For famed science educator, comedian, and author Bill Nye (the science guy) watching a NASCAR race with his family is bittersweet.
The super-fast cars zipping around the track is “exciting,” Nye explains in his latest book, “Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.“
But the technology is “depressing,” Nye writes because:
“Here I am trying to envision the smart, efficient transportation technology of tomorrow, and there is NASCAR celebrating a very old transportation technology of yesterday. You might call NASCAR the anti-NASA.”
In his book, Nye explores the many pitfalls of climate change and the numerous available technologies that could turn things around. He dedicates an entire chapter to the multi-million dollar business NASCAR, asking: “What if NASCAR became more like NASA?”
It’s not an absurd comparison. Both NASCAR and NASA hold competitions where they present a money award to the winner. The only difference is that NASCAR awards the fastest, whereas NASA awards the smartest.
“There’s no reason why NASCAR couldn’t be like [NASA]: a race with rules designed to reward the coolest, most advanced vehicle technologies,” Nye writes.
There’s no reason why NASCAR couldn’t be like [NASA]: a race with rules designed to reward the coolest, most advanced vehicle technologies
To spur this kind of change, Nye says it would only take a single change to NASCAR’s rule book:
Place a limit on how much fuel teams can use during a race. Nye suggests no more than 21 gallons — about half a tank for most modern cars.
Right now, NASCAR racing vehicles get around 3 miles to the gallon.
Even if racers were allotted 50 gallons for a race, you could easily beat them in 2004 Toyota Prius — that’s how inefficient NASCAR race cars are.
“We could drive this real ‘stock’ (off-the-showroom-floor) car around and around the course for a while. Then we could stop and have pizza. We’d get back in the car and win. No other [NASCAR] team could even finish the race,” Nye writes.
NASCAR vehicles are great at going fast, but terrible at everything that forward-looking companies like Tesla are trying to do, which is to design vehicles that produce little-to-no greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the EPA, transportation accounted for 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions between 1990-2013. Cleaner cars could make an important impact on our nation’s carbon footprint.
And Nye says that NASCAR could be an important leader in this change:
“I get it. I understand the appeal of a stock car race. It’s just exciting, and I’m all for it,” he writes. “I just want NASCAR to adapt to the new mainstream. I want the circuit to produce vehicles that could compete in races anywhere int eh world, and win. I want the racing series to spin off new tech that will do more with less. For me, as an American mechanical engineer, I hope NASCAR decides to look forward rather than backward.”