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The Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber = Speed [Hardcover]

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 19 2008
Every NASCAR fan – at one time or another – asks the same question: Why isn’t my favorite driver winning? This is your chance to discover how much more there is to NASCAR than “Go fast, turn left and don’t crash.” If you’ve ever wondered why racecars don’t have mufflers, how “bump drafting” works, or what in the world “Let’s go up a pound on the right rear and add half a round of wedge” means, The Physics of NASCAR is for you.

In this fast-paced investigation into the adrenaline-pumping world of NASCAR, a physicist with a passion uncovers what happens when the rubber hits the road and 800- horsepower vehicles compete at 190 miles per hour only inches from one another.

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky reveals how and why drivers trust the engineering and science their teams literally build around them not only to get them across the finish line in first place, but also to keep them alive. Professor Leslie-Pelecky is a physicist in love with the sport’s beauty and power and is uniquely qualified to explain exactly how physics translates into winning races.

Based on the author’s extensive access to race shops, pit crews, crew chiefs and mechanics, this book traces the life cycle of a race car from behind the scenes at top race shops to the track. The Physics of NASCAR takes readers right into the ultra competitive world of NASCAR, from the champion driver’s hot seat behind the detachable steering wheel to the New Zealander nicknamed Kiwi in charge of shocks for the No. 19 car.

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky tells her story in terms anyone who drives a car--and maybe occasionally looks under the hood--can understand. How do drivers walk away from serious crashes? How can two cars travel faster together than either car can on its own? How do you dress for a 1800°F gasoline fire? In simple yet detailed, high-octane prose, this is the ultimate thrill ride for armchair speed demons, auto science buffs, and NASCAR fans at every level of interest.

Readers, start your engines.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Having caught, by chance, the broadcast of a multi-car NASCAR crash on television, Nebraska University physics professor Leslie-Pelecky found herself compelled to understand why it happened. Soon, a growing list of scientific questions ("How do you build an engine...that can run at 9,000 rpm for three hours without blowing up?") steer her to meetings with engineers, ground crews and drivers who work together "at the limits of what we understand about aerodynamics, structural engineering and even human physiology." The first part of the book deals with materials, and looks at how combustion, power and aerodynamics work together to maximize speed. But it's the driver and his crew who win the race, and Leslie-Pelecky gets plenty of time with the men behind the machines, joining Ray Evernham's crew to watch him race, and taking a turn behind the wheel herself. Along the way, the nanotech specialist becomes an unlikely racing fan; this fun physics primer should give any NASCAR aficionado a similar appreciation for science.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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First Sentence
A Boeing 757 touches down at about 170 mph, but it didn't seem particularly fast watching from my window seat as I landed at the Charlotte airport. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Racing of Automobiles - From Inside Out April 4 2008
By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I'm not a NASCAR fan by any stretch of the imagination. But this book's title intrigued me. Browsing through it and seeing all the interesting diagrams convinced me that I should buy it and read it. I did and I was not disappointed. The author, a physicist, is a gifted expositor of scientific principles at a level ideal for the general reader. She explains, using many useful analogies (and no mathematics), the finer points involved in building an automobile suitable for racing the NASCAR circuits. The book could just as easily have been entitled "The Science of NASCAR" since sciences other than physics are also involved and explained, e.g., chemistry, metallurgy, aerodynamics, engineering, biology, etc. In addition to the science, the author gives a fascinating overview of some of the dedicated people who are involved in building and racing a potentially winning car as they do their work before, during and after a race. The writing style is clear, authoritative, very accessible and quite engaging. Based on the way this book is written, it can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone, not only science buffs or NASCAR fans.
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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If you love NASCAR, this book will increase your love.

If you don't think NASCAR is interesting, this book will change your mind. There's lot more going on than just turning left and keeping the pedal to the metal.

Each NASCAR track presents different challenges to drivers, team leaders, car designers, mechanics, and pit crews. At the same time, NASCAR is trying to keep the cost of racing down, to reduce accidents and deaths, and to make the sport fairer for all. Professor Leslie-Pelecky goes behind the scenes to explain the technical challenges, and shares anecdotes and vignettes of what racing is like for the technical teams and drivers.

Fans are naturally frustrated if a favorite driver seems to have a slug rather than a race car some weeks. If the weather is changeable, it's hard to avoid a slug. Why? The cars are optimized to so many factors that a switch in the weather makes the car work much less well. Although the mechanics can make lots of last minute changes, there's still a lot guess work involved.

While many books about the physics of something can be pretty dry, The Physics of NASCAR doesn't have that problem. The scientific explanations are short and simple. The human stories about what the science means are rich and long.

I came away very impressed with the brain power that goes into NASCAR winning. My interest was greatly increased by learning more about the non-driving side.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars Aug. 4 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
very informative and very technical
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The science behind the speed Feb. 23 2008
By Rand Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book about how NASCAR race cars are engineered to perform like they do. The author is a college Physics professor and the book is written to explain with basic scientific terms and knowledge that the average reader can understand written in a very interesting manner.

The areas discussed include aerodynamics, materials,engines, fuels, tires, shocks, drivetrain and others, and the author spent time with Elliott Sadler and the 19 team both at the shop and the track to help the NASCAR fan understand how things work like they do. I am a long time fan and also an engineer and there was a lot of info that I can use when I give fans pit road and garage tours at Michigan Intl Speedway. This book will help me explain things to the fans in a easy way.

