NASCAR Racing – it’s a spectator sport, hobby for some, athletic endeavor for others. It’s what our museum is built around. And it may surprise you when we say it can help young people learn about math and science.

It’s true. There is a correlation between NASCAR and what kids are learning in school. The principles of science and math are behind building a race car, race track and racing itself. And you can show kids how to put that knowledge to action by helping them understand the math and science behind this sport we love here at the Winston Cup Museum.

Starting with STEM

Let’s start with the fact that STEM has become a presidential priority. Too few college students are pursuing degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). So schools have placed an increased emphasis on these areas of learning, and here locally, we have magnet schools dedicated to a focus on STEM.

The idea is that by exposing children to these areas of study, more of them will opt for studies and eventually careers in science, technology, engineering and math. For teachers, the challenge is figuring out ways to bring these areas to life – help the kids use STEM skills to solve problems in the real world. That’s where our museum comes in!

The Mathematics of Racing

Modern-day auto racing encompasses just about every facet of STEM – especially mathematics. Successful racing teams know this and employ mathematics to their competitive advantage. It starts with car design, with math factoring into every component and assembly. Engineers must design a car that fits a pre-determined template based on the shape of the car from seen from many different angles. Car designs must also meet certain specifications for weight. This includes all of the materials to construct the car: roll cage, engine, transmission, driver’s seat, fuel tank and more. As well, designers must cut the parts to specifications down to the millimeter – very precise.

Aside from the car design, racing companies use all kinds of statistics to measure the performance of cars and drivers so they can make modifications to perform better in the future. Some of what statisticians measure include: driver standing, number of laps lead, average speed, average finishing position, passing other cars in the top 15, total winnings in money and more. Even things such as how fast a driver makes his/her way around a corner compared to other drivers or how fast the driver goes down a straightaway is measured to determine where NOT to make adjustments (just as important as knowing where to modify).

Pit stops generate more mathematics. When the tires are removed, the depth of the remaining tread is measured to determine how the car is handling. All tires are measured to determine the forces that are being applied to the tire – and if a particular tire shows more wear than the other tires, an adjustment will be made to the car. Pitstop crews are timed and observed to see if they can speed up the process. Reduced time in the pits improves a car’s chances of winning.

Related: The Science of Speed video series

The Three D’s and Physics

Kids may be surprised to know just how much physics is involved in racing and race car design. Downforce, drag and drafting make up the “three D’s” that are key factors in NASCAR racing.

Downforce refers to the pressure from air moving over the top of the car and pushing it down toward the racing surface. Drag is the resulting resistance the race car experiences from the air pushing against it and the additional weight created by downforce. Finally, drafting is how drivers lesson the drag on their race car by tucking the nose of the car almost underneath the rear bumper another car to improve airflow over both cars.

The design of a race car can be modified to impact downforce and reduce the amount of drag – but NASCAR has rules about car designs that must be followed for a race car to be sanctioned and allowed to race. So not only do drivers have to focus on car design, but they also have to learn how to use drafting to their advantage to make up for some of the on-track forces.

For even more details on the three D’s, check out this How Stuff Works article.

NASCAR, on the whole, is very committed to showing the correlation between racing and STEM skills. In 2015, it announced the NASCAR Acceleration Nation initiative, focusing on the three D’s of speed — downforce, drafting and drag — and including instructional materials for teachers.

Our museum would like to welcome elementary and middle school teachers to bring their students for a visit to help make the connections between the subjects they study in school and the sport of auto racing.  We think the kids will enjoy it – and be excited to see how auto racing really couldn’t happen without math and science.

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