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

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
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.
Was this review helpful to you?
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.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
15 of 16 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!
10 of 10 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.
7 of 7 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...
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science, Teamwork, and Agony of Tweaking to Run Faster and Safer March 17 2008
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Target audience unclear Aug. 28 2011
By Sunny in CA - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I got some interesting info out of this book, and the author indeed is good as using analogies to convey ideas, the book doesn't seem to have a target audience in mind. If the book is for NASCAR fans, the book needs an order-of-magnitude more photos and illustrations, and much more exciting stories. Instead, most concepts are just explained in writing, which is akin to explaining how to tie a shoe just by writing -- that just doesn't work unless you already know the info. And while it was cool that author got to hang around a pit crew and driver and visit some NASCAR shops, the stories of the people are dry, suitable for a personal journal maybe but not a book, and most of the people described just aren't interesting or relevant.

Or, if the book is for high-school or college students learning physics, the book doesn't come anywhere near what would be useful -- not a single equation, too ad hoc, etc.

I am still glad I read the book and I did finish it. For only $3 on Amazon, who can complain. I used the book to fall asleep at night, and it worked great -- I don't mean that sarcastically, I did enjoy learning a bit of NASCAR info and falling asleep. I did find myself sharing some info with friends, but not very much.

Overall, a decent book, glad I read it, worth the $3, but I can see why it (probably) didn't sell very well.
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