Last year, when Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney piloted their race cars to victory at Talladega Superspeedway, fundamental concepts of aerodynamics were at play as their machines surpassed 200 mph – speeds routinely achieved by NASCAR Cup Series drivers at NASCAR’s biggest track.
For 500 miles on race days, the “Three Ds of Speed” – drafting, downforce and drag – each had a role in their historic drives (Elliott in the spring and Blaney in the fall) to Gatorade Victory Lane at the mammoth 2.66-mile venue.
In 2015, the parallels between stock car racing and STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) inspired NASCAR to develop the motorsports industry’s first national in-school STEM program in conjunction with Scholastic. NASCAR Acceleration Nation was introduced and racing-themed learning materials, including lessons on the “Three Ds of Speed,” were distributed to elementary and middle school classrooms across the country.
“We believe there’s no other sports league that can speak to STEM the way that we can,” said Edwin Gotay, NASCAR senior director, fan development. “NASCAR Acceleration Nation was designed to introduce children to NASCAR in an authentic way and that’s through STEM education and making learning these subjects even more fun for kids.”
Within a few short months, more than 10,000 teachers were giving lessons on the advantages of drafting in racing and the impact of spoilers – which create downforce – on a racecar’s speed. NASCAR Acceleration Nation soon became the single-most requested Scholastic partnership resource by teachers, and NASCAR and Scholastic made the resources available online.
Since the program’s inception, more than 5.3 million children have engaged with NASCAR Acceleration Nation through the Scholastic partnership and its channels.
STEM is no stranger to Talladega Superspeedway. Last fall, the track hosted its first annual “Driving STEM at Talladega Superspeedway presented by First Bank of Alabama” during its doubleheader NASCAR Playoffs weekend. More than 550 students from five different schools made the field trip to the 33-degree banked track to learn about STEM and its relation to the sport of NASCAR and the most competitive track, which features 200-mph speeds, on the circuit.
While at the track, the students visited numerous stations located throughout the new Talladega Garage Experience for a curriculum-enriched educational opportunity. They participated in various activities, including a walkthrough of the NASCAR Cup Series garage, as well as the new garage bays to see the sights and sounds of the teams working on the cars. In addition, they were treated to a host of guest speakers, including NASCAR drivers, with their unique perspectives about the sport.
The participating schools were from the track’s surrounding communities – Moody Jr. High School (St. Clair County), Oxford Middle School (Calhoun County), Charles R. Dew Middle School (Talladega County), Central Junior High School (Clay County), and Randolph County High School (Randolph County).
Now with schools closed across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Scholastic is featuring the NASCAR learning materials for at-home study through Extra Credit, the company’s online resource for remote learning.
As parents are challenged with keeping their kids stimulated and entertained while at home, NASCAR says its youth platform is an option for both learning and fun.
“Our fans are an extension of our NASCAR family and right now we know that a lot of parents are looking for materials, resources, content – anything they can get their hands on to ensure their children are entertained, but also continuing to learn,” said Gotay.
“We’re a fun sport, so we wanted to ensure a balance between the teaching components and games and activities on the web site. Kids can work through lessons on kinetic and potential energy, for example, and then design and drive their own race car online.”
The STEM learning materials, available for download via Accelerationnation.com, are designed for fifth, sixth and seventh grade students and divided into two primary buckets: aerodynamics and energy. Each includes individual lessons and before-and-after knowledge assessment tests.
Diane Spiga is an elementary and middle school teacher for the St. Marys Area School District in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, and has featured the supplemental NASCAR materials as part of her classroom instruction for several years. According to Spiga, the materials continue to engage her students by also incorporating art and design, or STEAM.
“This program as a whole has all the components for 21st century skills and embeds all areas of STEAM into the activities as well,” said Spiga. “Every lesson had the students providing their full attention and some who had never been able to work in groups were able to have group success.”
The NASCAR Acceleration Nation website also features interactive NASCAR games, activities and printable puzzles and quiz worksheets. For those new to the sport, there are sections that help kids get to know national series drivers and learn about its tracks and events.
“Over the years, we’ve focused on simplicity and making this program fun and easy to use,” said Gotay. “That’s especially important now given the adjustments teachers, parents and kids are having to make.”
Efforts to provide STEM resources for children have extended beyond the sanctioning body to the greater NASCAR industry. Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have made drawing and coloring activities available for kids, and tracks are promoting interactive games and activities.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is offering project-based learning experiences online for students in elementary school through 12th grade. The content includes lessons on the roles of crew chiefs and race engineers, and build-a-racecar activities using recycled materials around the house.
The STEM applications aren’t limited to educational activities during this unscheduled break.
With NASCAR racing on hold due to the continued spread of COVID-19, the sanctioning body has turned to esports and simulated racing on computers – another platform popular with the next generation of fans – to help fill the void.
The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series was introduced last month and features top NASCAR Cup Series drivers and retired stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte. Thus far, three virtual races have been broadcast nationally on FOX and FS1, attracting millions of viewers.
The next Pro Invitational Series race is scheduled for April 19 at the virtual Richmond Raceway.