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.
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.