24 hour race prep: part 3, more lights, more camera, more action


Here’s what the lighted numbers look like at night. Not a bad solution for $25 or whatever. It’s not quite as bright as it looks but it’s very readable.


Two  weeks ago I talked about the construction of a 64GB camera that can record for at least 24 hours. A YSAR reader suggested that it’s not possible to record for 24 hours on a 64GB card. But of course it is, and I’m sure his meaning was “not possible with acceptable quality”. Not everyone will have the same criteria for acceptable quality. So it’s time to do some real world experiments to explore video quality and file size. As a reference, I checked the Twitch recommendations for streaming video.

  • 1080P 50-60FPS 4.5-6M
  • 1080P 25-30FPS 3.5-5M
  • 720P 50-60FPS 3.5-5M
  • 720P 25-30FPS 2.5-4M
  • 480P 50-60FPS 1.5-3M

I’m not planning on streaming, but rather sharing via YouTube. I had previously determined that a 4M bitrate will let me record for over 28 hours. But what does 4Mbps look like? I scripted a bunch of scenarios and took video in the day and night. I tested over 100 combinations of settings as I was also interested in exposure, brightness, and contrast. Here’s an example of what 720p, 25fps, 4Mbps looks like at 60br 65co.

At 4 MBPs quality at 50fps or 1080p is noticeably worse. This is good enough for my use. However, if you wanted to record at a higher rate, you could either start with a 128G card or have the Pi write to USB flash drives or even a hard disk I suppose. It’s pretty easy when you have programmatic access to the camera.

Video at night never looks that great with this camera. Turning up the brightness helps. But too high and it buggers the daylight shooting. There’s a balance to strike between day and night. If the Pi had an internal clock, I could use that to change camera settings with the time of day. Unfortunately, the Pi doesn’t know what time it is, so date functions can get messed up (this was the cause of several hours of frustration). I could use the length of video previously shot to estimate time of day, but that could become inaccurate if we spend a lot of time in the pits. I think I’m just going with something like 60 brightness 60 contrast.


Once again, there is no action. But next week I promise.


We interrupt this race prep for an unimportant announcement

This blog is basically my racing diary. But racing is only one of several hobbies. So I thought I would talk a little bit about other hobbies for no particular reason.

Historically, tennis has been my favorite athletic activity. I have about 20 tennis racquets. I use them all because I enjoy the feel of different compositions (graphite, fiberglass, aluminum, and even wood composites). I used to go through tennis shoes at the rate of 1 pair per month. If you take sport-specific shoes as a sign of how serious I am about a sport, I’ve also been serious about skateboarding, basketball, lacrosse, and auto racing. But not golf. I’m pretty terrible at golf.

I am a competitive person by nature. I like the challenge of winning. But oddly, I don’t really care about winning. Improving and trying my best are more important to me than the outcome. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy winning. I do. But it’s not very motivating. So it’s probably no surprise that I like gaming in a competitive environment. I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft. That game caters to many different audiences from questers to raiders to pet collectors to erotic role play. And then there’s the PVP modes, which I enjoyed most.

And then I discovered Overwatch, Blizzards futuristic class-based team-based shooter. Millions of people play Overwatch and there’s even a professional league with International city-based teams. Now that my knees are totally shot and I can’t compete athletically, I’m getting my competitive fix via Overwatch. My birthday is in about 2.5 weeks, and I’m headed to LA to see some professional Overwatch matches in person. Honestly, I’m not that big of fan of Pro eSports, but it’s like going to an NBA game in its inaugural season: historic. If you want to play overwatch with me, my battletag is murloc#12442. I’m a pretty average player. Given that I’m 50 years old and don’t have 1000 hours of Call of Duty or Counterstrike behind me, being average among the gaming generation is just fine with me.

