Zrylw recently had the chance to talk to long time race fan Dan Sciscente, who says that many people are surprised to learn that physics is a key component to racing.
Zrylw: Good morning and thank you for speaking with us.
Dan Sciscente: My pleasure, I never miss the chance to talk about my favorite things.
Zrylw: We understand that one of your favorite pastimes is racing. Specifically, we hear you are fascinated by the cars themselves?
Dan Sciscente: I have always been a fan of both NASCAR and Formula 1 racing. I enjoy seeing how the machine performs and how the crew must work together to finish the race.
Zrylw: Racing isn’t a one-man show.
Dan Sciscente: Most people don’t look at it that way. People who aren’t fans see a car, a driver, and someone that changes the tires. In fact, the crew on the track is traditionally made up of six people.
Zrylw: And what about the science behind the cars? They aren’t NASCAR-ready off the line, are they?
Dan Sciscente: The cars start out like any other. Jeff Gordon drives a Chevy Impala. While these cars are known to drive pretty fast on the road, without engineers to make modifications to the body, the engine, the cooling system, the fuel system etc., his car would be no faster than any other person’s.
Zrylw: Can you tell us what the body has to do with the speed?
Dan Sciscente: Aerodynamics is everything. The body must be designed in a way that it doesn’t lift off the ground like an airplane. Engineers have to design the vehicle so that the air around it pushes it down. It’s a physics games, really; one that the driver never wants to lose.
Zrylw: Really? That’s very interesting.
Dan Sciscente: The whole idea of making cars slice through the air faster came back in 1960 when Junior Johnson discovered that if he “tailed” the driver in front, his own car moved a little faster.
Zrylw: And this led to drivers, as well as their crew, managers, and NASCAR scientists, to make cars that could handle prolonged drafting…
Dan Sciscente: It did, yes. In addition to having a smooth body to handle the extra speed, the car must also have an efficient cooling system. When the rear car is so close to the back of the draft provider, he gets very little air to his engine.
Zrylw: And no air makes an engine run hot…
Dan Sciscente: So the engineers have to come up with new ways to keep the engine, oil, and water cool. One of the simplest ways they found to have the driver rock the car side to side to let air enter one side. This buys some valuable drag time.
Zrylw: Wouldn’t that slow the car down?
Dan Sciscente: It does but when the gauges say fire, there’s not a man in the world who’d risk it for a couple of split seconds.
Zrylw: It sounds like there is really a lot more to racing than what people see on the surface. We thank you for sharing this with is today and look forward to speaking with you in the future.
Dan Sciscente: My pleasure.
Dan Sciscente is a Canadian-based PMP and software developers. He devotes much of his spare time to watching races, driving fast cars, and studying how they work.