NASCAR's Electric Innovation Sparks Debate

NASCAR's introduction of an electric racecar marks a significant shift towards sustainability. Explore the impact of this change and what it means for the future of motorsports.

Published July 08, 2024 - 00:07am

4 minutes read
United States
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Part of the experience of a NASCAR race is hearing the engine roar, the rumble of each car's approach, and the zip of it whizzing past at more than 150 mph. However, this familiar soundscape is set for a transformation.

NASCAR unveiled its first electric racecar Saturday in Chicago, but it doesn't thunder when the grand marshal says drivers, start your engines. It hums. This breakthrough marks NASCAR's progressive step towards sustainability.

The top motorsports series in North America has partnered with Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, and electrification company ABB to demonstrate a high-performance electric vehicle and gauge fan interest in electric racing. Riley Nelson, NASCAR's head of sustainability, stated that they aim to present electric vehicles, and more broadly, electrification in racing as cool, fun, and accessible.

PHOTOS: A green flag for clean power: NASCAR to unveil its first electric racecar. The Associated Press got a first look at the $1.5 million prototype. Semi-retired NASCAR driver David Ragan, the only person who has driven the car so far, described the experience as unlike any other. He noted that the absence of engine noise allowed him to hear squealing tires and smell the brakes, which is a stark contrast to the overpowering sound and smell of gasoline-powered cars. After hundreds of laps, his ears weren't ringing. It was really wild, Ragan said.

Unlike typical sports coupes, the new car is actually a crossover utility vehicle. A huge wing on the back makes it aerodynamic enough to be a racecar. It accelerates almost twice as fast as top gas-powered racecars and can stop almost immediately. Its lap time at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia was slightly slower due to its heavier build. Ragan believes it may go even faster if pushed to its limits.

Market research by NASCAR shows that more than half of avid fans would be more interested in purchasing an electric vehicle if exposed to it through racing. Eric Warren from General Motors emphasized that racing provides an excellent platform to discuss and educate fans about energy optimization and new technologies. He stated, We're committed to electric vehicles. Burning gas pollutes the air and heats the atmosphere, intensifying extreme weather conditions. Racing events consume thousands of gallons of gas each weekend, a significant concern for environmentalists.

NASCAR is exploring ways to innovate the fan experience with electric racing. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development, suggested possibilities like integrating DJs, stating, It's our goal to entertain our fans. NASCAR is not the inaugural motorsports organization to dive into electric racing. Formula E, an all-electric racing series, commenced a decade ago but has yet to amass a fan base as extensive as NASCAR's.

This new electric racecar is part of NASCAR's broader sustainability plan. ABB is NASCAR's official electrification partner, aiding in the transition to more renewable energy sources and facilitating the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations at tracks, which will be available for public use. By 2028, NASCAR aims to introduce sustainable racing fuel, recycle at all events, and use 100% renewable electricity at their facilities and tracks. By 2035, the goal is to cut operating emissions to net zero. NASCAR is also exploring hydrogen-fueled cars and has recently introduced hybrid engines in its sports car series, IMSA.

Enthusiasm about this shift is not universal. While some fans view the move towards electrification as a step into the modern age, others hold onto their love for traditional V8 engines. However, NASCAR's commitment to modernization is unyielding. The introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022 exemplified this commitment by not only equalizing the vehicles but also enhancing their reliability and quality, which translates to consumer cars.

ABB Executive Vice President Michael Plaster expressed hope that children who see the new car at NASCAR events will be inspired and engaged in conversations about a future driven by clean electricity.

NASCAR's foray into electric racing aligns with broader trends in the automotive industry, where there is an increasing focus on sustainability and reducing carbon footprints. U.S. electric vehicle sales rose by 7% in the first half of the year, representing 7.6% of new vehicle market share.

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