Sunday, May 27, 2012

would you believe a guy with a daytime job as a banker set the standard for timing races? Boats, bikes, and drag racing all relied on Otto Crockers timing and clocking ingenuity and perfection

J. Otto Crocker, a San Diego watchmaker, made it possible to accurately time these vehicles to within thousandths of a second for the first time, making new records highly accurate and virtually indisputable. The device consisted of 3 master electronic clock units with individual controls for recording speeds over progressive distances. A photocell beam tripped the clocks at the quarter mile (after the 2 mile start), mile mark 3 & 4, and at the finish line. The Crocker Timer went on to prove its worth at Bonneville, dry lakes, boat racing, and later at the drags.

Born in Neshoba, Mississippi, in 1905, Crocker was exposed early in life to speed and time, as when Barney Oldfield had the 999 racer on display and allowed Crocker to wipe the dust from the car, and when Crocker's grandfather handed him a broken Ingersoll watch and challenged the youth to fix it. Crocker did manage to fix the watch and, intrigued, sent away for the correspondence course offered by the Chicago School of Watchmaking, which he finished in two years.

 He soon became a 13-year-old apprentice watchmaker and shunned formal schooling for the craft. At about the same time, Crocker and his cousins began hopping up Model Ts and racing them on a dirt oval they created. His first car used an airplane engine and Maxwell frame, and a later stripped-down Packard was soon turning 130 mph on Daytona Beach.

In San Diego and out on the dry lakes, he started racing motorcycles, (in the 1920's)  and he soon saw the ineffectiveness of the timing methods, Crocker felt he could do better with a length of rubber hose, a pipe organ diaphragm, a relay, and an electromagnetic stopwatch. When a racer ran over the hose, the bump in air pressure activated the relay and thus the stopwatch.

Crocker also became enamored with speedboat racing while in San Diego, which led him to race Offenhauser-powered Spitfire hulls on the Pacific and on the Salton Sea. So in 1928, he began work on the first of his photoelectric timing systems. Crocker figured that if he ran a beam of light from an automotive headlamp to a photocell, he could electronically trigger a timing mechanism when a boat interrupted the beam of light.  Crocker eventually worked the accuracy of his photoelectric timing system down to .001 second.

 Powerboat racing authorities wasted little time in adopting Crocker's photoelectric timers, but dry lakes racers still used a primitive variation of Crocker's electro-pneumatic timing system, until 1937 when Crocker introduced photoelectric timing to land-speed racing, and the Southern California Timing Association adopted the method in 1939

 A stint in the Army during World War II only served to further his education: The Army assigned him to its Electrical Engineering division and trained him as an instrument maker. Though he continued to time speedboat races long after the war, he followed the post-war explosion of interest in automobile racing first to Bonneville and then into drag racing, developing photoelectric timing systems for each venue.

Perhaps the highest honor possible in Crocker's line of work came in the summer of 1959, when the National Bureau of Standards and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile officially recognized and adopted Crocker's timing system.

Crocker retired from his day job at San Diego's First National Bank by 1972, but he continued to man the timers at every SCTA event that he could attend until his death

He was also a founding member of the San Diego Roadster Club

All of this info is condensed from the article in Hemmings and the first paragraph and image are from

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