Unlikely hero David Ragan likely wouldn’t have won Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway were it not for Air Titan.
NASCAR’s vice president of racing operations said on Monday it is doubtful the race would have been restarted after being stopped for rain on Lap 122 of a scheduled 188-lap event were it not for the sport’s new compressed-air drying system.
“If that was a year ago, it is highly doubtful that race gets restarted,” Steve O’Donnell told ESPN.com. “That track obviously is the toughest on the circuit to be able to dry. We were able to shave about an hour off [the drying process].”
Carl Edwards led when the race was red-flagged for about three hours and 36 minutes due to two storms that soaked the 2.66-mile track. The race ended under near darkness with one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, which Ragan took advantage of to give Front Row Motorsports the unexpected win.
O’Donnell said Air Titan reduced the drying time from the normal three-plus hours to just under two. While that is not the 80 percent reduction officials hope to ultimately get from the device, they were pleased with the results that they believe would have been better had temperatures been warmer.
That the machine helped reduce moisture while rain continued, the first time it has been used in that situation, also was a positive.
“I’d give it a B,” O’Donnell said. “We got the race in, which is the ultimate goal.”
O’Donnell said it’s doubtful Saturday’s Nationwide Series race that had to be cut short by a few laps would have been run on the scheduled day at all were it not for the Air Titan. Looking at weather conditions in Talladega on Monday, he said the Cup and Nationwide races could have been pushed to as late as Tuesday.
“It definitely feels good to give fans a chance to see the finish of the race on Sunday instead of racing today when the weather was iffy as well,” O’Donnell said.
NASCAR has been using jet-fuel dryers since the mid-1970s. A few years ago, chairman Brian France challenged the Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., to come up with a way to shorten drying time to lessen the inconvenience on fans and television partners.
The Air Titan concept was fast-forwarded after the 2012 Daytona 500 was postponed from Sunday to Monday.
The device was introduced during speed weeks prior to this year’s Daytona 500 where rain wasn’t an issue. It was used on a smaller scale at half-mile Martinsville Speedway to dry the track for the first day of practice.
But it wasn’t put to the full test until Saturday and Sunday at Talladega.
“We’ve got more work to do for sure,” O’Donnell said. “But the end goal is to ensure the fans that paid to see the race get to see it on the days scheduled. Obviously, we accomplished that.”
Air Titan works by using compressed air to push water off the racing surface and onto the track apron, where vacuum trucks remove the moisture. Jet dryers follow to blow off any excess water.
“We’re still in Phase 1,” O’Donnell said. “But we made some good progress. We’ve got to work on the power source to see how we can speed up the ability to get water off the track. Talladega really was the best test to date to see how it works under the worst conditions. Looking at the total drying time, we feel we cut an hour out of it, which ultimately enabled us to get back to racing.”