NASCAR might be exploring an electric series, and they can learn much from Formula E and electric Rally Cross.
After news broke earlier this year that NASCAR may be pursuing an electric version of their series as soon as next year, I was incredibly interested and received a flood of emails from both eager viewers and quick critics alike. But one message was clear from everyone; NASCAR might only have one shot at this, so they better do it right.
Looking at two very predominant electric racing series, Formula E and Rally Cross, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned, especially as both series came from pre-existing racing systems with gas cars, much like NASCAR today. And in short, five key takeaways could easily apply to NASCAR’s first attempt at electrification.
Shorter Races –
Formula E might be onto something with its racing structure, all racing is complete in a single day, and the actual race event only takes 45min. In a world of ever shorter attention spans, this differentiation has allowed the European racing series to establish a significantly younger audience, something that NASCAR desperately needs.
This style of racing also means that the racecars can run the batteries at 100% the whole time, drivers don’t have to lift off, nor do teams have to organize “car switches”; Formula E has had to learn this lesson the hard way, NASCAR would be wise to learn as well.
Make the Cars as Fast as Possible –
When people talk about Formula E, the sad reality is that many look at the cars as cleaner, greener, slower, and less exciting F1 cars. And sadly, to a degree, these people are correct. While Formula E has learned a lot from its debut, this is still a lesson, or perhaps a challenge, that they have not been able to overcome.
So what does this mean for NASCAR? This means that NASCAR has a unique opportunity to make their vehicles even faster with electric drivetrains and even to be faster than some of their arch-rivals. Imagine an ad where the new electric NASCAR is lined up with a current, hybrid drivetrain Formula 1 car. How successful would that ad be if the stock car was faster? Throw in a couple of screaming_eagle.mp3’s and a guitar solo or two, and you’ve got the return of NASCAR to greatness.
Give Manufacturers Some Freedom –
As someone who has worked in Formula E, I can tell you precisely what many manufacturers are looking for and why some have even chosen to leave FE; not enough design freedom. Manufacturers, now more than ever, want to test charging, battery chemistry, tire compounds, motor architectures, battery management systems, and everything in between. And sadly, they can’t get that amount of freedom at Formula E or Rally Cross. NASCAR could be the first!
The premise of modern Nascar is the uniformity of the cars, but even if the teams were allowed to mess with just one of the components I listed above, they would be tripping over themselves to join the sport.
Use New Technology to Show the Race –
Rally Cross has done a fantastic job putting their races on TV. The (relative) quiet nature of the electric drivetrains means they can place music throughout the broadcast. Furthermore, they make every race look like a Ken Block gymkhana video from five years ago! Drones get within inches of the cars as they rocket around corners; there are more jumps and drifting areas on the courses than ever before. All this adds to a more exciting race to watch in person and on a screen.
NASCAR has already mastered the art of driver cams for years now, but adding music and drones could make the experience even better. Allow the viewers to feel like the race is a movie, and help them feel the speed and violence of the racing happening around them!
Lean into Driver Character –
This may be due to NASCAR’s American nature, or perhaps my own, but the passion-filled drivers and their numerous quirks give NASCAR a unique appeal. Don’t just watch racecars go around a circuit, watch a battle between the punky newcomer who swears a lot and the old timer who just needs one good final race and who smokes in his car (both during and after the race). While Formula E has attempted to create this aspect, going as far as allowing drivers to get voted on for performance boosts (DON’T do that, NASCAR), their polished European drivers don’t offer the same excitement as Roy “Buckshot” Jones or Dick Trickle.
More, More Exciting Racing –
Along the same line as shorter races, you also need more good racing in that condensed driving time. I’ve watched my fair share of Formula 1, and I love the excitement of seeing a driver go from last to first (Sergio Perez) or even the reverse (also, Sergio Perez). Rally Cross and Formula E have ensured that there is ALWAYS excitement to watch. Overtakes are constantly happening, and this is not an accident. Both electric series have rules that temporarily force drivers off the racing line (Formula E’s Attack Mode is the best example). At the same time, the cars have been shrunk to allow more space on the track, once again encouraging overtakes.
If NASCAR can encourage more action per minute, drivers and viewers alike will have much more to pay attention to.
Needless to say, I’m excited about electric NASCAR, and I hope it becomes a reality. At the same time, a dedicated focus on improving the racing and viewing experience could yield outstanding results for the heritage racing series and could ultimately resuscitate NASCAR as a top-tier racing series once more.