I also have non-competitive hobbies. I like making stuff. That could be software, electronic gizmos, duct tape wallets (well, leather now), etc. I also like to play music. For a couple years I was the bass player in “Minor Groove”, a band made up of mostly scientists. The name is a pun on the structure of DNA. Really, I want to be a guitar player, but the others were so much better than me. My favorite music genre is Shoegaze. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s like a smoothy if smoothies were made of reverb and distortion. It’s rich, textured, flavorful, possibly nourishing, but without sprinkles or any look-at-me posturing. My favorite guitar is one I made, pictured below. It’s made from a skateboard. I never use the volume or tone controls, so I wired the pickup directly to the jack. The pickup is a stacked humbucker in a Telecaster shape. I’m also making guitars from car engines… but that’s a topic fo another day.

24 hour race prep: part 2, lights, camera, action!


In order to race for a full 24 hours, I have to add a lot of lights to the car. These include (a) headlights (b) emergency beacon (c) lighted numbers. In the picture below, you can see the additional headlights and beacon. The lights at the bottom are PIAA LED floods that are pointed outward as apex lights. The two on the hood are PIAA halogen bullets that are made for motorcycles. The beacon is the Jacques Advanced Warning System, which is a mandatory item. It blinks with about a 1 second periodicity.

Lighted number panels are expensive. I thought about shining a light on reflector tape, but it turns out reflector tape doesn’t disperse light as much as reflect it back at the source. So I came up with a new idea: LED strip lights and corrugated plastic. The lights were $19 from amazon. There are 2 chains of 100 lights. I taped them in a 12×8 grid to the corrugated plastic. I then used electrical tape to mask out the unwanted areas. It worked out okay. I’m going to mount these to the inside rear windows where they will be protected from rain (or contact). The power supply they came with is 4.5v, so I’ll connect them to USB.


Every racecar should have at least one video camera. Not only is it a great way to capture memories, but it’s also a critical tool for driver training and sorting out fault in an incident. In the past, I’ve used Mobius and Blackbox dashcams and a TomTom Bandit with varying success. This variation is generally user error. In the heat of the moment, it’s sometimes hard to remember to change the memory card or turn on the camera. With that in mind, I set out to build a camera that can record for at least 24 hours. And being both cheap and adventurous, I wanted to build it myself. Thankfully, this kind of thing has been done before. An ingenious racer, whose blog is titled externalhippocampus wrote a guide on how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a live streaming video device. I like the idea of streaming, but the quality is rarely very good. It’s more important for me to have high quality video than to watch live. So I modified the streaming instructions for a static video camera.

Here’s what you need to buy.

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B with 2 heatsinks $40
  • Raspberry Pi camera $14
  • 64G micro SD card $24
  • USB microphone $9

In addition, you’ll need typical computer stuff like USB keyboard and mouse, monitor (with HDMI port or an adapter), and headphones/speaker. This is just for installation, so borrow, don’t buy if you don’t have them handy. Eventually, you’ll have to figure out how to mount it in the car and provide it USB power. I have lots of RAM mounts and my car already has multiple USB outlets, so that was trivial for me, but it might incur some extra expense for you.

The instructions/log for the build is linked at the top of this page as RaceCam.


I just wanted to use “lights, camera, action” in the subtitle. There is no action. Maybe next time.


24 hour race prep: part 1

In just 4 weeks I’ll be in my first full 24 hour race. As car owner and team captain, there’s quite a bit to do to get ready. The next posts will describe all the prep going into the race. The car is my cute little B-Spec Yaris. There’s a lot of new stuff planned for this race including:

  • Radios – We often race without radios, but this time everyone will have them wired into their helmets.
  • Telemetry – I usually run a RumbleStrip and AiM Solo DL. This time I’ll be broadcasting telemetry from the car to the pit. The system also allows sending text messages from pit to driver, which may be useful if the radio system goes down.
  • Lights – The Yaris has stock headlights, but it’s not enough for a twisty race track with no lighting. In addition to extra headlights, it needs lighted numbers.
  • Camera – I hate changing cameras or cards and doing that at night will be doubly painful. So I’m building a set-n-forget camera that will run for 24 hours using components that cost under $100.
  • Transportation & Accommodation – The team needs an HQ to monitor the race and sleep when possible.

