Wave A Caution Flag on Electric NASCAR

February 15, 2016

I will always be vocal about the fact that I love science. As a child of the nineties, Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) was a hero of mine. Every time I would hear the infamous introduction, everything else in the world stopped. The Science Guy never failed to entertain me with something about dinosaurs, volcanoes, or falling objects. Yet, there was one thing in particular I liked more than science. This happened to be NASCAR. I was one of the biggest NASCAR fans you would ever meet. The first full-length book I ever read was Tony Stewart’s 416 page autobiography. I watched every lap of every race for seasons on end and attended at least 15 in person. My bedroom was plastered with hats, replica cars, and posters. Needless to say, when I came upon an article written by Bill Nye in which he calls upon NASCAR to switch to electric cars, it caught my attention. As a current engineering student that focuses on alternative energy systems and a formerly devout NASCAR fan, I didn’t know how to feel. In his op-ed, Nye says that NASCAR has an ability to lead the way in automobile technology, and that is very true. For years, they had cars that were state of the art, and produced more power than most cars available to the average driver. At one point, the cars got so fast, that NASCAR even implemented new technology to make the cars slower on tracks where cars could hit top speed. In 2008, they introduced the “Car of Tomorrow” that increased safety and featured a new, futuristic look. Despite all these advances, they’ve never strayed from gasoline-fueled motors. NASCAR is a sport that is steeped in tradition and a country-fried atmosphere. Fans and professionals in the racing community love the smell of burnt rubber and the deafening roar of 43 motors thundering down the track. As someone who reveled in NASCAR tailgates from an early age, I have witnessed and shared the crowd's infatuation with big, loud, internal combustion engines. When race teams bring out a race car for fans to pose with and take pictures, fans crowd around as the driver starts the car and revs the motor way up. The fans eat it up. NASCAR fans are constantly talking about cars and their history. The internal combustion motor has a culture surrounding it, and that culture is pure NASCAR. Right or wrong, a switch to electric motors could alienate this large portion of NASCAR’s base. Upsetting its fans isn’t the only hurdle that NASCAR would need to address in a switch to electric cars. Transiting from the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing to the National Electric Stock Car Auto Racing would be tremendously difficult and wouldn’t have a big impact on sustainability right out of the gate. In addition to the sheer expense of new equipment and generators at each race track, all that electricity to power the cars has to come from somewhere. Today, we still rely heavily on burning coal or natural gas to produce electricity, neither of which is particularly green. The very infrastructure of the sport would need to change along with the cars. While NASCAR cannot promise a wholesale switch to electric vehicles in the near term, I do believe it’s reasonable and imperative for them to commit to a steady transition to electric. Perhaps what should happen first is a hybridized step. This way, the decision won’t be too radical among the fan base, and it would also allow time for the country itself to advance to a system that is more compatible with being able to plug something into the wall, without the negative environmental effects. America needs to establish an infrastructure that relies on clean sources of electricity for more than just the charging of high-power racing machines. If NASCAR can play a part in that, then I’d be thrilled to see it. Until then, if you go to a race, make sure to bring your earplugs. By Eddie Devino ________________________________________________ Eddie Devino ’17  is a chemical engineering student in Syracuse University's College of Engineering and Computer Science. He is gearing his education towards the field of alternative energy by minoring in energy systems with a sustainable focus, along with minoring in cultural anthropology. Aside from all things engineering, you will often find Eddie at People’s Place, serving the richest (and cheapest) coffee on campus. His interest in chemical engineering stems from his interest in mathematics and chemistry in high school. Devino hopes to use his degree and all of the knowledge gained throughout college and channel it into a career that is oriented around helping other people with modern technology and engineering. There are only a few things he takes more seriously than his engineering education—the Boston Celtics, his facial hair, and his coffee consumption.