Incredible visibility promotes high speed safety
"I didn't see the flagger!" Racers and trackday riders are famous for uttering this phrase. It's not surprising either. Corner workers, for their own safety, are usually stationed well back from the track and outside a rider's normal line of sight. When at speed and surrounded by a gaggle of other motorcycles, as everyone is throwing out the hooks and jockeying for position, a rider has plenty of distraction during the short window when a traditional flag can be seen. If you haven't made the effort to locate and memorize every corner station and also made it a ritual that you glance at each one during your lap, the chance that you'll miss a flag is great. If you ride flat-out into a bad situation, that miss could well be a costly one.
Good news from a great track
Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is one of this country's oldest and fastest circuits. Any well-ridden literbike can crack the 170's here and no matter what cycle you bring, you'll probably achieve top speed as many as three times per lap at this track. As you can imagine, a rider spends a lot of time tucking chinbar-to-tank at this racecourse so the chance of missing flags is high. Now Road America, in conjunction with safety equipment manufacturer, RaceAmerica, (Not too confusing when the names are so close, eh?) has installed a warning light system so awesomely visible that it must be seen to be believed. The part we riders can't possibly miss is the Model 6752A Extra Wide Track Safety Light, a 28" by 14.5" powerhouse that can easily be spotted from a quarter-mile away.
Quoting from a Road America press release, "RaceAmerica’s safety lights combine ultra-bright four-color LEDs, multi-segment displays, flag animation and automatic switching between flags to deliver unattended flags a driver will see without being distracted. Using an overhead picture of the racecourse, the RaceAmerica Track Safety Software positions each safety light on-screen as it is located on the track. Wireless and mobile functionality allows race control officials to activate the system in real-time over the entire racecourse." Huh? To understand just how trick this system is, a bit more explanation is in order.
Lights, Camera, Action!
During the Sportbike Track Time event that was held at Road America on June third and fourth, 2013, we were given a firsthand look at this system by Safety Director Carson Wilkinson. In the Race Control room of the start-finish tower there is a large computer monitor that displays a track map. The location of each safety light and its current status is displayed. By simply touching the screen, lights can be activated, changed in status or deactivated in an instant. Because Race Control is linked via radio to every corner station and also has a bank of video monitors displaying real-time action around the circuit, personnel there are able to make split-second decisions based on the full-course situation. RaceAmerica's light system allows such decisions to be implemented the moment that they are made. Future improvements to the current setup will include additional lights and handheld devices to be provided to the corner workers, allowing each turn's flagger to instantly trigger the device in his or her proximity, rather than having to check in via radio and request it from race control.
View through the visor
The RaceAmerica warning light system was in use during the Sportbike Track Time event and we got to experience it firsthand at speed. Visibility of the LED warning devices is amazing. Coming out of the turn three area, we could see a red flag light being displayed at turn five well before we got to the braking area. At other times, we were made aware of stationary or waving (The rectangle of light divides in half and alternates flashing squares to denote a waving condition) yellow flags well before we got to the area of trouble and in fact, far sooner than we could see the worker waving the actual cloth flag. Overcast conditions, which render traditional fabric flags that much harder to see, actually enhance the LED lights of the RaceAmerica system. To Road America's credit, each light has been perfectly located in a spot that your eyes will naturally be scanning as you approach, which makes missing them virtually impossible.
Screaming through the woods of "America's National Park of Speed" at a buck-seventy is exhilarating beyond description but if you don't think there's also a bit of fear involved, then you haven't personally ridden Road America. As racetrack riders we accept that our sport is dangerous but at the same time welcome anything that helps to minimize our level of risk. In the opinion of TrackdayMag.com's staff, these RaceAmerica lights are the best thing to come along since the invention of the air fence. We aren't alone in our endorsement. Rumors abound that several other major tracks are following Road America's lead and installing this equipment at their facilities. We wouldn't mind if RaceAmerica warning lights became standard equipment at every venue we visit. Honestly, words don't convey just how major a safety enhancement these lights actually are. The difference is so dramatic that you'll just have to see it to believe it. Sounds like reason enough to schedule a trip to Road America!