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car enthusiast, says he is disappointed by the lack of innovation in racing and suggests that, instead of clinging to outdated modes of technology, NASCAR should embrace the future and make the transition to electric cars.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

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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