With today’s shortage in technical talent and declining graduates in STEM fields, there’s a growing effort amongst both auto racing associations and companies like ours to expose students to these concepts in new and exciting ways. Luckily there’s a lot to get excited about when you consider all the ways STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – is used in motorsports. From how a car is designed until it crosses the finish line, STEM is an integral part of the auto racing world.
Science is firmly entrenched in the foundation of motorsports. The physics of how a car performs is all about its kinetic energy – the energy of motion! It looks at an object’s mass and how fast it moves.
NASCAR focuses on the “three D’s” related to aerodynamics: downforce, drag and drafting. Downforce is where air moving above and below the car creates a mix of high and low pressure that pushes the car down, provides better traction and in turn makes the car easier to steer. Drag is what cars fight as air pushes against it. Drafting is the strategy drivers use to combat this by aligning their cars to share the same pocket of air and allowing them to travel at a higher speed.
And it’s not just about science on race day.
IMSA recently announced expansion of its IMSA Green program that will aim to reduce the championship’s carbon emissions and put an “increased focus on proactive environmental responsibility.” This includes looking at using solar energy in the pits and paddock and showcasing hybrid and electric cars for hot lap and pace car use.
Technology on the track is constantly evolving and that includes the suits drivers wear. While they are mostly associated with the sponsor patches that cover them, their primary purpose is protection. Those suits were initially developed in the 1960s using Nomex, a fire-retardant material from DuPont. Over the years, cotton suits treated with chemicals have also been introduced. More recently, newer suits have been designed with liners to help increase comfort and improve breathability.
How a car is designed is critical to the success of any race team. This covers a wide range of parameters, including what materials are used and the specs as it relates to weight and design. Precision engineering is the way to make sure a car is safe and able to produce on the track.
Engineering is also vital on race day. The race engineer is like a translator, communicating with the driver, understanding what he or she is feeling from behind the wheel and then communicating that to the rest of the team, so they can solve whatever problems arise.
When your favorite driver hits pit row, strong math skills are important to making sure the team continues to do well. Time is of the essence and crews are tracked to see what they can do to speed up the process. Tire tread is measured in an effort to better understand how the car is handling and those measurements can determine any modifications they’ll need to make during the rest of the race.
But even before all of that, math allows teams to develop refueling strategies based on speed and fuel efficiency.
If you talk to anyone in motorsports, they’ll tell you that STEM is the foundation to all of their jobs. But it also fuels the work we do at Caterpillar, where our engineers and scientists are working to develop products and technologies to meet growing customer needs. Through our shared mission to create more awareness about STEM careers and opportunities for students, we see a bright future that will allow us all to build a better world.