Can you think of a better pair to talk to children at the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) than a veteran NASCAR engineer and a race car driver with the maturity level of the audience?
In a recent visit to RMSC, Brendan Gaughan, driver of the No. 62 South Point Chevrolet, and Richard Childress Racing simulator program manager Ryan Isabell talked with 60 children about STEM topics that they are learning about in their summer camps and during the school year.
The kids had free reign to ask any questions that they wanted, and they certainly took advantage of the opportunity to learn. Showing their smarts, the children asked about aerodynamics, weight, fuel mileage, simulation, safety features and much more.
With both Gaughan and Isabell having children, they were experienced at answering STEM questions in a way that young kids can understand.
When it came to basic aerodynamics…
Gaughan: How many of you have ever put your hand out of a car window when your parents are driving?
Isabell: Have you ever noticed that when you put your hand out the window with your palm facing forward that the wind pushes your hand back? That’s because your hand is creating wind resistance or drag. What happens when you stick your hand out the window with your palm facing down? It’s able to stay in place easier because there is less wind resistance or less drag. If you tip the back of your hand up the air will want to push your hand down because it is now making downforce using the force of the air.
Gaughan: That’s aerodynamics at work.
The two also discussed how a race car needs weight, but it needs the right kind of weight to go fast…
Isabell: Tires need to stick to the pavement to make a car go faster on a racetrack. You can increase the stickiness of the tires to the track by adding more force pushing down on the tires. But, you can’t do it by just the weight of the vehicle or your car will actually go slower. A tractor trailer weighs more than a Corvette and pushes down harder on the tires, but would you rather race a semi-truck or a Corvette on a racetrack?
Isabell: That’s right, a Corvette is lighter than a semi-truck so it will go faster on a racetrack, but if you want to make the Corvette go faster you need to either add downforce using air or downforce on the tires using bank angle. Bank angle uses the shape of the track to add force to the tires. Even weight for the race car comes back to aerodynamics!
For a full hour, Gaughan and Isabell answered STEM questions with ease. Any question that was asked, they answered. Gaughan even addressed the always-asked bathroom question. However, staying true to the nature of the science-oriented agenda, he turned it back around to biology and how sweating from the heat of the race car typically keeps him from needing to use the bathroom while he’s racing.
Once time was up, the kids rushed to get autographs from Gaughan and Isabell before diving into their NASCAR Acceleration Nation workbooks and their race car building activities. Without a doubt, the kids left excited about all of the new concepts they learned about, and perhaps a new generation of race fans as developed.