The Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber = Speed Hardcover – Feb 19 2008
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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.
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"To understand what is happening on the track... you need The Physics of NASCAR."—New York Times
“[Leslie-Pelecky], a physicist and devoted NASCAR fan, explains in clear, simple terms what goes into making a NASCAR vehicle, from design to development to construction to test-driving. Along the way, she introduces us to some of the sport’s key players and teaches us (painlessly) more about the physics of speed racing than we ever thought we needed to know. NASCAR fans will flock to this book.”—Booklist
“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… 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.”—Publishers Weekly
"Language sports fans can understand... You'll be as entertained as you are informed."—Sporting News
"The people she encounters are fascinating... Even if you are not a NASCAR fan, read The Physics of NASCAR."—Physics Today --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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!
The book is very much written at an introductory level with no prior knowledge of physics, chemistry or auto-racing assumed. With chapters on nearly everything of any importance related to going fast and doing it safely, Pelecky does an excellent job of balancing the technical side of the topic with stories and descriptions of the real human beings that make it all happen. Nowhere will the reader feel like they have gotten lost in an avalanche of technical jargon and yet most readers will feel as if they have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to run fast.
The only contention I might have is that I would have liked to have seen a bit more information on the specific effects of aerodynamic changes and a discussion of the engineering of tires to provide more grip. These however are minor points that are likely more based on personal preference than any real defect int he book.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in NASCAR or auto racing in general and who finds the network spots on the car leaving them wishing for more. You'll find most of that more here in a way that is easily accessible to nearly anyone.
This is a fun title, and a great way to get people solid science content "on the sly." However, as a newer NASCAR fan, I found the book absolutely essential. The depths of this wonderful American sport are difficult to describe to the uninitiated. Many of my friends think the sport is just corporate sponsored cars turning to the left. I love working on my own car, in fact I love all things mechanical, and I love things that go fast; I for one find NASCAR totally enthralling. This book has only deepened my obsession.
As an educator I found this book potentially quite powerful. I recently read Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work and I find it connects with this book in interesting ways. I think the author is interested in increasing science literacy by connecting the concepts to something that students will find engaging an interesting. I think one of the reasons so few students are rapt with the hard sciences these days (besides the fact that they are hard in more ways than one) is that we have done away with serious manual education in the classroom. Students used to learn about combustion and tolerances of certain materials connected with the manual, interesting, and observable phenomena of a car in auto-shop. Shop classes are on the chopping block everywhere, and science classes devoid of real world applications students find interesting become even more abstract and difficult to follow. This book, like Shop Class as Soulcraft, may be part of the remedy for this terrible situation.
Sometimes it is evident that the author is interested in giving science lessons on the sly, as opposed to just dealing with the science of NASCAR. For instance, in the section on paints, she goes into a lengthy discussion on light waves work and how our eyes perceive color. This would be outside scope if the purpose of the book were to simply address the science of NASCAR. If the purpose of the book is to increase the science literacy of NASCAR fans (especially the kids) then it is not outside the scope at all, and is very valuable.
As a teacher (NOT a science teacher) I found this book EXCELLENT. I think it would do school districts a service if this book were placed on summer reading lists for the science department. This is a book students who are NASCAR fans will be drawn to. And it will teach them a LOT if they stick to it.
From the perspective of understanding automobiles, the economics of racing, how the race car is built, and other inside elements of NASCAR this book is incomparable. It will give one a decent overview of the sport and will really increase interest in the races by making the would-be fan much more aware of everything that goes into fielding a winning NASCAR team.
This is a great book. Highly recommended for NASCAR fans of all ages... ESPECIALLY students at the High School (or even bright Junior High students) to help them understand why studying science is so important. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky is a physicist and that is noble. But she transcends the rarified air of the academy to also be a good teacher, and that is even more noble in my book.
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.