Could NASCAR go electric?

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 22:  Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, FL – NOVEMBER 22: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

I came across an interesting article this week discussing the idea of NASCAR switching to “All Electric” motors. This recommendation was given by none other than Bill Nye, the science guy.

Nye says he was “Depressed” at his last race as he watched the cars run on the technology of yesterday, rather than the technology of today like Tesla operates on.

But, is this even a relevant discussion? Isn’t part of the experience of auto racing in general the “thrill” of the motors and the “smell” of the fuel? And what about sponsorship? This would drastically destroy the gasoline and oil companies, possibly causing a major stock market issue.

So then, is there a way to do both and slowly integrate electric into full time? What if NASCAR began using electric motors in the lower series or allowed electric motors to race with the fuel of yesterday, would that be an even trade to an industry that is established?

I have to believe we are a long way away from seeing electric motor racing in NASCAR or any other major auto racing event. While brands like Tesla have changed the world, the world isn’t quite ready for “quite motors” on a racetrack. I do believe, however, that this would be an excellent opportunity for groups like Tesla to form a new style of auto racing on a more lower level. Like how ARCA is the start for NASCAR, Tesla could create their own IROC style race featuring all electric cars. That would be the best option for integrating today’s technology into auto racing, rather than shoving it down the throat of current race fans who seem to have no interest at all in electric.

The Tesla Roadster

The Tesla Roadster

Nye said in a recent interview that “NASCAR uses gasoline-burning instead of electron-flowing. I wish NASCAR were more like NASA. I wish NASCAR were more about the future instead of the past. I wish NASCAR set up Grand Challenges to inspire companies and individuals to create novel automotive technologies in the way NASA does to create novel space technologies.”

People don’t like change, but will accept new ideas over time. Rather than “all electric NASCAR”, let’s try a small circuit of electric racing until it becomes popular enough to go full time. Something like the recent “Formula E” concept or the 2013 test for Tesla in NASCAR is a good start, so long as they are their own series.

Then, and only then, will a change of that magnitude actually occur.

 

Kurt Busch shows interest in the INDY 500

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 21: Driver Kurt Busch talks with reporters during the NASCAR 2016 Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour on January 21, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bob Leverone / NASCAR via Getty Images  (Photo by Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 21: Driver Kurt Busch talks with reporters during the NASCAR 2016 Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour on January 21, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bob Leverone / NASCAR via Getty Images (Photo by Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images)

With the 100th anniversary of the INDY 500 coming in 2016, Kurt Busch is considering the idea of getting back into INDYCAR, especially for the 500.

Busch told Autoweek that “The Indy 500 is on the back burner. That’s especially true since it’s the 100th running. There’s a lot of sponsorship opportunities, be it Haas Automation, Chevrolet or Monster Energy.”

Busch finished sixth in the 2014 INDY 500, running with Andretti Autosport. He believes that he can pull together the backing to get a deal but he’s less optimistic about finding a car that will give him what he needs to get to the front.

Busch says his main focus is to continue to build up his team with Stewart Haas Racing and the # 41 car, with the goal of getting into the Chase for 2016.

Michael Andretti, of Andretti Autosport, has said in previous interviews that he is interested in running an extra car for Busch in the future. At this time his team already has three cars filled for 2016 with drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz. However, they do routinely field additional entries for the 500.

Up close with Toyota Racing at the Daytona 500

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Toyota invited me to Daytona Speedway to get a first hand look at how Toyota Racing has impacted NASCAR. The sport was traditionally exclusive to the big three American automotive manufactures (Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge), but in 2006, Toyota joined pit row for the Sprint Cup and the Xfinity Series. Toyota racing teams have gone on to win over a dozen titles. 

My experience at the track offered a unique look at what goes into creating a winning NASCAR team. I got to meet with drivers, crew chiefs and an engineer from Toyota Racing Division. I also got to drive a Toyota Tundra around Daytona Speedway during driver introductions. Here a few fun tidbits:

  • The engines used in NASCAR is specifically designed for the sport by Toyota Racing Division.
  • NASCAR puts restricter plates on the race cars for select tracks, such as Daytona.
  • The naturally aspirated V8s used in the Toyota NASCAR cars produce upwards of 750 horsepower – even in the trucks.
  • The Truck Series vehicles handle better than the Xfinity and Sprint Cup cars because the trucks produce more down force. The cars go faster though.
  • Most NASCAR drivers start out racing dirt track, versus Formula One drivers who start out racing Go-Karts.