Earlier this year, as Denny Hamlin piloted his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry to his third career Daytona 500 victory, fundamental concepts of aerodynamics were at play as his car surpassed 200 miles per hour – speeds routinely achieved by NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Daytona International Speedway.
For 500 miles on race day, the “Three Ds of Speed” – drafting, downforce and drag – each had a role in Hamlin’s historic drive to Victory Lane at the World Center of Racing.
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.
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 like Auto Club Speedway are promoting interactive games and activities via kids clubs.
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.