Photo showing NASCAR cars under the Green flag at Daytona, 2015, by Nascarking (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo showing NASCAR cars under the Green flag at Daytona, 2015, by Nascarking (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Planet NASCAR, with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Green flag at Daytona, 2015. Credit: By Nascarking (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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About This Episode

Is Planet NASCAR governed by the same laws of physics as the rest of Planet Earth? You wouldn’t know it from some of the responses to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweets about the sport. Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice bring Neil into the studio to unpack the science contained within his NASCAR tweets. Explore why “Rubber tires on asphalt grant a maximum speed of about 165 mph in the 24-degree banked turns at Charlotte Motor Speedway” and “If you travel faster than 165 mph on the 24-degree bank turns at Charlotte Motor Speedway you will skid into the embankment.” You’ll learn about the role Newton’s laws of motion and the coefficient of friction play on speed and acceleration, and why at the right speed, in the right conditions, a driver doesn’t even need to turn his wheel to drive left in a turn. Ponder the impact on top speeds that changing the angle of embankments would have. Neil explains the Doppler effect as it relates to sound – and why you can’t hear the expected rise and fall in the frequency of sound at a NASCAR race. Investigate how spoilers work, and why they increase the effective weight (traction) over a car’s rear wheels at high speed — without increasing the car’s mass. All that, plus you’ll hear Neil and Chuck sing the theme from Speed Racer and find out how long it would take a NASCAR driver to drive to the moon, why Neil was the second-to-last person to realize that racecar is a palindrome, and what NASCAR could change to entice Chuck to become a fan: corkscrew tracks, solid rocket boosters, and “No-Brakes-NASCAR.”

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Planet NASCAR, with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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  • “a driver doesn’t even need to turn his wheel to drive left in a turn.” Is Tyson saying a geodesic would take the car around the curve without running into an embankment? I hope not.

    • David, you’ll really need to listen to the show. Neil describes a specific case where, when you are going at a specific speed on a specifically angled NASCAR track embankment, with tires that have coefficient of friction with the road of 1, and possibly some other nuances. He explains the physics of it all very specifically in the show.

      • Around 16:14 “If you drive at the exact speed the bank is calculated for, you never have to turn your steering wheel.” Tyson seems to be saying a car can turn just by traveling a geodesic. Unless the bank is 90º, a geodesic will take you off the track.

        • Unless the nature of the bank and the tire’s traction create the turning naturally, whereas a direct or forced steering to drive a geodesic would, as you say take you off the track. (And please remember that this comment is coming from Jeff, from StarTalk’s social media team, and not a physicist. If what I just said makes no sense, please feel free to tell me that, and correct my comment.)

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