How RACEf/x Works

By: Kevin Bonsor
Image Gallery: NASCAR NASCAR races into the 21st century with RACEf/x car-tracking technology. See more ­NASCAR pictures.
Photo courtesy Daytona International Speedway

The millions of NASCAR fans that tune in to watch Winston Cup races every weekend of the NASCAR season are watching the races like never before. The race cars of their favorite drivers are glowing as they whip around the track at breakneck speeds. What's causing this mysterious glow?

SportvisionTM, the same company that brought you the superimposed 1st and TenTM line in football, has created RACEf/xTM technology to enhance the viewer's experience.


RACEf/x is similar to the hockey puck tracking technology that Fox once used in televising National Hockey League games. That puck-tracking system used television cameras to track the hockey puck on the ice rink, making it appear to TV viewers that the puck was glowing. Sportvision is doing the same thing to your favorite NASCAR race cars. As you watch the race on TV, commentators choose a car that they are talking about. Then, using GPS satellite receivers in car sensors and television cameras, the RACEf/x system tracks that car and places a glowing halo around it. Viewers can also see graphics superimposed on the screen above the car, showing statistical information of the car's performance.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn how the RACEf/x system tracks cars flying around a race track at speeds of up to 200 mph. We'll examine the benefits this technology offers the television audience as well as what future applications are in store for RACEf/x that will make television viewing even more interactive.


The Basics of RACEf/x

The RACEf/x system uses GPS satellites to track cars within 20 millimeters of their actual position.
Photo courtesy Sportvision

By now, those who regularly watch football on TV are accustomed to seeing the yellow first-down line superimposed on the field. This line, produced by Sportvision's 1st and Ten system, lets viewers see exactly how far a team must go to reach a first down. The 1st and Ten technology debuted in 1998, and now, most football fans, even the purists of the sport, can't imagine watching a game without it.

Using that technology in motor sports is a bit more tricky, since race cars are moving at extremely high speeds. Imagine trying to hit a moving target from thousands of miles away. That's what RACEf/x does. Using satellites, RACEf/x pinpoints a car within millimeters of its actual position. Then television cameras superimpose a tinted halo around that car and places a graphic of information above it as it flies around the track.


Here are the key components of the­ RACEf/x system:

  • GPS Satellites - A network of these satellites that are used to find the position of cars as they move around the track. These satellites works with a Earth-based navigation system to to track the position of each car within 20 millimeters of the car's actual position.
  • In-car Sensors - These electronics and computer inside the car that help the GPS satellites find the position of the cars. These electronics also enable TV networks to collect various statistical information, such as gear position, RPM, speed, acceleration, fuel consumption and braking. This information is collected at a rate of 10 times per second and flashed on the screen.
  • TV Cameras - In addition to sending video to the RACEf/x system, cameras also transmit their position to the system. This assists in the tracking of the cars.
  • Digital Mapping - Sportvision makes a 3-D map of the race track. This track model is merged with information from the cars and cameras to display the location of the car as the race is televised.

Currently, fans cannot control which cars are highlighted on the television screen; but Sportvision has said that it could eventually give consumers a set-top box that would allow them to individualize the cars they want to see. In the next section, you'll learn more about the future applications of this technology.


Putting You in the Race

Viewers may soon be racing their virtual cars using the RACEf/x system like a video game.
Photo courtesy Sportvision

Have you ever wanted to race alongside and trade paint with Bobby Labonte or Jeff Gordon at 200 mph? Going up the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway sounds like fun, but few ever get the chance to do it. Traditionally, the Daytona 500 is limited to the top 43 NASCAR race teams; but RACEf/x could soon give the millions of NASCAR fans watching at home the chance to put their virtual car on NASCAR's most famous race track.

In what will be the ultimate in interactive TV, the technology behind RACEf/x will also turn your computer or television into a video game that allows you to race a virtual car alongside NASCAR's pro racers. Additionally, video game developers could use the data collected by the RACEf/x system to make more realistic racing games.


Car racing is not the only sport that will benefit from RACEf/x -- you could soon see this technology used in horse-racing coverage. Imagine watching the Kentucky Derby and seeing real-time stats on the horses' speed. You could also race your own virtual horse, jockeying for position against the world's best thoroughbreds. RACEf/x opens up a whole new arena of entertainment by merging the power of television with the interactivity of video games. Sportvision plans to license its technology to other television broadcasters who cover racing events.