And, instead of filling a car full of fuel on a pit stop, teams would pull out the used lithium-ion battery and replace it with a fully charged, new battery.
Does this sound far-fetched? A decade ago, I would have said yes. It would have sounded almost as preposterous as flying cars — at least in my lifetime.
But, with the way things have gone and are going, I wouldn’t be surprised to someday see the Chevy Volt, Dodge ZEO, Ford Focus and Toyota FT-HS circling NASCAR tracks.
Granted, we have a long way to go, but this could work. With the technology used in Tesla Motors’ Roadster, powerful electric cars are not that far off. The company’s roadster accelerates from 0-60 in less than four seconds. And, while the car’s top speed is limited to 125 miles per hour for safety, the technology could probably be used to go much faster.
If NASCAR were to someday switch to electric cars, they would probably do away with the onboard fuel system found in the Volt because the combustion engine would not need to power the car while the battery is recharged if teams just remove the old battery once its charge is lost. Ford is currently working on an electric Focus without the combustion engine.
Any switch to electric NASCAR race cars would most likely hinge on advancements in the batteries. Currently, lith-ion batteries have a high internal resistance, which increases over time/use, resulting in a drop in the voltage at the terminals. At some point the batteries wouldn’t be able to be charged enough to power a Cup car.
The amount of power needed to crank out 200 mph would give the batteries a very short life, even though they are rechargable. At this point, getting one use out of a battery may not make it cost effective, but zero emissions might be alluring enough to consider one use worth it.
Lith-ion batteries can also explode if they overheat or are ruptured. As you all know, temperatures inside Cup cars can reach 120 degrees, and there is always the risk of an accident that results in an explosion.
So, before any switch can be considered, NASCAR would have to redesign that car to make a nearly indestructable compartment for the battery. I should, however, note that the COT already has a pretty stout fuel cell compartment.
NASCAR would also have to do more to protect drivers from possible explosions, which would become more of a concern with a switch to lith-ion batteries.
A switch would also require track owners to invest a significant amount of money to switch their current fueling stations to recharging stations.
Track and safety crews would also need to be re-trained on how to deal with accidents because there are different protocols when dealing with the litium-ion batteries and their chemicals.
Outfitting NASCAR teams with electric cars would cost more initially than using the gasoline-powered equipment. Teams would have to build all new cars. And, some of the smaller series would lose the ability to buy old race cars from the larger teams, thus resulting in a larger effect on grassroots racing.
Switching to electric cars would also result is layoffs from all major teams because they would no longer need their engine departments. That said, teams would have to hire new engineers and scientists to work on these electric motors, so perhaps these layoffs would be offset by new hires.
At the end of the day, switching to electric cars is quite a ways off, but the idea is not as ridiculous as it once seemed.