NASCAR and the National Science Foundation believe racing can help America make up lost ground in the study of math and science.
Brian Vickers is convinced students' affinity for racecars and the speed sports can be a driving force in that direction.
On April 3, the NSF, NASCAR and the University of Texas at Dallas announced the availability of a new 12-part online video series called “The Science of Speed,” which builds on the book “The Physics of NASCAR: The Science Behind the Speed” by UT Dallas physics professor Diandra Leslie-Pelecky.
The premise is to use the excitement and star power of NASCAR to kindle interest in the principles that govern the performance of a racecar—friction, heat, drag and drafting, for example.
Vickers, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are among the NASCAR luminaries who appear in the series. Vickers, for one, recognizes that the United States has lagged behind other world leaders in the math and science arenas, and he's concerned about the implications.
“I think math and science is critical to any sustainable economy,” said Vickers, 25, who made his NASCAR debut at 17. “America's the #1 world superpower, economically and militarily, primarily because of math and science. If we don't get that top spot back in math and science, we'll lose the top spot in other categories.
“That's why I think it's so important. Unfortunately, America's fallen way behind in math and science. I think this is an opportunity for myself and our sport to be involved in helping to fix that problem. You know kids are interested in racecars. Hopefully, you can use racecars to make them interested in math and science.”
Vickers himself has learned some of the principles behind the performance of his racecars since getting involved in the project.
“I understood a lot of the things that were going to happen, but not why,” said Vickers, who was captivated by match and science while in kindergarten and maintained his interest through high school.
The program specifically targets students in grades 8-12. With racecars functioning as scientific experiments, the video series features an array of drivers, crew chiefs, crewmen and engineers who ply their trades at the racetrack each weekend.
“It's a pretty cold fact that we've fallen way behind,” Vickers said. “Obviously, our educational system isn't as strong as it should be, but that's a much broader topic that I'm not educated upon enough to know why that is—but it's definitely something that we need to fix.
“Is it something that starts at home or something that starts at school? I don't know. But our society has rewarded the lawyers and the business professionals so much more than they have the engineers in the math and science category.”
“The Science of Speed” video series is available for download through the NSF's website Science360.gov.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News