So last item first. The team will be staying in a rental RV. I went to rvshare.com and found that there are tons of RVs for rent near Buttonwillow. The owner lives maybe 15 miles away from the track. He’s going to drop it off on Friday and pick it up on Sunday. The all-inclusive price is just under $400, which is a bargain for the whole team. The RV will serve as team HQ during the race. It sleeps about 6 people, so there should be plenty of space to hang out, eat, or nap as necessary.

If that wasn’t enough, an RV that I had admired a few times at previous Lemons races became available when the owner decided to upgrade. The “Van Cave” as it was called, is kind of old (1991) and small (1-3 people) but well sorted. And it has both racing stripes and flames! How could I say no? So now I’ve got my own RV. It’s got a big 7.5L engine, so it doubles as the tow vehicle. I can’t wait to have all sorts of adventures in this thing, racing and otherwise.

2017 in review

2017 was supposed to be the year I was going to the SCCA Runoffs. I was turning 50 years old and in preparation, I built the cheapest street legal SCCA car I could. Those plans didn’t quite work out as my deteriorating right knee had a loose piece of cartilage about the size of quarter swimming around in it. I needed to use a cane for a couple months before surgery and another afterwards. Fun times.

So it wasn’t until May that I finally got in a racecar, and it wasn’t even my car, but rather my brother’s Miata. Despite growing up 20 miles away, I had never been to Watkins Glen in person (I had driven it many times in iRacing of course). It’s a great track with a lot of history. It’s on most peoples’ bucket list. Later, in September, we raced at Thompson Motorsports Park and had just as much fun at a much less storied venue for a lot less money.

The WGI and TMP events were run by ChumpCar, which has now rebranded itself as ChampCar Endurance Series. ChampCar was an open wheel racing series that ran into financial trouble, and when the name became available, ChumpCar decided to take it. There is absolutely zero overlap in the history of these organizations. Personally, I find the new name morally repugnant. Apparently, most of the ChumpCar membership approves of the name. If you recall the Eddie Murphy movie “The Distinguished Gentleman”, Eddie gets elected to Congress using the campaign slogan “the name you know” because his name is the same as the former, deceased Congressman. It’s a comedy. I guess the ChampCar people think “the name you know” is a valid way of appropriating credibility. I do not.

On a lark, I decided to race in Lemons at Buttonwillow. I had only turned 2 laps at Buttonwillow previously because the MR2 we had rebuilt decided to break our hearts one more time. This time I was in a 1980s Celica with a Ford 5 liter, automatic transmission, hard tires, and OEM brakes. It was a terrible car, but once I embraced the terror, I actually started to enjoy it. I had never been in a car that could accelerate past most of the field on any straight. Stopping before the next corner was something else entirely. I came away with a newfound appreciation of Buttonwillow. I tend to like technical tracks, and while Buttonwillow is mostly flat, it does require you to connect the corners much more so than Laguna Seca, for example.

I raced my Yaris for this first time at Laguna Seca in a Lucky Dog race. It was quite the party with several drivers I had never been teamed up with and one who joined mid-race. Shortly after, I raced an SCCA Regional in B-Spec at Thunderhill. So finally, I had raced in the class the car was built for. And it wasn’t that much fun. Sprint racing at the back of the pack is less fun than an HPDE session and a lot more expensive.

So as I close the book on 2017 and start looking toward 2018, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. The SCCA Runoffs are going to be at Sonoma. It’s one of my favorite tracks and is less than an hour away. It’s a unique opportunity. I’m sure it would be fun to race with a bunch of B-Spec cars, but the costs are high. 3 Majors weekends to qualify plus the Runoffs itself will set me back about $3000 in entry fees and travel costs, never mind the consumables. Sprint racing is about 3x as expensive as endurance racing… So will 2018 be my solo sprint racing effort or another year of track parties? I still don’t know.

I’m also not sure how much coaching I will do in 2018. The cars are getting faster and faster and the rare but disturbing accidents make me take notice. Do I really want to be in the wrong seat when a car without full safety equipment goes out of control?

