The Physics of NASCAR

As a member of that apparently small camp of people who can't understand why millions fixate on TV screens to watch race cars zooming around a track, I've got to say the fact that ESPN is juicing up its NASCAR coverage with some science-based technology is good news.

This summer, the network started using Draft Track Technology, which is based in part on an algorithm developed by computer scientists at the University of Washington, to create a graphic effect that lets viewers see how air flows around the speeding cars. Different colors indicate different air flow rates and directions.

The technology allows viewers to visualize why the common racing technique of drafting behind another car actually works. ESPN has tried out technological tricks to improve the viewing experience before, including the flaming tail that streaked behind hockey pucks, but it hasn't always worked in the past. The University of Washington computer scientists initially thought their algorithm would be applied to video games, but they're enjoying the NASCAR work, too.—Gregory Mone