“The call was the win.” Austin Dillon, driver of RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet, was quoted saying after his victory at Texas Motor Speedway. Dillon’s win, which secured his spot in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, was not the only victory at Texas—equally notable was the work put in by the team of engineers at RCR’s state-of-the-art Command Center.
At the heart of the RCR Command Center is a world of increasing strategy and technology made available through an AI platform called “Pit Rho,” a proprietary software that was co-developed by the team of engineers at RCR alongside Rho AI. The software, which utilizes Amazon technology, operates in the Command Center at Richard Childress Racing under the direction and leadership of Dr. Eric Warren, Chief Technology Officer, and his team of engineers. The Command Center is changing the way the team at RCR makes decisions on race day, and has captured the attention of Forbes, NBC Sports and others.
“A NASCAR race is a great environment for implementing AI technologies,” said Warren. “The crew chief that calls the race must analyze a tremendous amount of data and variables in a very short time period while sitting in an obstructed and hostile environment on pit road. Data on how your car and driver are performing on that day is critical to making the correct call on when to pit and what adjustments to make to the car.”
In a recent Forbes article titled “Richard Childress Racing Enhances Performance with Predictive Analytics,” SportsMoney contributor Joseph Wolkin speaks to the rising influence of RCR’s Command Center on race results. “The Command Center is a one-of-a-kind facility in NASCAR,” Wolkin writes. “As the technology within the sport continues to improve, so does RCR’s ability to predict the outcome of team’s races.”
The Forbes piece shines a light on the multi-faceted process, which includes data analysis by team personnel at the track and engineers at the RCR Command Center. NASCAR allows teams to look at up to 12 channels of data during a race, and Pit Rho does the work of breaking the data down to aid RCR teams in strategic decision-making areas.
“Being able to give the driver real-time actionable data on the location of more grip in the track or where he can attack another driver’s weakness is a competitive advantage,” said Warren. “The crew chief uses a variety of data sources such as data analytics, driver communication, visual observation, and his own experience to decide on an action. By combining AI data analytics tools with the RCR Command Center, we can analyze and communicate information that the crew chief would otherwise not have. As we mature in merging AI tools and human decision making, we will find more opportunities for success.”
NBC Sports featured the RCR Command Center during their race broadcast a week after the Texas Motor Speedway victory, with reporter Marty Snider giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the cutting-edge facility at RCR.
“The coolest thing about all the software RCR has is that over the five years they’ve had it, it has built a database with every driver in the field, every crew chief on pit road and every pit crew on pit road,” said Snider. “It will literally tell the crew chiefs on pit road, ‘Here’s what you normally do in this situation, maybe you should think about this to do something different.’”
This data, which in the case of the Texas victory demonstrated a need for the No. 3 to pit for two left-side tires, gives the RCR teams leverage when it comes to making those game-time decisions. “As they feed me data, I can make better decisions,” said Justin Alexander, crew chief for RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet.
As Wolkin details in his article, Warren came to RCR in 2012 to take over as competition director. As plans were made for Austin Dillon to take over the No. 3 car, Warren approached team owner and CEO Richard Childress about investing in predictive analytics, explaining that it meant building a Command Center to make it work.
“If you see everything it takes to put this together, with the number of computers, cameras, screens and the building itself, it’s a huge investment,” said Childress. “As we started using it, I started seeing some results.”
The results Childress and the team are seeing is, in many ways, a testament to the work Warren and his team do hundreds of miles away from the racetrack. The RCR Command Center, located at the team’s headquarters in Welcome, NC, allows RCR engineers on campus to have real time communication with the engineers, crew chiefs and teams.
And while the technology is only getting better and more effective, there is certainly no substitute for the human element of our sport.
“I don’t think the human element ever is really going to be replaced, at least not short term,” Warren said. “I think it allows you to think about things more complexly.”
Thanks to the collaboration between RCR engineers and the team at Rho AI for developing Pit Rho, the ability to use predictive analytics for making strategic decisions that influence race outcome is possible. We are excited to see where the future takes us. Special thanks to our friends at Forbes and NBC Sports for the coverage.