Why Measurements Matter - Force Transducer Testing and NASCAR

July 13, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Associated Press
Austin Dillon went cascading into the catch fence at Daytona speedway on the early morning of July 6th, 2015.  Was he thinking of all the testing that his NASCAR Sprint Cup car goes through.  Absolutely not!  He was just in survival mode.  The need for speed is critical in NASCAR.  Tenths and hundreds of a second can make a difference in winning the race or finishing in the teens.  There are many different types of testing that are involved in racing. Every time a wheel is changed, the crew relies on applying nuts with the proper torque.  During testing, force transducers are mounted in and around the wheels.  These transducers measure vertical and lateral load.  They also can measure the camber and slip angle on the track.    Force sensors are also critical when mounted due to the fact that the forces measured generate to the tire and wheel.  The more direct contact of the tire to the track translates to greater speeds.  What if the transducers are not properly calibrated?  What if the reference lab cannot calibrate to the required measurement uncertainty?   Are all of the potential error sources accounted for, when the testing is performed?  What if the error sources could be quantified and the tests improved?    The post-race comments could be "I just wish we could have been a little quicker in the turns than the Number 91 car", instead of "I want to thank my team and sponsors for giving me a lightning-fast car that led to victory".

Did testing or lack of, have anything to do with Dillon's accident?  Of course not.  The accident is a by-product of increasing speeds, close-quarter racing, and top-notch engineering.  How about the sensors that are involved with seat belts. Think of all the testing involved withholding the driver in place. While the car disintegrated around him, the cockpit stayed intact.  The belts did what they were designed to do.  Austin stayed in the seat.  He got out of the car and waved to the fans.  What about the testing involved with the fence design?  The car lifted off the track and careened into the fence.  The car shattered but bounced back onto the track.  A few fans in the stands had minor injuries.  Not enough testing and the car could have been in the stands.

Force sensors play an important part in our everyday world.  Might your application be as critical as NASCAR?  Perhaps not.  It may not be life or death, but that doesn't mean it isn't critical.

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