Air Titan to reduce track-drying time

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR's newest technological advancement, which officials hope will eventually reduce track drying time by 80 percent, has been dubbed the Air Titan.

Eight of the dryers, not the 24 officials mentioned during the Sprint Media Tour last month in Charlotte, will be available for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, which begins with Friday's practice for the Sprint Unlimited that will be held on Saturday night.

Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president for race operations, said the Air Titan is ready only for Daytona and that tweaks will be made to the system after the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. He said there is no timetable for when the machines will be ready for other tracks.

"We want to see how it goes," O'Donnell said of Daytona. "Keep in mind that this has never been tested during a race or during full rain conditions at a track, so we've still got some work to do once we see it, if we do see it in play, and we'll learn from there and make sure we've got the best model going forward possible for other tracks."

Tracks ultimately will be responsible for purchasing the Air Titan, which has been patented by NASCAR's Research and Development Center. O'Donnell said no price tag has been put on the machine that ultimately could replace jet dryers.

O'Donnell said the Air Titan technology has been a work in progress for some time, but added that last year's postponement of the Daytona 500 from Sunday to Monday sped up the process.

"Having the first Daytona 500 rained out certainly put more of an emphasis on the importance for the fans attending and obviously those watching, and for us to get off to a really strong start to the season," O'Donnell said.

"You know, the good news with this new innovation is it will really improve safety. There won't be any cars on the track during the track-drying process, so we can avoid what happened in the past."

Not all the delays of last year could have been avoided with the Air Titan. During the Monday night running of the 500, Juan Pablo Montoya ran into a jet dryer when he lost control of his car under a caution flag that initially came out on lap 160. The jet dryer and Montoya's car burst into flames. There was a two-hour-and-five-minute delay while the track was cleared and repaired.

That caution came out for debris. O'Donnell said jet dryers, not the Air Titan, will be used for debris at Daytona and that cars will be on the track at the same time. But O'Donnell believes the safety issue for that situation has been addressed through better radio communication and speeds allowed under caution.

Jet dryers also will be used along with the Air Titan as part of the drying process at Daytona. Here's how:

• There will be two sets of identical equipment on opposite sides of the track that will move in the same direction and do one complete pass of the track.

• Compressors will feed air at a high rate of speed through a hose to the Air Titan modules, and the Air Titan will be able to blow air in narrow, highly pressurized sheets over the race surface down onto the apron.

• On the apron will be a regenerative air vacuum truck absorbing the water.

• Five jet dryers will be behind each cycle that will move at a rate of approximately 3 to 5 miles per hour.

Eventually, NASCAR hopes a 2.5-mile track such as Daytona can be dried in 30 minutes instead of 2.5 hours. O'Donnell said it is too early to determine if the system will operate at that rate of efficiency.

"We're only in phase one, so we're looking at a decent reduction in time," he said. "I can't point to an exact time because I don't know what we'll be facing -- if we're facing a downpour or if it's hot or if it's cold. All those things factor into how long it takes to dry."

O'Donnell emphasized that this is a big step for the sport. He said it is the ultimate goal to have the entire unit self-contained to make jet dryers a thing of the past.

"When fans come to the racetrack, they've invested a significant amount of time and money, and understanding now that they may have the opportunity to see that race happen that day we think is huge for the industry," he said. "We also think it's huge for our television partners. We know that when a red flag comes out, that's a challenge, and so speeding up any downtime we think is a win-win for the entire industry.

"That's the goal is to get this down to as short a time as possible, and if we do that, we think it's a benefit to the entire industry."