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Military tool lets fans inside race cars

By Jeordan Legon

The Pit Command interface shows the speedometer as well as the driver's RPMs.
The Pit Command interface shows the speedometer as well as the driver's RPMs.

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(CNN) -- Her television broadcasts the cars roaring toward the finish line. Her radio blasts bullet-speed commentary. And now, thanks to a new technology available on the Web, Renae Shivers' computer displays the dashboard of her favorite race car driver, Jeff Gordon.

Welcome to race day at the Grandbury, Texas home of this retired grandmother of seven. Shivers, 59, has been an avid NASCAR racing fan for about two decades. But just a few weeks ago she discovered a new feature on, part of CNN's parent company, AOL Time Warner, that made the sport even more exciting.

"When you pick out a driver you just adore, you're avid about it," she said. "Now I can see when he's using his brake, the throttle. You can tell if they're struggling or not. And then you can also hear them."

TrackPass with Pit Command allows visitors to follow their favorite drivers and teams by watching their lap speeds, time behind the leader and rpms. They can also hear the drivers communicating back to their crews and even see a screen that simulates the driver's dashboard.

GPS makes it possible

It's all made possible by the Global Positioning System (GPS), a system developed and maintained by the U.S. military to help soldiers stay on course. During Operation Desert Storm, for example, the system was credited with allowing soldiers to reach their targets despite sandstorms and unfamiliar territory.

Since then, the GPS has been put to dozens of commercial uses including gadgets that give drivers directions, navigation systems for boaters, and even a GPS watch that helps parents track their children.

In the case of NASCAR, the 24 GPS satellites orbiting Earth are used so computers can track the exact position of the cars and the speed at which they are moving.

Pit Command beats TV

All this happens in lighting-fast speed. Shivers said that the results offered by Pit Command are slightly ahead of the television broadcast. That's a big deal in a sport where even a fraction of a second can make a difference.

"We're putting people inside the car with their heroes," said Lee Bushkell, of "That's really the hook. You can ride along with whatever driver you want."

NASCAR executive Jeffrey Pollack said he wasn't sure what the techs had in mind when they made sure all race cars were outfitted with the GPS-friendly "telemetry" boxes in 2001. But the boxes have been put to good use by Sportvision, a company that uses the technology to show the standing of cars for television broadcasts and for the Pit Command functions.

Hear it all

There's no censorship either, Shivers said. Fans hear everything the drivers are saying. Even her favorite, Gordon, uses an occasional cuss word, she said.

"It's nothing that strong," she said. "He knows his fans are listening." is letting users try Pit Command for free during this Sunday's Pennzoil 400. To use it, visit the site and click on the link that says TrackPass Pit Command.

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