NASCAR Unveils Electric SUV, But Racing Series Isn’t Giving Up Gasoline


NASCAR electric vehicle prototype.


NASCAR racing is all about loud, gas-guzzling fast cars that guzzle gas and rubber around the track. But on Saturday, NASCAR unveiled something different: an all-electric SUV with twice the horsepower of any of its current gas-guzzling cars.

It’s a sign of how far electric cars have come that a sport known for its tradition is now embracing the technology – even if the new car is currently just a prototype.

In some ways, the car looks like what you’d expect from a NASCAR racer. It’s colorful, has big wheels, and a rear wing to help the car grip the road at high speeds.

But if NASCAR is known for its eight-cylinder internal combustion engines that power its race cars, NASCAR executives insist they have no plans to abandon the fuel-burning engines anytime soon.

“The combustion engine is our core product and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” said Riley Nelson, NASCAR’s chief sustainability officer.

But this car, a fully drivable prototype, provides a way for NASCAR to gauge fan interest in electric cars.

This race car has three electric motors — one driving the front wheels and two driving the rear wheels — capable of producing up to 1,300 horsepower at most, which is nearly double the horsepower of current gasoline-powered NASCAR race cars.

Some diehard NASCAR fans will undoubtedly balk at the idea of ​​electric racing, said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development. That’s why NASCAR wants to make it crystal clear that gasoline-powered race cars are not in immediate danger of extinction.

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It’s also an opportunity to open minds to what could be exciting in the future. He said NASCAR’s own fan research has indicated that many are curious about electric vehicles and could see EV racing as a way to learn about them. Once fans see the speed and excitement of electric cars, which can be more powerful and faster than gas-powered ones, he believes even the most anti-EV fans will drop some of their objections.

The NASCAR EV prototype was built in collaboration with ABB, a company that builds electric vehicle infrastructure, such as power equipment for chargers. ABB is also heavily involved in Formula E, the electric racing series affiliated with Formula 1.

Michael Plaster, executive vice president of ABB Electric in the United States, said participating in races like this can generate interest in electric cars and showcase their capabilities. The hope is that the exciting performance on the track will lead to sales of electric cars.

Last year, NASCAR rolled out a broader initiative to reduce its total carbon emissions to net zero by 2035. Nelson said racing itself represents only a small portion of the organization’s total carbon emissions. Right now, most of that initiative is about reducing emissions from office space, transportation and operations at the 15 NASCAR-owned tracks.

“The pilots that we have implemented within our core business operations, and then events as well, are going well, we know where we need to go but we are still in the early stages of this journey,” she said.

Currently, NASCAR cars run on a fuel that’s 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol, but in the next few years, NASCAR plans to announce a more sustainable racing fuel that can still be burned in roaring V8 engines.

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The original idea behind NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, was that it was supposed to feature cars that looked like the ones Americans drive on the road. With many changes over the years, modern NASCAR race cars don’t look like the Toyotas and Chevrolets that typical Americans drive. This time, designers wanted to maintain that similarity between the race car and the vehicles that fans drive, which are increasingly SUVs. Today, traditional cars—as opposed to SUVs, trucks or pickup trucks—make up less than 20 percent of U.S. car sales, according to Cox Automotive.

“We have the opportunity to evaluate not only the battery electric part, but also the SUV part,” Probst said. “So one or both of those could become something important for us in the future.”

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