August 1, 2011 11:06 AM
Electric NASCAR Racing? Yes, It Could Happen Soon
The idea of red-meat-loving NASCAR hosting an electric car racing series sounds outlandish, but it actually is a logical next step and may not be far off. NASCAR tracks are already featuring electric motorcycle time trials and battery-powered drag races. And the technology is improving rapidly, as NASCAR is determined to go green.
According to the Lead Lap racing blog:
Imagine if you will, a future where NASCAR Sprint Cup races feature not the pushrod V-8 engines found in today's stock cars, but electric motors that run off of lithium-ion batteries--Does this sound far-fetched? A decade ago, I would have said yes--.Bu the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised to someday see [electric cars] circling NASCAR tracks.Two key obstacles remain before the dream becomes a reality: The cars can't go very far when they're running at full throttle, and they don't make a lot of noise -- beyond the squealing tires, that is.
The "Noise" Factor
Without the V-8 roar, the willingness of crowds to accept EVs on the ovals is still a big question. "Maybe we'll have to put a playing card in the spokes," said Steve Page, president of the NASCAR-hosting Infineon Raceway in California. Danny Sullivan, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1985 and an EV booster, also told me that he worries about the noise issue. But Sylvain Filippi, managing director of the EV Cup, the first electric race series to hit California tracks later this year, says the noise issue is overrated:
When cars are passing by at speed, most of what you hear is wind and tire noise. The motor is mostly heard when the cars are accelerating. When electric race cars are going by at 120 mph, they won't be quiet at all, and people are going to be very surprised.NASCAR: Determined to Go Green
EV racing really needs NASCAR, because it's the number one spectator sport in the U.S. (more popular than football). And NASCAR is definitely going green. Spokesman Scott Warfield points to E15 ethanol fuel in the tanks of all three national series, to solar initiatives at Pocono and other tracks, and to big recycling ongoing programs. Infineon is in ultra-green northern California, which perhaps helps to explain the lawn-mowing sheep in the infield and the Panasonic solar arrays (providing 41 percent of the track's electricity) on six buildings.
Infineon Raceway's Page says that track operators and NASCAR officials are "throwing some ideas around, though we get blank stares from some people. The cars will need to have enough range to be credible." The EV Cup races are only 25 miles, compared to 350 to 400 miles for many NASCAR races. One way to make electric races longer is with fast-change battery swapping, which could be quite an exciting pit visual. Crews change tires in seconds, and they could undoubtedly do a battery pack in a minute. Safety standards are in the works for just such swapping.
NASCAR won't say much on the record about electric racing on the record, though it is looking into it. According to spokesman John Schwartz, "We're constantly evaluating ways to reduce our sport's impact on the environment."
Early Attempts at Experimenting
In the meantime, NASCAR tracks are dipping their toes in the water with exhibition races and special events. One thing's for sure, electric motors have total torque right off the line, and these cars aren't slow. The Westfield iRacer developed for the EV Cup series has a zero to 60 time under five seconds. At Laguna Seca last week, a Mission Motors electric cycle set a track record with a one-minute, 47-second lap. The Rocket electric drag racer has seven-second quarter-mile times.
Sullivan is optimistic that electric racing will have its day, though with current Indy cars gulping down fuel at a rate of two miles per gallon he's not sure that the Brickyard will be plugging in anytime soon. "Racing is moving in the electric direction," he said. "Some of the electric motorcycles I've seen are far ahead of the car stuff."
This video is positive proof that EVs, in this case the Westfield iRacer, can burn rubber:
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