This week on the podcast I chat with Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, a physicist at West Virginia University and the author of The Physics of NASCAR. What on earth does NASCAR have to do with physics? Everything. From the banking of the turns to the design of the rear-view mirrors, physics is what makes NASCAR possible.
And NASCAR has also proved to be a laboratory for new physics insights. Take the phenomenon of drafting, in which one car driving behind another can get a boost in speed from the front car's wake. Cyclists take advantage of this, as do birds. Drivers and team members spotted the change immediately, although they couldn't explain exactly why it was happening (and the exact explanation was left up to physicists to figure out). They started testing this phenomenon in practice, and worked out how they could use it to their benefit during races. This practice of observation and testing is also the basis of the scientific method.
To hear more about the physics of NASCAR, listen in to this week's podcast. You can also hear Diandra on the radio show SiriusXM Speedway, where she appears regularly to help debunk myths about the science of NASCAR (like whether or not the cars speed up when they go from the track to the grass).