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06 February 2010

The Prius And Synthetic Surfaces Revisted

The unintended consequences of "consumer morality" have once again caused havoc for those that travel on four legs or four wheels. The complex designs of the Toyota Prius and the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita have placed people in danger. We first drew parallel lines between these two technological wonders last year. Since then the troubles of both technologies have increased exponentially.

One of the chief appeals of the Prius is the moral high ground. Through technology this automobile promises to be efficient and safe. Through technology the problems of pollution and finite resources are addressed. Saving fuel and producing less emissions makes people feel good about themselves. They may be saving even more fuel after faulty software causes difficulty braking and drivers end up injuring themselves and their family in a crash. The Prius is rated at 49 MPG highway. My 87' Chevy Sprint was rated at 51 MPG highway and the brakes worked like a charm twenty years ago. The Sprint was smart compact design, that was simple and easily maintainable for years and years of use. The Prius will be difficult to maintain over the long term; after a few years a huge chemical laden battery must be disposed of and replaced. This could flood the environment with lead, nickel and lithium. Over the long term this car will be plagued by unintended consequences.

23 year old Chevy Sprint has better MPG than cutting edge Prius

Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface is much like the Prius. Both are an outgrowth of "ethical consumerism". When California mandated that tracks install a synthetic racing surface, they did this action with nothing but moral benevolence in their hearts. This technology was supposed to mitigate the consequences of injuries and death. The Pro-Ride was a way to use technology to increase safety and make horse racing a kinder and gentler endeavor. The Pro-Ride surface has been a miserable failure. Not only are the safety benefits not been realized but this is an all-weather surface only if the weather is sunny.

Once again rain caused Santa Anita to close this weekend causing untold hardship for the horsemen and track management. The unintended consequence of "sand gauge" has caused the drainage system to fail under the mixture of polymer, wax, sand and rubber. With poor drainage this technology is rendered a complete failure, much like the driver that crashes their Prius due to brake failure.

Are the stats showing that synthetic surfaces are safer than dirt accurate? Ed at BEB brings up a salient point regarding the stats comparing surfaces. The stats comparing synthetic to dirt surfaces are comparing new synthetic surfaces to dirt surfaces that may be 50 years old. A closer look reveals that the problems with horse breakdowns are not a surface issue but track maintenance issues. Not only did technology not address the problem, but what is even worse they may be addressing the wrong problem. The rash of breakdowns at places like Del Mar was more of a track maintenance issue that was framed as a surface issue as there is more money in selling a new surface than maintaining a racetrack to exacting standards. In just a few years when the new surfaces wear out, the track maintenance issues will return.

While the early stats look good for a new all-weather surface, this has not been proven over time. As these surfaces age they may disintegrate into something more dangerous than the dirt surfaces they replaced. Over time the Prius may not be a viable vehicle after a few years as it's complex systems fail and repairs exceed the cost of acquiring a new vehicle. Once again the technology that delivers ethical consumerism has failed. It turns out there is so substitute for simple yet smart design coupled with sound maintenance.


Bklyn's Best said...

Another case of K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple Stupid)
The 87 Chevy Sprint being equal to the Prius in MPG's, all was needed was to continue to redesign the body each year.
Where as the Prius while looking good seems that more money was in the marketing instead of the testing and research to make sure it was safe...

Santa Anita's surface is the K.I.S.S being that you don't change what works (dirt).. too many people stirring up the dirt vs synth issue , and the result is a loss for all involved. execpt the people that put down that track .. they are long gone with their $$$$.

The_Knight_Sky said...

Santa Anita should be the first domino to fall as the racetracks reconvert to dirt.

Del Mar is sticking to it as they have generally good weather during their meet. But I am a bit anxious to know who is going to foot the bill for another racetrack makeover?

Is it the bettors, in the form of higher takeouts? If so, whatever gains they make by converting to dirt racing will be lost by the fans who take up a "personal boycott" against tracks that raise the take.

If and when Santa Anita races on the dirt again, handicapping data and procedures will have to be reprogrammed for horses and horsemen on that circuit. That along with the steeper price to play the game ultimately may not be tasty enough for the core bettors.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me?!! Please tell me that you aren't comparing two crappy cars to racetracks....oh, wait...yes, I actually just read that load of baloney. Your premise is full of If, If and If. Stick to the facts if you want to grow up and be a real journalist. Equibase study shows from 2006-2008, dirt track ponies failed to finish races at twice the rate of plastic horses! Far fewer horses failing to finish on synthetic can only mean that those tracks are safer! Look, SA is a total disaster, but don't bash synthetic tracks because of one failure...anyway, that track sucked before the change to synthetic.

Joseph b said...

Tuefelsberg ran ten times in high class competition on varying types of dirt in 2007, he stepped foot on the plastic Keeneland surface and he ends up suffering a career ending injury.

The year after polytrack was installed at Turfway injuries and breakdowns doubled for that meet.

Saratoga, the crown jewel of NY racing with a well maintained dirt surface has had the minimum in breakdowns in the last three or four years.

Nice way to spout off anonymous numbnut, go back to trying to fellate yourself.

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