Oculus Rift Review: Part 1

If you saw my post last week, you know that I gifted myself an Oculus Rift system as a holiday present. I opened it a couple days ago because it’s the holiday season and I don’t follow any religions (but I do follow Black Friday sales).

Magical. That’s the word that kept popping into my head while exploring the tutorial. The immersion is stunning. Movies take you on a journey, but VR puts you in the story. It’s breathtaking. I was grinning and giggling the whole time. Magical.

So what’s VR like in a driving simulator? To find out, I started up Assetto Corsa. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the latest update makes Laguna Seca an official track from Kunos Simulazioni and  a free download. Previously I had used Laguna Seca from an external source. As I had just updated my system, I had to go through the usual wheel, pedal, and FFB tuning. Then I took it for a spin in 2D to see the new Laguna Seca. I was shocked to find that they have the new asphalt with extended aprons. Way to go KS!

Switching the video from 2D to Oculus Rift is a simple as selecting the video source in a drop-down menu. So I did and put the Rift on my head…

OH MY GOD. I hadn’t realized how much difference there was between 2D and 3D. The world is so much fuller in 3D. 2D has a way of squashing elevation. In 3D, you’re fucking there.

Then I started to get a head ache and motion sick. Well that sucks. Somehow I have to train myself out of this because it’s truly amazing. Next week I’ll report on how my training is going.

Gift Yourself

So it’s that time of the year for holiday gifts. We have an unusual practice in my family that we give some presents to ourselves and don’t tell anyone what they are. The joy of opening a secret (to everyone else) present and sharing it with your loved ones is a fun alternative to the disingenuous “buy me this” or the “oh, how nice”. Try it, I guaranty you’ll like it. May I suggest that the gift is a simulation rig? There’s basically 3 ways to go with this (1) basic 1 monitor desktop PC setup (2) VR (3) triple monitor cockpit (I don’t advise consoles).

Basic Setup

You don’t need a very expensive PC to play Assetto Corsa, iRacing, etc. If you want to go bargain hunting, you can find used or refurbished stuff cheap. However, if you want a warranty and the ability to ship back for free, shopping at Amazon is a good way to go. They have plenty of gaming PCs under $500 that have GPU benchmarks over 3000. Check your videocard performance at https://www.videocardbenchmark.net/high_end_gpus.html to find your specific card. I did a lot of iRacing with a card that had a 726 rating, but I don’t recommend that now. Shoot for 2000 or more. You’ll need a 1080P monitor as well, which you can find under $100. For steering wheel and pedals, the Logitech G29 is a great value that lasts years. At $300, it’s the best bang for the buck. All told, it’s about $900 to buy a completely serviceable desktop sim rig brand new. People have won simulation championships with this kind of rig. You don’t really need anything more. And if you have the patience to look on craigslist or online racing forums, you can pick up components for half the price or less.


In order to operate simulators with a VR setup, you’ll need the VR system and a computer that can drive it. The Oculus Rift is $400. Oculus says you need at least an nVidia 1060 but people in the know say 1070 or better. That equates to a benchmark rating of 11K or more. You can find these on Amazon for $1200. You could use the same G29 wheel in the base setup, but if you want something a little better, you could go with a Thrustmaster ($400) or Fanatec ($700) rig. For more immersion, you might add a shifter ($100) and a cockpit ($200-500). All told, it’s $2000-3000 to buy a VR sim rig. I just upgraded my kit for VR and it cost me $1350.

Triple Monitors

Sim racers have been using triple monitors for a long time. It gives a better sense of immersion than a single monitor and doesn’t have the propensity to induce motion sickness the way VR can for some people. The main downside of a triple monitor system is all the space it takes up. These things are wide! Also, the cockpits can be $1000-2000 even before you get to the wheel-pedals-shifter combo. You also need a decent computer to drive 3 displays. It’s more expensive to build a triple monitor rig than a VR rig. The entire build will set you back $2500-$4000.

VR Review…

I haven’t opened my present to myself yet. So I can’t tell you how good VR is. Stay tuned for my Oculus Rift review and a VR Simulator Shootout.