars for next season.  Of course, as the Jayski article indicates, several opinions, both good and bad, have been offered up on the car by the various manufacturers and teams.

UPDATE:  I had the chance to talk with Brett Bodine Friday morning about the COT test at Daytona.  In his description of the COT, he indicated that the car will be “standardized’ primarily in the chassis building of the car, the body mounting locations will have rigid rules in place. The basic idea is to have a car which can be raced at almost all the tracks on the schedule with adjustability designed into the chassis rather than the body panels.  The car’s nose and tail pieces are NOT yet finalized, according to Bodine.  The manufacturers and teams will be consulted to come up with body panels that will further distinguish the different makes rather than appearing mostly the same as now.  Again, he emphasized, the locations for “hanging” the body panels will be rigidly enforced as will the chassis structure itself.  This will give the sanctioning body more control over the ”gray areas” of building a car, something the current construction process does not give them.   He was also very enthusiastic about the ”wing” rather than the spoiler.  Again, although the final configuration hasn’t been decided upon, he believes the wing will allow for similar or better downforce than the current spoiler gives with a lesser penalty in drag, resulting in a quicker car that handles better.  

Thanks to Brett Bodine for taking the time to explain some of the aspects of the COT!  

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer


6th Annual Hangover 150 @ Ransomville Speedway!



Take a dirt racetrack in Western NY, schedule an enduro stock car race on New Year’s Day after almost everyone has partied down the night before, offer $300 only to the winner of each division (8cyl, 6cyl & 4cyl), ask always charitible race fans to donate a food item to a local pantry as the only admission price, and what do you have?  A recipe for great fun and a way to break up the winter weather blues for race fans! The 6th Annual Hangover 150 was held on Sunday January 1st, 2006 at Ransomville (NY) Speedway! (www.ransomvillespeedway.com).  NYIRP’s Doug Forth suggested over a month ago that we check out the festivities and it was great stuff!

For those of you who have gotten this far and are asking yourself “Who would be crazy enough to watch racing OUTSIDE in the dead of winter?”, the answer is OVER 4,000 people!


Look, it ain’t no different than going to a football game in the same kind of weather–complete with tailgating both before and after the event!  Temperature was in the low 30′s with very little wind so as long as you dressed warmly enough (and brought the RIGHT things to keep you warm inside!) you were comfortable!  The food stands were open, serving not only the usual hot dogs, burgers and fries but also chili, hot chocolate and coffee!

The racing formula was quite simple:  3 straight stock divisions (8cyl, 6cyl & 4cyl., little more than demolition derby cars, really!), DOT tires, a 2 in square hole cut in the hood (to aid in firefighting!) Other than that, anything goes!  Each division raced for 50 laps! 

The announcing crew consisted of track regular announcer and racing video producer Mel Thomas (http://www.thomasracingvideos.com/) along with Holland PR Rick Mooney,

as well as Lancaster/WCIS/Lake Erie’s Dave “The Dude” Buchanan and myself!

Alright, let’s get to the racin’!  The 8 cylinders came out first with about 50 entries or so.   No track prep was necessary–the surface was covered with snow so the organizers figured the track was ready! 

No practice, no heats, just line ‘em up and drop the green!  Of course, traction was practically non-existent and the inevitable mayhem started on lap 1.  By the time the checker flag flew, there were only a handful of cars actually running.  John Bottoms was the winner by 3 laps over his nearest competition.  His secret?  He found a junkyard dog Audi V8 4 door sedan with all-wheel drive and he was able to drive it anywhere he wanted at almost any speed he wanted.  (Now just watch and see if AWD is outlawed for next year’s event!)

After clearing the track of the carnage of the first race, the next race, the 6 cylinder division, boasted 85 entries.  Line ‘em up and drop the green again!  This one was a little more competitive but getting through the early laps was pretty tough–take a look:

 Pat Celotto led for awhile, lost the lead then came back for the win in his Taurus wagon!

The final race of the day was for the 4 cylinder division and over 100 entries started this one! There were many times during the race where the track was completely blocked in the turns!  Eventually, it came down to one car running 2 laps ahead of the competition as one by one cars dropped out!  One of Ransomville’s regulars, Mike Pahl, who is known as the “Rollover King” (he got this nickname because of his great abilities in the rollover contests at the track) outlasted the rest of the competition–and the snowballs thrown from the stands as he made his last few laps around the track!

(Photo courtesy of “Longhair”!)

The staff at Ransomville Speedway is to be commended for running this race!  Not only because of the novelty of it but for the great cause it supports as well.  If this unique event is any indication, maybe racing in winter weather here in WNY isn’t such a crazy idea!

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer