Build a DIY Lap Timer for a Backyard Race Track

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Build a DIY Lap Timer for a Backyard Race Track

Coming home to a challenging DIY project is a great way to blow off some steam, especially if that project involves racing around your homemade track to beat your personal best time! Or at least that’s what artist, tinkerer, and creator of the glowing pony bike Scott Blake does, which is why he had to build a DIY photoelectric track timer for his electric trike.

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In this first video in the series Blake made to document the process of making his timer, he explains: “I started with an invisible beam entry alert from RadioShack. In addition to the buzzer, there is a relay switch inside. Whenever the beam is interrupted, the Normally Open terminal contacts the Ground. To connect the entry alarm to my computer, I ordered a USB switch from P.I. Engineering. The device uses simple audio cables to trigger any action on a computer. The final bit of code I got from the Internet Geeks on How to Auto Insert time-stamp in Google Sheets. I changed the time-stamp format to include milliseconds. So now, when I pass by the invisible beam, the USB switch types the letter “B” for “Back Door”, Google Sheets automatically inserts a time-stamp, and the difference is my lap time.”

Blake, who describes his electric trike as “basically an adult big wheel that can go 30 MPH” explains why he chose to build a track around his house and then outfit it with a DIY timer: “I got interested in electric bikes a year ago, and I’ve since converted both of my regular bicycles with 1,000 watt rear hub motors. I’ve become an unofficial ambassador for e-bikes at my local bike shop. I prefer electric motors because they are quiet and there’s no smelly exhaust. I like sharing the experience of riding electrified things, but not everyone is up for a drill powered pony bike. I created the electric trike for my friends that might be scared or embarrassed about riding an e-bike, and for me to go as fast as I possibly can around my yard.”

In addition to his trike not being street legal, there are a few other reasons why Blake decided to create a track around his house. “A friend in town has a .8 mile track on his property for riding dirt bikes, so I knew a smaller DIY track was possible. I also recently built a mini ramp in my basement to skateboard in the winter #Blakeside, and I wanted something to do in the summer outside. The shape of my track came about naturally, there is no clear starting and stopping point. I just rode around the two trees, along the fences, and down the driveway. I dug out a couple of berms with a shovel, widened a doorway so the trike fits through the back of garage, and made ramp connecting my front and back yard. My figure eight track is about 570 ft in length or 0.1 mile.”

Once he had the track built, he realized that he was going to need a timer to see how fast his laps around the track were. This situation presented its own set of challenges. “I tried using a Louisville Slugger Multi Sport Radar that can detect how fast a baseball is being thrown at it, but I learned the hard way that it is not safe to take your eyes off of the track going at 15+ MPH. I crashed into my neighbor’s fence trying to look at the radar and turn at the same time. My girlfriend wanted to leave a sarcastic product review, saying the Louisville Slugger Radar makes silly boys crash their toys. So I had to come up with a safer, hands free, and eyes free way of accurately collecting the data racing around my track.”

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In a second video, Blake follows up on how he finished the project using reflective beam sensors and installed additional sensors on his track in order to calculate his speed as he passes by them. Because he has more than one loop on his track, the various sensors can also determine his lap times based on which loop he completes.

And for anyone still on the fence about the advantages of turning your yard into a race track and building a digital timer for it, Blake points out another benefit to his decision. “One final unforeseen positive outcome of having a track is my garage has never been cleaner.”

See more of Scott Blake’s projects, go to his website and keep up with his progress on his Instagram account!

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Artist, writer, and teacher who makes work about popular culture, technology, and traditional craft processes.

View more articles by Andrew Salomone


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