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Dixon & the Telemetry Hat

This was 2000/2001 timeframe, and was a prank to make a point. During this time the Bud was accused routinely of cheating, which they were not. (For the record, Bernie never allowed cheating as it would look bad on the sponsor and he wanted to win with integrity by being the best.)

During the week between Evansville & Madison Dixon saw a good deal on hardhats at the local surplus store and the "Telemetry Hat" idea was born. He then proceeded to Radio Shack and picked up the TV antenna (cheapest on he could find on sale of course), which he bolted to the hat, a coax cable, an empty plastic box, and a serial cable. The coax cable ran from the helmet to the empty box, and the RS232 from the empty box to the computer. Key being, empty box in which the cables didn’t even come close to connecting! He then wrote code for the Bud telemetry software that looked like intermittently good data (click for video) - it would flash values for water speed for a bit, then N2, EGT, Fuel flow, etc. in a way that looked like it was realistic data, but not coming through real well….but was really just a fancy random number generator populating the display.

(Note: Dixon design, built & programmed the on board computer, telemetry & data analysis system used on the Bud boats.  Click here to see a shot of the telemetry screen with real data from San Diego 2004.)

Fast forward to Madison the next weekend. At this time, telemetry was only allowed during testing, and illegal during qualifying & racing. The team that had been accusing the Bud (falsely) of cheating was out qualifying. Dixon put on his hat, grabbed a 5 gallon bucket (needed a seat) and planted himself on the shoreline behind the Bud camp, hat on, "adapter box" in his hip pocket and starts watching the "telemetry." It took a couple of qualifying sessions to get attention, but eventually an official saw this setup and wanted to know what's going on (for the record, Dixon was always doing interesting things, so this even though this was completely absurd it wasn’t cause for alarm). Dixon allows he’s working on a new portable telemetry viewing setup and shows the official the screen. He then allows that, "I'm not sure, but this sorta looks like some telemetry, but I'm sure it's not, because it’s not allowed during qualifying.” The official watches the data for the rest of the run, and hurries off as the boat returns to the dock.

Later that day, the official allows they have confiscated the telemetry radios from the other team for the rest of the weekend, since he saw the data while they were qualifying (even though the team insisted they were not broadcasting)! I think for the next couple races the team had to remove the radios when not testing and leave with the officials too. It wasn’t until Seattle or San Diego that the officials realized they’d been had by another Dixon prank. This picture was used as his pit pass photo until Budweiser retired from racing.

Morale of the story: race legally & clean, and don’t mess with bored engineers!


Post Script from Mike Noonan:

That official was me. Actually the “team” led Inspector Paul Bauer on by explaining in detail what they “knew” Dixon was doing, and he bought it!. Paul told me what he saw and I went down there. You may not believe me, but it didn’t take long to realize what was going on, especially since your Dad had trouble keeping a straight face as I quizzed him. The problem was the other teams were making such a big deal that we couldn’t just ignore it. Something had to be done, and you told the rest of the story. Over the winter, a rule was adopted to ban telemetry and transmissions other than voice from shore to boat and vice versa.

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