Summer Challenge for Students

May 3, 2021

Summer is almost here – students are ready, and so are educators! Summer break is a time when families go on vacations, explore the outdoors, and just enjoy the break in general. To challenge students during the summer, some schools have reading programs requiring students to read a certain book or books. Why not challenge them to see the science around them during their break? No matter what they do or where they go, even if it's only into their own yard, challenge them to see the science. Encourage them to look beyond and figure out how something works. Inspire them to think deeper about what they see. Then, when you rejoin in the fall, have a show and tell. No matter how simple or elaborate their summer breaks are, every student can be challenged.

Take for instance this "field trip" I went on several years ago to Richard Childress Racing. Cars going around a track may or may not interest a person, but the science behind it all is truly amazing with many types of science at work. NASCAR crews are filled with the smartest, most tech savvy people who truly love what they do and are challenged every day to be better. Please note, the information below was written several years ago, so some of the information has updated since then. However, the science is still there and improving every day.

“Our nation’s future economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields.” — STEM Education Coalition

Separate from traditional science and math education, STEM Education creates a blended learning environment by showing students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. With this in mind, Science Scene stepped outside of the box and took a road trip to Welcome, North Carolina – the home of NASCAR’s Richard Childress Racing (RCR).Where the rubber meets the road.

Computational thinking and the real world application of problem solving are exemplified in the racing world. From building the race car and calculating a pit stop strategy on race day to determining the wear and tear of a car after the race in preparing it for the next race, NASCAR is a great teaching tool for STEM education. Students can watch a race on television to see how the racing teams work together with their driver in attempting to win the race, while much classroom discussion can be had based on how many tires a team changed at a certain point of the race, why a team only pitted for gas, how many pit stops were taken, what safety precautions were a factor in the race, why penalties were assessed after the race, etc.

During our visit at RCR, we met with Tim Packman, Director of Corporate Communications. Tim has been involved with NASCAR since 1996, and his job responsibilities at RCR include assisting in the guidance of this multi-championship NASCAR team’s social media initiatives and overall communications for their teams.   

  • Sprint Cup Series
    3 Austin Dillon
    27 Paul Menard
    31 Ryan Newman
  • Nationwide Series
    2 Bryan Scott
    3 Ty Dillon
  • Camping World Truck Series
    33 Cale Conley
    62 Brendan Gaughan

Team history abounds at RCR, with photos and memorabilia at nearly every turn. This photo is of their 1986 Winston Cup championship.As we started our tour of RCR, Tim shared some of the history hanging on the highly decorated walls from the 45 years that Richard Childress has been involved in racing. Beginning in 1969 as the driver of a car that he bought for a mere $20.00, Richard proved successful behind the wheel before he retired in mid-1981 and replaced himself with the infamous Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Driving the #3 car, Earnhardt went on to win the Sprint Car Championship six times and helped establish RCR as one of the premier teams in all of motorsports.You could say that it took computational thinking and real-world problem solving to get RCR where it is today. Now a motorsports organization with seven full-time racing teams spread over the three NASCAR Racing Series, RCR employs not only drivers, but engineers, mechanics, tire specialists, fabricators, spotters, pit crew specialists, hauler drivers, plus many other behind-the-scenes team members who all work together in building each car and in making them better, week after week.

‍An RCR team engineer works on Paul Menard’s #27 car for the upcoming Pocono race.

In the RCR shop, the engineers have the best technology available at their fingertips. Because of the mandated NASCAR rules and regulations, cars have to be built to strict specifications and must fit within a template with no more than 1/8" to 1/4" deviation from it. This requires everything must be level while the car is being made race-ready. In order to meet these specifications, the engineers finish the cars while working on a surface plate which provides a true level surface.

‍One of Austin Dillon’s #3 cars in the production area of the garage.

Preparing the cars for the particular track to be raced on is very important due to the different shapes and sizes of the various tracks. Some are long (2.5 miles), some are short (0.5 mile), while a small number are road courses. The type of track plays a big part in determining what car set-up they will use, as well as what strategy they will use during the race. Each team prepares two cars each week for the particular track they are racing on. The first car is the one that they believe will produce the best results, while the back-up car sits in standby in the event of a wreck during qualification.

Haulers are readied to hit the road to Pocono.

During the race, team members gather a wide variety of technical data. Once back at the shop, they tear down each car to determine how much wear and tear the parts had. As each piece is taken off, it is labeled and placed on a parts cart for measurements to be taken. All of this information is put into a computer for engineers to use to determine what steps to take to improve the car for the next time they race at that track.Now that you have seen NASCAR as more than just skilled driving at high speeds (and avoiding wrecks), consider how you can use the science of NASCAR as an exciting STEM teaching tool in your classroom.

The sprawling RCR Sprint Cup Series team shop. 

As you go into summer break, take this opportunity to inspire your students to look at the world around them. Challenge them to see the science in all they do!

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.