ASEE San Antonio 2012: Who knew slot cars would be the biggest thing on the show floor?

nascar racecar at event

Let me be more specific.  This year at ASEE our Academic program had a real NASCAR vehicle at the booth – you can imagine how much attention that got.  We also had our Scalextric slot car race track as an example of one of the many K12 programs we are involved in.  It turns out that they were both great conversation starters. People really wanted to talk about competition, racing, and slot cars. Go figure.

Scalextric slot car race track

We decided to hold a competition at our slot car race track and let attendees race against the clock. The person with the fastest time would receive a full slot car race track, complete with two cars and all of the accoutrements.  We also had the Kevin Harvick #28 Chevrolet and lots of driver signed memorabilia to raffle off.  There was a lot going on and it was a lot of fun.

Throughout the three days of the conference the PTC representatives engaged in a wide array of conversations ranging from “how can I sign up to use the slot cars?” to “is it my turn to race?”  Why such a high level of interest?  Maybe it was years of scientific method meshing with memories of childhood, racing against friends?  Or was it because the 1/32 scale track length was so realistic?  The cars were pretty small, and the track looked pretty big; was this track actually to scale? Mathcad, of course, can help us find out.

Lets take a look at the numbers, starting with the wheelbase of the real deal NASCAR:

nascar wheelbase

We know that the Scalextric models are 1/32 scale:

nascar wheelbase on scale

Assuming the track is the same scale, or at least similar, how big would this track be in full scale:

nascar track measurement                             nascar track full scale

So now we know how big the track would be, and the average times ranged from 1.8 seconds to 2.5 seconds average speed per lap.  What would that mean in a full size car?

full size car measurement

And for use more visual people:

graph of full time car measurement

Most engineers like things that move and change, and they often dedicate their life to solving problems.  This comes to surface whether they are out having fun, or working with students (this can be fun).  ASEE is a perfect example of why engineers are so important.  These are the people who are out there, every day, challenging the misconception that “math is hard, and science is boring.”  If you can engage a young person with slot cars, like we did, and help them see what their time would equate to if they were a real NASCAR driver, their minds begin to open up to new possibilities.

So how are these things related?  Why are slot cars and college professors in the same blog post?  Friendly competition.  Having the ability to compete with your peers, constantly striving to improve, makes you better at what you do.  Engineering professors are engaging with their students, helping them find excitement and fulfillment in math and science, instead of sitting back and hoping someone else will.  Maybe slot cars are an overly simple analog, but the concept is still valid.  Working towards an end goal, and welcoming competition will make us all better in the long run.

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