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Volume 21 No. 1
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Mike Horton


After rain postponed the 2012 Daytona 500, Brian France directed the NASCAR Research and Development Center to develop a system to dry racetracks so the sport’s biggest race would never be delayed from Sunday again. He wanted to reduce the time spent drying a 2.5-mile track by 80 percent, to 30 minutes.

Mike Horton and several colleagues had an idea for it. They wondered if they could develop a compression system that blew rain down the banks of a racetrack and onto the apron, where it wouldn’t be an issue.

“We discovered the more water you can get off the asphalt the quicker it will dry,” Horton said.

Pushing the water off the track, they reasoned, would make jet dryers’ job of drying a track easier. They collaborated with Ring Power, a heavy equipment company that makes air compressors, and developed a system of compressors that could be pulled behind a pickup truck, blowing water to the apron. NASCAR contracted Elgin, a company that makes vacuum sweepers for cities, to provide vacuum trucks that could collect the water on the apron.

NASCAR named the device the Air Titan. Its use during a rain delay in May at Talladega helped reduce dry time by an hour.

Horton said one hour isn’t quite 80 percent, but “we’re still in phase one.”

 “Our goal is 80 percent,” he said, “and I feel we can reach it.”

— Tripp Mickle
Innovation you’re most proud of: The chassis of the Car of Tomorrow. We built the very first one here before it was sent out to be drawn and manufactured. The door-bar changes, raising the roof height and things such as that made it safer.
Last innovation that made you say, “Wow!”: Our first templates that we used for inspections were cut in several pieces and welded together. Now we have turned 20 templates into one piece and can corral a car to check cars and make the sport more competitive.
What brings out your creativity? I’m very competitive. That’s how I got into sports. I enjoy challenges. The challenge to me is somebody else being more innovative than I am. If someone came up with a better idea than me, I might say, “That’s neat. Can we take it to the next step?”