This would also be a great book for a high school aged race car enthusiast/budding engineer to help them understand how school subjects like Physics can have exciting real world applications. I was a big racing fan when I was taking physics in high school and engineering courses in college and the textbook problems we had did not seem very relevant or interesting. A book like this would have made those subjects a lot more fun.
I own many many NASCAR and racing books and this is one of the best. Highly recommended!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Racing of Automobiles - From Inside Out April 4 2008
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm not a NASCAR fan by any stretch of the imagination. But this book's title intrigued me. Browsing through it and seeing all the interesting diagrams convinced me that I should buy it and read it. I did and I was not disappointed. The author, a physicist, is a gifted expositor of scientific principles at a level ideal for the general reader. She explains, using many useful analogies (and no mathematics), the finer points involved in building an automobile suitable for racing the NASCAR circuits. The book could just as easily have been entitled "The Science of NASCAR" since sciences other than physics are also involved and explained, e.g., chemistry, metallurgy, aerodynamics, engineering, biology, etc. In addition to the science, the author gives a fascinating overview of some of the dedicated people who are involved in building and racing a potentially winning car as they do their work before, during and after a race. The writing style is clear, authoritative, very accessible and quite engaging. Based on the way this book is written, it can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone, not only science buffs or NASCAR fans.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't wait for the movie Feb. 24 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book would translate nicely into a Discovery Channel series. You know, high-interest, science-to-the-masses kind of stuff. Give it a year; it's going to happen! I am a fan of "The Physics Of.." books, and some disappoint: they can be so thorough [read hyper-mathematic] as to resemble homework; or they can be so simplified they read like a children's book. Most land somewhere in between. Take, for instance,Adair's book on the Physics of Baseball: it's fantastic, but I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. It contains more mathematics than the average Joe (or Jane) is equipped to handle. But this book, The Physics of NASCAR, follows the Goldilocks Principle: it's just right. Not too pithy, not too watered down. High interest, easy access, entertaining insights. If you like popular science, you'll enjoy this book. Personally, I love the way the author pulls in characters from the NASCAR family. It gives the book personality! She does a great job with the science as well. There were a couple of bobbles here and there, but she covered a LOT of ground. This book is really a text in applied physics (and biology and chemistry), sans the quantitative rigor. I would love to adapt it to my high school curriculum--it would certainly grab my students' attention. If you teach physics at the high school or college level, this book is the perfect supplement to a course on physics for non-majors, or simply a means to raise the interest/relevance level for the concepts you teach. Buy it. If it doesn't work out, then re-sell it on Amazon's Marketplace. Now there's a win-win situation! Hope that helps...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new NASCAR Afficionado May 29 2008
By R. L. Herschkowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved that book, and read it in two sittings and have lost track of my copy, since it is being passed around by a bunch of my colleagues who are some of the best aerospace engineers in the world. Thus it gets my 5 star seal of approval.

I have to admit that I never was really interested in any NASCAR activity. For me NASCAR was synonymous with huge, loud, beer swilling, funny hated and sun burned crowds. The millions of people that spent their time and a small fortune to watch a few dozen cars roll around a track driven by good old boys trained in the hinterlands of home made moonshine country, with the accompanying noise dust and yelling from the hyper heated crowd, was absolutely not my cup of tea. Something I am sure, is difficult to find around the tracks, at Talladega or other Texas Motor Speedways.
So smug in my opinion, I do not remember what attracted me when I saw the gaudy colored cover of this book, beside the title. Being an aerospace engineer with about as many degrees as stickers on a "Car of Tomorrow" body, I was intrigued by the title. Was there really physics in NASCAR?
The instant I opened the book, I was hooked. The science is not exactly graduate school stuff, which is perfect for this type of popular books, but it refreshed some of my undergraduate memories and it is with delight that I jumped in with both feet and read the book in two sittings. That I was amazed is an understatement, I was even more delighted. A complete new world opened to me. The clear, concise and easily to follow physics lesson by Dr. Diandre Leslie-Pelecky are a delight to read, at least for an avid science reader as myself. It is maybe asking too much of each of these above described NASCAR fans to be excited by basic metallurgy, or the atomic structure of hydro carbons, or an explanation of turbulence and other air flows, but they should maybe be interested in problems like "roof lift", which maybe could cause some mayhem. By the way, I learned how extremely important the safety aspect of the race, for drivers and cars is for the NASCAR management.
From the descriptions of how to built the car, to the physics of aero dynamism, and going through a complete explanation of what happens physically when the rubber really meets the road, I was enthralled, excited and hooked. The biggest surprise was the rigorous rules and severe inspections of NASCAR racing. Even the spoilers are standard and cannot be customized.
Let me inform future readers of that book that the RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technology has been proposed and recommended by the FAA, yet still not installed by Boeing nor AIRBUS in their advanced airplanes, but NASCAR has it in their cars!
Now, I know who Elliott Sadler is, and next time I watch a NASCAR race on my TV, I will root for car No 19!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative April 1 2008
By L. F. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an entertaining, informative, and very unusual book. The author has actually written two books, one about NASCAR technology and one about elementary physics; however, she has melded them seamlessly into something rare: a serious academic book that is so entertaining that you forget it's serious.

On one level, the book is about how NASCAR race cars are engineered, constructed, and adjusted to enable them to achieve two often contradictory goals: safety and high performance. On another level, the book is about the basic principles of physics and chemistry, including motion, fluid dynamics, combustion, materials science, etc. The uniqueness of the book derives from the way she combines the two, using car racing to illustrate the scientific principles.

I'm a NASCAR fan, and I have a pretty good background in science. I found this book engaging on both of those levels. At the same time, I think it would be a very valuable book for a casual fan-- or even a non-fan-- to read. It makes the sport come alive as something much, much more than just a bunch of guys who stomp on the gas and turn left.

I thought this was a valuable, enjoyable book, and I recommend it most highly.
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