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Children Learn about Science from Race Cars

  • Deborah Block

A race track became a classroom for some Maryland students as they learned about science and engineering from open top Indy race cars. The IndyCar organization collaborated with educators to make science fun and encourage students to consider a career in the field.

Indy Cars go well over 320 kilometers per hour. The students got a close-up look at the cars before a recent grand prix race in downtown Baltimore.

Then they went to tents by the race course to learn how tires grip the road surface. The students used a sensor to learn about friction by comparing smooth and rough materials.

Ten-year-old Jhanaijia Daughtrey thought learning about the tires was interesting, especially because she is considering becoming an engineer.

“The Indy Car surface is smoother so that they can easily go around the streets, and the regular tire has grooves in it, so I guess it can basically do anywhere," said Daughtrey.

Science teacher Kathryn Spivey says these activities show the students how what they’re learning in school applies in the real world.

“It gave them a chance to do science hands-on with equipment we can’t afford to put in the classroom, and they were able to see what we’re talking about when we talk about being safe and friction and motion," said Spivey.

These children can learn a lot about science and engineering from Indy Cars, says driver Ed Carpenter.

“Everything that we do here with these race cars, whether what keeps us safe in an accident or what’s helping us go fast on the track, it’s an engineering-driven sport, which the heart of it is math and science," said Carpenter.

IndyCar sponsors the Future of Fast program with Project Lead the Way. The group provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics course material to U.S. schools. The idea behind the demonstrations is to expose kids to new ideas, says Vince Bertram, head of the organization.

“It’s one thing to just enjoy the speed and the track experience, but when you really start to understand the technical issues and how these cars are designed and put together, that’s exciting and it's engaging for our students," said Bertram.

The children also got to learn about race track safety barriers. Using paper, Styrofoam, straws and glue, the students create their own small barriers. An instrument measures the wall force as the barrier is hit by a small car.

Shane Gorman explains the result.

“If you have it thicker, rather than thinner, it makes a much better barrier," said Gorman.

Brennan Radke was surprised to learn that a real safety wall is not made out of concrete.

“I think that if it was just a concrete wall, then the car would get really demolished, but because it was made of Styrofoam and steel, I don’t think it would damage the car as much," said Radke.

The Future of Fast program began last year with events in several cities. The hope is that more children will get interested in science and engineering. And the IndyCar racing circuit hopes to gain some young fans.