Electric cars are growing in popularity and with sports around the world becoming more environmentally conscious, electric motorsport appears to be a viable option for the future, and even the present in some cases. With this is mind is the question not, will there be an electric NASCAR, but when?
There is no known date for the introduction of an electric NASCAR. However, the next gen NASCAR can use both combustion and hybrid engines. NASCAR have stated that by 2024 some events will be raced with hybrid engines. This may require road tracks and addressing some of the unique obstacles a NASCAR race presents.
NASCAR has always used an internal combustion engine, and currently deploys EFI V8 engines, but a switch towards electric motors could be coming quicker than expected. NASCAR is used to raw power, F1 cars, even sprint cars may have more raw power under the hood, but nothing epitomises American horsepower like a NASCAR roaring, not screaming like F1, around a track.
Would this be the same with the sound of, what one NASCAR fan colorfully described as, a squirrels fart coming from the engines. We explore what NASCAR would have to do, and the chances of a switch to an electric NASCAR engine below.
When will NASCAR use hybrid engines?
Steve Phelps, the president of NASCAR, has stated that NASCAR will use a hybrid engine with an electrification component by 2024. NASCAR originally planned to go hybrid by 2022, but this target was pushed back by the pandemic.
Phelps also stated that the hybrid cars are likely to race on road courses and short ovals first before they fully transition to the full calendar, which includes larger ovals. However, NASCAR has an issue as the majority of its calendar is occupied by ovals, which do not particularly lend themselves to hybrid systems, which rely on slowing down, often in the form of braking, to recoup energy.
Drivers can often go ‘flat out’ on ovals, giving little opportunity for energy regeneration. NASCAR is looking to solve this issue by adding more road courses, which have both left and right turns that require lots of braking, to future schedules.
Phelps also stated that it is important to have schedule variation and that there would be big changes in the 2023 season in another interview. The engines are set to be implemented into the NASCAR generation seven car, known as the Next-Gen car, which features many modern upgrades in an effort to contain costs and make the cars more manufacturer relevant.
Problems with NASCAR Changing to Electric Engines.
If NASCAR was to change dramatically it would have an effect on its fanbase, who are very attached to nostalgia and aesthetics. The NASCAR fans love tradition, and so any changes must be relevant to the future, whilst remaining true to the sport’s roots.
Some would argue that this has already taken place, as NASCAR have alienated many of their traditional ‘hardcore’ fans in the search for mainstream appeal. In 2005 the NASCAR Cup Series was second to the NFL in terms of American sports by weekly popularity. Forbes named NASCAR as “America’s Fastest Growing Sport’ in the same year.
But since these heights, NASCAR has lost many viewers, going from 8.4 million per race to just 3.06 million in 2020. NASCAR is also a stock car racing series, and so the cars tend to follow road car trends.
If electric cars become more normal in everyday life, which they already are to an extent, the manufacturers will have to remain road relevant and may switch to electric motors, or more likely hybrid engines, to achieve this.
The next-gen car will look to solve this ‘road relevance gap’, which has been growing. There are also many technical issues that NASCAR would have to address to go fully electric. Which we will explore in more detail below.
How to Introduce an Electric NASCAR?
The majority of NASCAR races are 400 to 500 miles long. The cars also travel at speeds usually ranging between 100 and 200 miles per hour. The most advanced model made by Tesla, which is considered the best road electric car manufacturer, only has a range of 335 miles, traveling at 65 miles per hour.
- Pushing the car faster would start to reduce the range. This is a clear stumbling block with NASCAR’s electric dream. The range and speed are both too low compared to the current cars.
- Drivers can make pit-stops in races but charging an electric vehicle to be able to complete the full races could take the best part of half an hour. This would be very unentertaining for the fans.
- This could be solved by creating swappable battery packs, however the current standard battery pack weights over 500 kilograms, which is far more than a pit crew mechanic could lift on their own.
- Batteries can also suffer from ‘drain’ when the full output is used, which could reduce the range significantly. However, NASCAR would likely not start with the electrification of their signature Cup Series.
- They would instead look to start a new feeder series to the Cup Series, similar to the Xfinity Series, which would race on the same tracks and on the same weekends.
- Steve Phelps stated that they could have an “exhibition series”. However, Phelps does not feel that all of their series will be fully electric in the near future. Hybrid engines appear to be the bridge towards this.
Are There Currently Other Forms of Electric Motorsport?
F1, the world’s premier single-seater racing series, has used V6 hybrid engines since 2014. It has helped the series to become more road-car relevant again, which has helped the series to welcome back manufacturers such as Honda and Renault.
The technology has also been very successful, and the implementation has been better than expected. However, the cost is almost double that of the previous engines and the reliability has suffered. It has also increased the level of in-season development.
Formula E is an all-electric single-seater racing series that hosted its first race in 2014. The series gained FIA world championship status in 2020. The Gen2 cars currently used in the series have a top power output of 250kw, which allowed the cars to have a top speed of 173 miles per hour. The new gen 3 Formula E cars will push that up to 200 mph.
They complete lots of in-race regeneration, which allow the drivers to complete 45-minute races without pit stops for charging. NASCAR is not a single-seater series, but it could use Formula E as an example of how successful the developments can be.
Extreme E was founded by the same man that founded Formula E. It is an off-road electric racing series that races in remote locations. The cars, manufactured by Spark Racing, are heavy at 1650 kilograms. They have a 54kWh battery, that gives the cars 536 horsepower.
MotoGP also have an electric support series, MotoE, which uses electric motorcycles that have a top speed of 270 kilometres per hour. Therefore, electric racing is possible, but NASCAR’s near future is likely to be in a transition to a hybrid engine.
In fact most Motorsports have either started developing or have implements ‘E’ forms of racing. with Electric Cars in their series. It really can’t be that long will there will be an Electric NASCAR, probably initially running as a companion series initially.
We have a table detailing motorsports that are progressing with the introduction of electric versions below.
|Hybrid or Electric Motor Racing Sport.
|Has used Hybrids since 2014, though they are expensive.
|Has been running since 2014, and currently has cars running at 173 miles an hour – the circuits they race on means this is more than enough! Though the Gen 3 electric racecar is now pushing 200 miles per hour.
|Extreme EIs an Electric off road racing series. Lewis Hamilton has even set up a team to race.
|Motogp has an electric series called Moto E that successfully uses bikes with a speed of an incredible 270 kph.
|IndyCar are also moving towards hybrid and electric engines after an announcement in 2019.
|Autocross are in the process of adding an electric Vehicle to their events ( likely after a tesla beat a mustang, lotus, Camaro and a BMW M2 in a national championship recently.
|Hybrid Engines are included in FIA WEC (World Endurance Championships) Hypercar class. and the LMDh class will also feature hybrid engines.
|2022 will see the first Electric vehicle class in the National Hot Rod Association Summit Racing Series.
|2022 will see the first electric touring car championship
|World Rally Championship / Word Rally Cross
|Is using hybrid engines, and researching full electric options, World rallycross is already making the move to full electric vehicles ( with 0-60 speeds of 1.8 seconds!)
So far from being evolutionary in the motor racing world the move to hybrid and electric forms of racing is well underway.
Whether you fall into the embrace the change, or will fight tooth and nail category of NASCAR fan, it looks like change is coming either way. The world of motor sport is already introducing these changes and although we may not see an electric NASCAR in the cup series any time soon, the evidence and comments suggest that its on its way, starting with hybrid NASCARs and then quite possibly with an Electric series.
So while it may some time before you see a Tesla or a Prius ( we hope) racing at your local speedway, it looks like some change is certainly coming.
Let’s hope they can at least make the engine sound a little less like a squirrels flatulence though.