When an episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's (frankly excellent) Cosmos gets postponed for the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 race, Neil deGrasse Tyson got revenge the only way he knew how – by dropping knowledge. But one of those tweets might have been just a bit wrong.
Before we continue, let me give a little disclaimer. I am not a physicist in any way, shape, or form. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson very much is. I'm just a journalist, and also a race fan.
And by and large, Tyson's breakdown of racing physics doesn't seem that far off to me, the layperson. But in his series of tweets about racing, a few stood out as not making much sense.
First, however, we learned that Dr. T is an avid reader of The Feiner Things:
And then we really began to get our learn on:
Nice, physics-y. Some math. But after this next tweet, and a few others, we began to grow concerned:
That might not look like much to someone who doesn't follow racing, but average qualifying speeds at Charlotte Motor Speedway was hovering around 190 miles per hour. Jimmie Johnson, the polesitter and eventual race winner, clocked in at almost 195 MPH. There are videos of NASCAR racers mid-corner at 180 MPH minimum.
IndyCar drivers do it even faster.
Johnson would have to be doing way over 200 MPH on the straightaways if he was limited to only 165 MPH in the turns. And at a NASCAR race like the Coke 600, drivers can't reach those speeds.
Now, I'm not saying that Dr. Tyson is completely wrong, or hugely messed up, but I'd like to see what kind of work he did. All we know is that drivers were regularly rounding those corners at speeds significantly in excess of 165 MPH.
He might not have been taking aerodynamics into account, we don't know what coefficient of friction he was using for the rubber in the tires, the weight of the car, nothing. He provided no data.
In fact, he referenced aerodynamics in his very next tweet:
I reached out to Dr. Tyson on Twitter for him to expand upon his initial math, but as he doesn't follow me on Twitter, I don't think he'll respond.
In the meantime, we've reached out to another physicist to help investigate.
Think you've got another explanation? Let us know in the comments below.