Bill Nye has a plan to make NASCAR better than ever. But can it work?

NASCAR is right up there with football and baseball when it comes to sports Americans love.

Professional stock car racing is fast, thrilling, and a serious moneymaker. In 2012, NASCAR earned $3 billion in sponsorship money, more than double that of the NFL.

Breakneck speed and passionate fans are the cornerstone of this wildly popular sport.


But! Here's an idea: What if those loud, gas-guzzling stock cars were replaced with electric cars?

Take it easy, Tony Stewart. It's just an idea.

Think I'm nutty for even suggesting it? Don't blame me. It's all Bill Nye's idea. In a January 2016 op-ed for Aeon, the TV science guy and beloved bow-tie wearer proposed that NASCAR cars make the switch from gas to electric engines.

Nye, a Southerner and lifelong stock car enthusiast, says he is disappointed by the lack of innovation in racing and suggests that, instead of clinging to outdated modes of technology, NASCAR should embrace the future and make the transition to electric cars.

Bill Nye rocking his traditional bow tie and hand gestures. Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images.

"Despite the excitement, NASCAR kinda breaks my heart," Nye writes. "It’s a celebration of old tech." He wishes NASCAR was more like NASA, where the focus is always on the future and innovation.

"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," he says. He even has a plan, a vision, for what NASCAR would look like with electric cars:

"It’s easy for me to imagine an electric race car that completely outperforms a gas-powered competitor. Instead of refueling a gas tank, the electric race car pit crew would change battery packs. The car would be designed to roll up a ramp. The battery pack would be disconnected and dropped out. Moments later, a fresh battery pack would be lifted into place, and off our electric racer would go with time in the pit comparable to what it takes to refuel and service a conventional gas-powered race car."

While this image sounds idealized, the real question is whether it's even feasible. Can electric cars even compete with their gas-powered counterparts?

Yes. Yes, they can.

Electric vehicles are already on track to compete with NASCAR.

NASCAR vehicles are built for speed. They have large, finely tuned engines that can take in huge amounts of air. They run without mufflers and catalytic converters so nothing slows down the exhaust. All the other systems on the car are built to operate at high speeds and temperatures.

All of these factors, along with a skilled driver, allow NASCAR vehicles to get anywhere from 800 to 940 horsepower and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 2.9 seconds.


Jeff Gordon races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 in November 2015. Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images.

As Nye points out, the Tesla Model S, a luxury electric car, is capable of producing 530 horsepower and goes from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds.

It's not built to perform like a race car and weighs in about 1,000 pounds heavier than most stock cars, but initial tests make it clear that the Model S and other electric vehicles have potential for racing success.

The Tesla Model S chillin' like a villain in a showroom. Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images.

While electric vehicles can compete with gas-powered vehicles, making the transition across NASCAR wouldn't be easy or affordable.

The speed and power required by the average NASCAR race car does not come cheap. One team, Joe Gibbs Racing, builds engines that cost around $80,000 a piece. One of those engines won't even get you through the nine-month NASCAR season. Not even close. Due to high speeds and punishing conditions, it only takes one or two races before serious engine maintenance or replacement is required.


Crew members for Jimmie Johnson work after a crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.

Electric vehicles use motors powered by large batteries instead of fuel. While a fuel engine only lasts a couple of races, that's still better than the battery life of electric cars, which would need to have new battery packs installed during races because their range is 270 miles under traditional conditions.

While prices have fallen sharply since 2007, the cost of electric vehicle batteries is still between $300 and $450 per kilowatt hour. To be on par with gas-powered vehicles, researchers say that price would need to fall to around $150 per kWh, a milestone that's expected to be more than five years away.

For their part, NASCAR has taken a few major steps to offset the hefty emissions of their current cars. The 43 cars in the 2015 Daytona 500 used an estimated 5,375 gallons of gas. However, the cars use a biofuel blend made from corn that cuts emissions by 20%; since 2009, NASCAR has planted 370,000 trees, enough to offset their national series racing carbon emissions for the next 40 years.

Representatives from NASCAR and conservation organizations plant a tree for NASCAR's Tree-Planting Program to Capture Carbon Emissions at Michigan International Speedway. Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR.

Nye also predicts the influence NASCAR's adoption of electric cars would have on the consumer market and the economy.

While still years away from feasibility, a transition like this could give alternative vehicles and the sport of NASCAR racing a serious boost.

Imagine watching dozens of souped-up electric cars race around the track. Nye believes it would inspire fans to seriously consider electric cars for their own needs.

"The market for electric cars would go crazy. Manufacturers could not produce them fast enough," Nye estimates. "We could convert our transportation system to all-electric in less time than it took to go from horse-drawn to horseless carriage, 20 years maybe."

Though Nye is a font of optimism, he may have a point. Race fans are notoriously loyal and passionate. One market research firm reported 40% of fans are willing to switch brands to buy NASCAR-branded or sponsored products. This transition could be the boost EVs need.

NASCAR stopped releasing attendance data in 2012, but many signs point to declining numbers. And while it is still popular, TV ratings for televised races have dipped as well. Perhaps an innovative transition like this would inspire fans old and new to give the sport another look.

Fans watch the NASCAR Xfinity Series Hisense 200. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

Critics will say Nye's plan for an EV NASCAR will never work. But imagine for a moment if it does.

Consider the innovation an idea like this begets, the emissions it could eliminate, the good habits it may inspire. Ambitious? Yes. Feasible? Maybe. Either way, the avenues for opportunity are enough to get anyone's motor running.

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR.

Most Shared

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

Keep Reading Show less
More

Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture