Sport science: The physics of NASCAR

By Adam Kujawski

O

akland University’s scientific research society, Sigma Xi, hosted an hour-long lecture  presented by Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky about the physics of NASCAR on March 24 in the Gold Rooms.

Leslie-Pelecky is a physicist who earned her Ph.D. from Michigan State University and is now a professor of physics at West Virginia University. 

While she previously researched medical technologies, her work has recently focused on studying the physics of motor sports, particularly NASCAR.

Leslie-Pelecky was first captivated by NASCAR and its underlying physics components when she came across it purely by happenstance.

 While watching a race and seeing a car spin out and crash for no apparent reason, her physics intrigue was sparked, and she had to find out why.

She went on to write a book titled “The Physics of NASCAR: The Science Behind the Speed”. The book discusses the complexity of racing stock cars, a sport she was able to witness through behind-the-scenes access to drivers, tracks and garages around the NASCAR circuit. Leslie-Pelecky makes regular appearances on the SiriusXM radio station “Speedway”, touching on topics related to her book, and also travels the country speaking to college campuses. 

By speaking on such a relatable subject, she hopes to spawn an interest in physics as it applies to everyday life.

“Science is fun,” she said. “This is all the stuff I’m supposed to be teaching my Intro to Physics class, but it’s so much more interesting at 200 miles per hour.”

Andrew Charles Evanch is a former OU student who is returning to school next fall as a sophomore after serving eight years in the Navy.

 Evanch is just one example of a student who’s taking an interest in the field because of the identifiable nature of Leslie-Pelecky’s lecture.

“I’m thinking about studying business and engineering,” Evanch said. “Physics isn’t interesting until it becomes relevant. When you’re talking about driving a car, it seems so relatable.”

Leslie-Pelecky would like to remain involved in a similar area, but she may write a book on the subject of speed in general, and why the need for speed fuels so many drivers.

“There are people right now in the United States and England that are trying to break the land speed record that has stood for nearly 30 years,” she said. “I’m interested in the physical, physiological and psychological obstacles that a driver faces.” 

Contact Staff Reporter Adam Kujawski at [email protected]edu