Electric vehicles have improved to the point where they’re a viable option for everyday use. But what about motorsports? Bill Nye is arguing it’s time for NASCAR to go all-electric. And he might be right.
Nye, in an op-ed, argues that NASCAR is celebrating outmoded technology. He wants NASCAR to be more like NASA, offering prizes to improve driving technology and squeeze more oomph out of each electron. And, truthfully, if you’re a racing fan, Nye’s idea would make the races a lot more exciting; strategies would change completely, pit stops would be less likely to derail a lead, and you’d see better, faster, tighter driving.
And there are electric supercars out there that crush NASCAR performance. The Rimac Concept One, for example, is used as a race director’s car at Formula E events and offers 1088 horsepower, compared to 830 hp to 840 hp on a standard NASCAR engine, and 12,000-pound feet of torque compared to 520-pound feet for NASCAR. If that weren’t enough, consumer electric cars like the Tesla can go from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds. Nye also correctly points out that consumer vehicles are necessarily freighted down with stuff NASCAR techs would yank out, taking a lot of weight out of the car and improving performance.
That said, Nye’s big problem here is less technological than cultural. NASCAR as an entity clings to old technology for fear of cheating. It didn’t get rid of carburetors until 2012, more than 20 years after consumer cars had dumped the outmoded tech. NASCAR still uses manual transmissions and rear-wheel drive, well after those have fallen out of fashion.
The irony is this makes the cars anything but “stock,” and doesn’t even discourage cheating. Just read a few stories about how the legendary Smokey Yunick ran rings around NASCAR’s regulations. Smokey remains an inspiration for NASCAR mechanics everywhere, especially when dealing with the rules.
Nye is right: Electric vehicles would make the races more exciting, and push NASCAR to the forefront of car technology. The problem, of course, is the forefront of car technology is not where NASCAR wants to be just yet.