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Advancements in speedway lighting: LEDs hit the track

Stock car racing has come a long way since its moonshine-fueled start on back roads in the Southeast and, later, large but disorganized races staged on makeshift tracks at county fairs.

In fact, today stock car racing is fueled not by illegal whiskey and souped up passenger cars but by innovations that make it one of the most technologically sophisticated sports in the world. And LED lighting systems mark one of the latest advancements to hit NASCAR tracks from Virginia to California.

We talked with Mike Lorenz, president of Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting business, to learn more about how LEDs are changing the sport of stock car racing. 

Why are LEDs the optimal choice for speedway lighting?

ML: Simply put, when compared to legacy lighting solutions, LED lighting solutions such as those made by Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting offer the best quality light with less glare, shadows and hot spots. And when competitors are driving cars at a speed of 180 mph, quality lights matter.

How does LED lighting affect drivers’ ability to perform?

ML: In all sports, LED lighting provides the best stage for competitors to perform, and it’s no different for NASCAR drivers. Glare control technology equals more uniform lighting with fewer unwanted shadows or hot spots that can distract drivers. In a sport with little margin for error, LED technology helps ensure the lights don't create another variable for drivers.

How does LED lighting affect race broadcasts?

ML: A broadcast of a race held under LED lights delivers a better depth of field, because the resulting consistency of the light levels allows camera operators to open the iris of the camera to a much lesser degree. Additionally, the consistent color temperature of LED lights naturally maintains a consistent presentation throughout even a 600-mile race.

How does LED lighting affect the fan experience?

ML: LED lights provide the highest quality light, which means the action on the track looks dramatically better for fans. But what will be much more obvious to fans are the various entertainment features possible with LEDs. These include:

  • Colorful light shows
  • The ability to completely blacken and then immediately illuminate the stadium
  • The ability to synchronize the lights with the scoreboard or music

These capabilities open up a myriad of fun ways to entertain fans before and after the race.

How are night races different from daytime races?

ML: Nighttime conditions create racing challenges that don’t exist during the daytime. Races that take place during the transition from dusk to nighttime need proper lighting in order to provide consistency for drivers. Quality LED lighting increases driver safety and enhances the experience for drivers, broadcasters and fans.  

What are some other benefits of using LED lighting at a speedway?

ML: LED lighting solutions can include entertainment features that allow speedways to host other events including concerts. Additionally, afternoon races can often be delayed due to weather. If a track does not have lighting, it is at risk for race cancellations instead of simple delays. 

LED lighting is more expensive to purchase than alternatives. Do the benefits make up for the initial cost?

ML: The fact that so many sports and entertainment venues are making the switch to LEDs indicates that they see the value of a digital lighting solution. Benefits include:

  • Reduced energy costs
  • Reduced maintenance needs and costs
  • Better experience for fans and performers

Do you think all speedways will eventually have LED lighting? 

ML: Yes. For those tracks that are currently unlit, LEDs offer a low-cost entry point to provide high-quality light and make the venue more dynamic, especially if there is an interest in holding other events besides races at a track property.

For tracks that are already lit with legacy lighting solutions, LEDs provide a much better value versus the energy costs and maintenance effort associated with maintaining legacy lighting technologies that are quickly becoming obsolete.