Many of the products and processes used to by NASCAR race cars today were originally developed for the NASA space program. Through its Rockets to Racecars (R2R) outreach initiative, NASA is bringing science and engineering lessons down to earth. With the help of teachers like Louis Garland of John Yeates Middle School, NASA is sharing its R2R connections at dozens of NASCAR racing events across the country.
- Fire-resistant fabric to protect astronauts is now used to make suits for race car drivers and pit crews.
- Plasma spray coating replaces liquid lubricants in certain engines, making racecars weigh less.
- Materials from the Space Shuttle’s thermal protection system are used on race cars to protect drivers from the extreme heat generated by engines. Without this insulation, the temperature can reach 160 degrees inside some vehicles.
- Heat-resistant paint developed from NASA technology protects the hot parts of automobiles like exhaust systems and brake drums.
Garland is one of just eight teachers from across the United States selected to work with NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson to share NASA connections to thousands of race fans – young and old – for the final races of the 2015 season held at Dover International Speedway in Delaware and at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Earlier this fall, he worked at NASCAR event at Richmond International Raceway here in Virginia. The R2R tent also made a pit stop at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Racing is the most highly attended sport in the U.S. with usually between 70,000 to 100,000 fans at the track each week throughout the February-to-November racing season. The interactive, family-oriented atmosphere at NASCAR events compliments NASA’s efforts to share real-life science and engineering examples and provide insights to its connections with the automotive and racing industries now and in the future.
At the race tracks, the NASA tent attracts children and adults alike – and NASCAR fans from across the country and the world. Teachers provide short, but memorable hands-on activity lessons to demonstrate the space products being used by racecars, as well as broader STEM concepts being used in more K-12 classrooms. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math … and encompasses the processes of critical thinking, analysis, and collaboration. Through STEM education, students learn to become problem solvers, innovators, creators, and collaborators to prepare them to fill the critical pipeline of engineers and scientists so essential to the world’s future.
Some students have been able to meet NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, and share some of the lessons they’ve learned in the Rockets to Racecars demonstrations.
According to Garland, NASA gets a two-for-one deal because his wife Avis loves volunteering and racing, so she helps in Suffolk with his after-school engineering program and also assists with the Rockets to Racecars project.
Before teaching STEM at the racetracks, Garland and other teachers “test-drove” some of the lessons that were being considered for the NASCAR interactive tent. Some of the Rockets to Racecars teacher training sessions were webinars, such as “Train Like an Astronaut” and “Race Suit / Space Suit.”
In some activities, participants learned how astronauts and racecar drivers have to train for constant G-force sensations, similar to roller coaster drops. Other lessons are based on reaction times, sights, dexterity and accuracy – demonstrating the importance of physical fitness before, during and after a flight or race. A lesson on Bernoulli’s Principles provides a better understanding of surface pressure during flight. A balancing lesson shows how engineers and racecar builders are challenged to deal with different forces during motion.
These R2R teachers are now expected to share their knowledge and experiences with other teachers. Garland plans to share the STEM lessons used at the racetracks during monthly, division-wide science teacher meetings this spring. He will also provide connections to NASA materials, which can be found now at the following websites:
Pictures of many R2R™ events can be found on NASA’s R2R Instagram page.
Many of the activities used at the tracks can be found on the Rockets 2 Racecars website at NASA.gov/r2r Once you are in the Garage scene, click on the EDUCATION button and R2R STEM Education will be one of the choices. The resource pages include video lessons about the Rockets to Racecars connections.
Below left– President of NASCAR and Teacher Volunteers — Avis Garland, far left; Louis Garland, far right