During qualifications for the 1972 Indianapolis 500, driver Jim Hurtubise did what all fans do during the weekend – enjoyed themselves. Hurtubise had qualified a car and towards the end of the session had another car wheeled into line. It wasn’t uncommon to qualify multiple cares in that era. This was right before 6pm, and the car did not make it to the front of the line before the gun went off ending qualification. That was the whole point because the car’s sponsor was Miller High Life.
Hurtubise revealed that this second car had no engine block. The engine area was instead filled with a tub of ice and beer shared with other drivers and pit officials. It’s unconfirmed if this helped in the long run. Some officials enjoyed the prank and some did not.
In modern day this wouldn’t have happened. All cars in the Verizon INDYCAR series are now put through a strict technical inspection throughout multiple points during race weekend. The first instance is when all the transporters roll in, and the cars roll out. Initial Technical inspection is the major inspection point of the weekend. Every car passes through a multi-point inspection, which will serve as the base line throughout the weekend. As part of this initial inspection the safety equipment for the driver is reviewed the technical inspection team. This initial inspection process may last up to 8 hours in total for inspection of all cars. Any following pre-track inspection is abbreviated and the measurements compared to this initial inspection.
What we’re all familiar with is the technical inspection set up at each race. Inspections happen pre- and post-qualifying as well as pre- and post-race. Pre-track inspection consists of two hundred and eighty checks completed within ten minutes. As tech inspections have evolved, the team (forty-two in all but at all non-500 races they use only fifteen) uses pre-made templates to check various measurements and dimensions dictated by the rulebook. I am not going to run you through every dimension, but oh boy is there a lot of them.
Cars get rolled up onto a platform which can check the weight-load across all four tires and that’s when the tech team descends upon the car. Pre-track qualification involves two hundred and eighty different checks that happens within ten minutes. This involves all types of measurements including the levelness of different aspects and the height/dimension of various parts of the car. Some of these are specific by height; others are simply “pass/fail”. While this is going on, the nose cone of the car is removed and tested on a table where the tech team can simulate the nose being attached to the car and measure another handful of measurements.
All of these numbers and pass/fail get reported (yelled because a track is never a quiet place) to a technician at a computer put into form that is then emailed to the team.
Post-track inspections is a much shorter inspection and done primarily to re-measure and reassess a handful of measurements. Before and after qualification cars may have fuel samples taken. Not every car gets chosen for post-qualifying inspection or fuel sampling.
These inspections happen all with a team of fifteen individuals, pulled from a full team of forty-two. All of those team members work during the Indianapolis 500. Technical Inspection for the 500 is the same routine as far as the different items that are checked. However, unlike other races where not all cars may go through technical inspection: at the Indianapolis 500 the cars are inspected before each qualifying run.
Unlike NASCAR where so many post-race fines or changes to qualifying order are handed out due to tech inspection fails, our cars in recent years find themselves mostly getting tangled up by 188.8.131.52. This most recently happened during the 2017 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. During a morning practice on the day of qualifying Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing – Chevrolet) crashed and his team scrambled to make all the necessary repairs to the car as it sustained damage on the left side. Carpenter was unable to get the car to the technical inspection line in time and therefore he was unable to make the qualifying attempt and started last.
In this year’s Indianapolis 500 Qualifying weekend, as cars needed to go through tech before each and every qualifying run ate into the very limited time the drivers had to qualify on Saturday. If you recall, there was a rain delay of approximately two and a half hours before the car went back to the track. Everyone got in, but in the rush of bumping and having people on the bubble (drink!) each driver had to go through tech inspection before they could go back through the line.
Perhaps we have Hurtubise to blame for this requirement. Following his shenanigans with the beer, all cars were then required to undergo technical inspection and receive a sticker on their car indicating they had passed.
I think I’d be good at tech, and by that I mean I’d be good at shutting down anyone who argues with INDYCAR tech. I’m saying – hire me I’m available for next season.