Motorsports green-nascar

Published on January 27th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley

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Bill Nye The Science Guy Wants NASCAR To Go Electric

January 27th, 2016 by  
 

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is a former mechanical engineer who has made a career as a science educator, television presenter, and writer. He also loves motor racing. He says, “racing should be about the future rather than the past.” In an opinion piece published at Aeon.com, he challenges NASCAR to be more like NASA and reward innovation rather than enshrine outmoded technology.

NASCAR Specifically, Nye wants to see NASCAR embrace electric race cars. Why? Because doing so would encourage lots of racing fans to consider driving an electric car of their own. Race fans are passionate about their sport. The cars are covered from bumper to bumper with ads because advertisers know people respond to what they see displayed on the cars.

Imagine the message it would send if NASCAR switched to electrons instead of gasoline! Nye writes, “Everyone in the crowd, every race fan, would want an electric car! The market for electric cars would go crazy. Manufacturers could not produce them fast enough. We could convert our transportation system to all-electric in less time than it took to go from horse-drawn to horseless carriage, 20 years maybe.”

He points to NASA as a leading innovator. It is sponsoring competitions to design a better spacesuit, figure out how to mine minerals from asteroids, and survive radiation in deep space. He also applauds Google for its LunarX prize. That award will go to the first private organization that lands a spacecraft on the moon and sends pictures back to earth. Why can’t NASCAR be more like NASA, Nye wants to know. Why can’t it be at the cutting edge of change instead of insisting its racers use carburetor equipped, push rod engines with iron cylinder blocks, he asks? That technology was exciting when Chevrolet introduced its first small block V-8 in the 50’s, but is ancient history today.

Nye grew up following NASCAR racing in the South. He knows the thunder of mighty V-8 engines, but he has a broader vision. “To address climate change…..we have to stop, completely stop, burning fossil fuels. The obvious, straightforward…..answer is to convert our entire ground transportation fleet — trains, trucks, buses and cars — to electric motors with batteries to store energy the way that gasoline tanks store energy in our fuel burning vehicles. In the short term, NASCAR could help get us there. We could convert all of our race cars to electricity — right now — and show the public exactly what electrons can do.”

In Nye’s vision, NASCAR would lead innovation rather than shun it. Teams would develop fast battery swapping systems that would take no longer than a conventional pit stop. The technology created to win races would trickle down to production electric cars, making them more efficient and less expensive.

Is Nye correct? Could NASCAR transition to electric race cars? Formula E is already doing so in open wheel racing and finding a large audience all around the world. Tell us in your comments whether NASCAR should be looking forward into the future or continue looking back over its shoulder into the past.


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About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.



  • AaronD12

    As much as I admire Bill Nye, I have to say there are factors — irrational factors — that come into play here. First is the “sound”. NASCAR is loud, raucous, and visceral. That’s what the fans love. Even more so with monster trucks in stadiums. There is an all-electric monster truck, but have you seen it? Probably not.

    Second is Jesus. WHAT?! NASCAR is big in the South. Land of the Bible and Jesus (not the gardener hay-zoose). There are people here who TRULY BELIEVE that God put enough oil/gas on this Earth to last until the Rapture. That was presented as a rebuttal to getting EV chargers at my work, so don’t tell me I’m making this up.

    Frequently, I talk about EV acceptance starting with Wal-Marters. You have to make an EV appeal to them. This means appealing to their religious beliefs too. They will argue all day long that an electric car (“toy”) will never beat their Hemi-powered gas guzzler. (Remember: Wal-Marters haven’t heard of Tesla.)

    • Garrick Staples

      Yes, yes, that’s why it’s difficult. Everything you said is also why it needs to be done. Auto racing absolutely needs to change… and it is. We have Formula-E getting better ratings than Formula-1. We have hybrids in the top classes of Le Mans.

      Nascar isn’t going to change all at once. First you have some demonstrations before the main event. You could have a good 15 minute show with an electric car beating some fuel-burners in a 1/4 mile or something. Maybe a good old-fashioned tractor-pull! People will see the technology and begin to appreciate it. Then you hold a demonstration electric race with some drivers from the main event.

      Nascar is, and always will be, an advertising platform. Without cars and parts to advertise, there is no Nascar. We really just need a few more years of car updates to get a nice selection of 200+ mile cars. They will start showing up on TV and music videos soon.

      Wal-marters will come around. They will buy whatever the marketing tells them to buy.

      • Steve Hanley

        A very reasoned and rational response to Aaron’s rabble rousing – which I loved, by the way. Let the culture wars begin!!!

        • AaronD12

          Hey! Wait… is that a compliment? 😉

          • Steve Hanley

            Only if you want it to be, amigo!

      • Agree with everything AaronD12 said. Love Bill Nye, grew up in the south, and love racing of all types, be it land, sea or air, powered and non-. Motor racing must change to combat climate change, but the only series where I see it working effectively right now is LeMans. There, the hybridization seems to have real-world applicability.

        I work on EV policy for a living, and even then still think Formula-E sucks. Trust me, I’ve tried to get into it. But it’s nowhere near as exciting as F1 – the sound and excitement and speed just aren’t there. It’s like watching scale R/C cars racing – fun when they’re tiny and going really fast, not so fun when they’re full-sized. ICEs offer a visceral feeling, almost organic. I was at a recent Red Bull RallyCross event, and it was amazing for the sounds alone, nevermind the polluting reality of the entire spectacle. No has been able to effectively capture that same feeling in electrics yet.

        That said, there’s lots of EV drag racing, even in the south, particularly of motorcycles. That segment seems to be ok with electric propulsion. Beyond racing, if battery capacity increased, I know for sure there’d be much greater uptake among the general population. The Wal-Marters I know would gladly buy an EV if it had comparable range and price. That said, they’re still considered toys or novelties, in places where you’re only cool if you have a V8 with a nice rumble (either in a Mustang/Camaro, or a pickup truck).

        As for pop culture, we know that many auto trends are started by rappers. The BMW i8 seems to be the current go-to, and it features prominently in a Jadakiss video from December. Fetty Wap just bought his labelmate Monty one, and it’s well known that Chief Keef had one until his record company recently suspended his contract. In the past, I’ve seen Tesla Model S’ and Fisker Karmas in a few rap videos. Urban kids and anyone else that listens to hiphop have seen luxurious EVs/PHEVs and I think, would actually buy one if they could afford to. It’s futuristic to them, and they’re rare. Whatever gets attention is what moves these kids.

  • bestofandy

    I personally would love a QUIET car instead of these load ear-bursting ICE barrels exploding all over the place. Yes, ICE cars are powerful and the sound appeals to religious people, but this has to change. There is a safety issue by just replacing battery modules fully charged to an electric racer, as opposed to pumping extremely volatile fuel into a tank at high speed. I would say that NASCAR race them along side each other to show that there is no difference.

  • Jonathan

    Doubt it is possible with our current tech, even if we do get good batteries that can last several laps at top speed. It would take to long to recharge the batteries so they would need to either be easily replaceable or need some serious advancement in batteries.

  • evfan

    Great idea, Bill Nye. If I use the popularity of Formula E as a guide, then I think your wish will become true.

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