When Neil deGrasse Tyson started tweeting about NASCAR Sunday evening during the Coca-Cola 600 we were intrigued. And upon reading the tweets below, suddenly skeptical.
Rubber tires on asphalt grant a maximum speed of about 165 mph in the 24-degree banked turns at Charlotte Motor Speedway.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) May 26, 2014
If you travel faster than 165 mph on the 24-degree bank turns at Charlotte Motor Speedway you will skid into the embankment.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) May 26, 2014
Um, no, not really. And it's a wall. While Tyson is an astrophysicist and knows much more about how objects move and relate to each other than we ever will, even your lowly compadres at From the Marbles knew that these tweets didn't pass the smell test.
First, there are a number of factors that help corner speed, namely the age of the pavement, the durability and grip level of a tire, downforce and horsepower, among others. Secondly, Jimmie Johnson's pole speed was an average of over 194 MPH around the 1.5 mile oval. If Johnson was having to slow to under 165 in the corners, it wouldn't be possible attain an average like that without having a straight-line speed higher than a Cup car can currently obtain.
Fortunately, our skepticism wasn't unfounded. BuildingSpeed.org has a fantastic breakdown of what happens when a NASCAR series car (or truck) goes around a race track. And yes, the tires help a lot with being able to go faster than the theoretical 165 MPH barrier.
Here's a snippet rom BuildingSpeed, who feels that Tyson made the calculation based on tires that we buy for our street cars. But you should go read the whole thing for more detail:
The important thing here is the difference in friction between race car tires and regular tires. Race car tires are made of a different composition of rubber. They get much hotter than passenger car tires and the surface layer of the tire actually melts a little bit. Rubber gives additional grip in a way I like to describe as what happens if you step on a piece of chewing gum on a hot day. The chewing gum sticks to your foot and prevents you from moving – a slightly different type of friction.
Plus, there's that detail about downforce that we brought up earlier and Tyson even mentioned in one of his tweets about the race.
Spoilers increase the effective weight (traction) over a car's rear wheels at high speed — without increasing the car's mass.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) May 26, 2014
So why did Tyson jump into NASCAR in the first place? Ah, well, Cosmos, the series he's hosting across all Fox networks, was pre-empted for the race. His tweets came during the normally scheduled hour for the show. It was an attempt at cross-promotion and it worked, as you can see how much attention the tweets got via retweets and favorites. They just weren't completely accurate.
Maybe NASCAR and Fox can invite him out to a race to give him the VIP experience after fellow Fox co-worker Donovan McNabb got treated like a king at Auto Club Speedway this year after saying Jimmie Johnson wasn't an athlete.
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