Opinion: NASCAR isn’t ready for electric cars … yet
On paper, it sounds like such a cool idea: "If NASCAR embraced electric cars, it could change the world." That’s the headline of scientist and television personality Bill Nye’s latest blog on aeon.co.
In his blog, Nye waxes rhapsodic about how NASCAR could be an agent of societal revolution by abandoning fossil fuels in favor of electric cars.
"In the short term, NASCAR could help get us there," Nye wrote. "We could convert all of our race cars to electricity — right now — and show the public exactly what electrons can do. … Everyone in the crowd, every race fan, would want an electric car! The market for electric cars would go crazy.
"Manufacturers could not produce them fast enough. We could convert our transportation system to all-electric in less time than it took to go from horse-drawn to horseless carriage, 20 years maybe."
On one level, Nye has a point. Already, Formula E is demonstrating the capabilities of what electric race cars can do and how electric powerplants can be suitable for racing. Formula E puts on a great show.
For that matter, I know of at least a couple of current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who own Teslas and enjoy them.
But quickly reality sets in.
"Convert all of our race cars to electricity — right now — and show the public exactly what electrons can do."
Who pays for that?
Surely not NASCAR, which is in the business of cashing checks and not writing them. The teams? They spend a fortune now on building cars. I can just imagine how thrilled the owners would be to find out that they needed to spend who-knows-how-much money to convert their race cars or more likely build all-new ones to accommodate battery-powered motors.
What happens to the guys who work at NASCAR engine shops, or the multi-million-dollar investments that Rick Hendrick, Doug Yates and TRD made in building engine shops? Does every team run the same electric motors or are they manufacturer specific?
There’s an even bigger problem with Nye’s logic: Auto manufacturers.
Right now, Chevrolet offers about two dozen models. Ditto for Ford. How many of those are purely electric? By my count, the Chevrolet Bolt and the Ford Focus Electric. Toyota offers a wide range of hybrid models, but discontinued its RAV4 EV and is working diligently on the hydrogen-powered Murai fuel-cell vehicle.
Honestly, would you pay money to see a Bolt race a Focus Electric at, say, Darlington or Daytona? Me, neither. What excites and engages a scientist like Nye and a typical NASCAR race fan probably aren’t the same — not by a long shot.
And let’s face it, for NASCAR to lead the way toward a massive electric-car revolution, there would have to be a lot more automakers involved in the sport than just Chevy, Ford and Toyota.
And as for Nye’s assertion that, "Everyone in the crowd, every race fan, would want an electric car! The market for electric cars would go crazy," well, I just don’t buy it.
Nor do I believe that taking the roar of engines away from the racing will be something that NASCAR fans would view as an upgrade.
With all that said, the next decade will see an explosive growth in electric cars across price ranges and body styles. And when that happens, maybe it will be time for NASCAR to take a hard look at creating an all-electric series.
But right now, I look forward to the roar of the V-8s when we hit Daytona in two weeks.