History of Timing and Scoring at the Indy 500

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We missed a piece our friend Marshall Pruett (of RACER and Road and Track fame) wrote on how timing and scoring became automated prior to the electronic transponder systems we know today. Specifically, he captured some fascinating stories about the Indianapolis 500 using a wire running 1″ off the ground at start-finish to trigger a kind of punch card system:

The Indianapolis 500, as we noted in an earlier TRA tale, got its start using the most intrusive timing system possible—one with an actual wire that ran across the start/finish line and sat approximately one inch off the racing surface. Passing cars would run over the wire and trigger an create an imprint on a time card. Timing and scoring workers would then be responsible for noting which car tripped the wire and building a manual running order list for each lap.

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Even then, the promoter wanted a backup to all that newfangled technology, so Indianapolis 500 historian Donald Davidson explains how they used “tapers” (which we still see today at SCCA road racing events as a backup to the MYLAPS transponder system):

“And then to complement that you had three or four people doing serial scopes, which is where you’re writing down the number of every car that comes by; that takes a special person to do that, you’re doing it down the column and then when the leader comes by, and you better know who the leader is, and then go to the top and you write another column. So they would have three or four people doing that.”

Read the full article on RoadAndTrack.com and follow Marshall on Twitter (he’s always at a race track!) Be sure to read the previous piece which explains how one lucky guy had to fix the tripwire during the race!