Nascar Tries Science-and-Math Push to Catch Kids' Interest During School

Acceleration Nation Starts With Commercial at Daytona 500

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On the eve of the biggest event of the Sprint Cup Series, Nascar is beginning an effort to get kids more interested in science and math through auto racing.

Timed to coincide with Sunday's 57th Daytona 500, the Nascar Acceleration Nation program will look to steer primary schoolers into a greater proficiency in the so-called STEM subject: science, technology, engineering, and math. The offensive includes a website, AccelerationNation.com; a classroom curriculum developed by Nascar in conjunction with education publisher Scholastic; and a 6,400-square foot mobile interactive unit to engage kids at the track.

Acceleration Nation, of course, also represents a chance to infuse new blood into the sport's fan base. Most kids who are Nascar fans were indoctrinated by their parents and grandparents before them, but given the demographics of stock car fandom -- per Nielsen, 49% of Nascar enthusiasts are at least 55 years old -- it can't hurt to draw in a whole bunch of novices.

The sport hopes to reach as many as 200,000 students during the inaugural year of its Acceleration Nation push, according to Kim Brink, senior VP-marketing. And Nascar isn't just looking to engage with kids in places like Daytona and Talladega and Martinsville. "We didn't go with strongholds -- it's truly a national program," Ms. Brink said. "We're really targeting kids 8-to-12 years old, which is when they start forming brand associations."

It's no secret that American kids are driving on rims when it comes to math and science competencies, and Nascar is in many respects a 200-MPH physics lab. The stock cars are marvels of domestic engineering, and their operation requires a mastery of drag coefficients and drafting formations. As such, there is a wealth of relevant scientific upon which to build the Acceleration Nation program.

The activities on the website, which went live today, include a "Concentration"-type quiz that challenges users to identify the various responsibilities of a pit crew, a "Raceflex" game that tests hand-eye coordination and virtual driving skills like a less-lethal throwback to the classic arcade game "Pole Position," and a module that encourages kids to explore the science of aerodynamics.

The site is not ad-supported, but occasionally a Nascar sponsor such as Goodyear will pop up as a component of one of the games or puzzles.

Nascar will promote the site and in-school offerings via a new 30-second commercial starring driver Carl Edwards as a sort of Americanized, fire-suited Mr. Chips. (As it happens, Mr. Edwards is a former substitute teacher.) The spot was created by Ogilvy & Mather, New York.

The ad will debut during Fox's Sunday afternoon coverage of the Daytona 500, which is always the highest-rated race of the Sprint Cup Series. Despite competition from the Winter Olympics and a sopping rainstorm that left the Fox crew to improvise for the better part of six hours, last season's broadcast still managed to scare up 9.3 million viewers and a 5.6 household rating. One ratings point represents 1% of TV households.

If the weather cooperates, this year's Daytona 500 will likely deliver the race's usual numbers -- north of 15 million viewers and a 10.0 household rating. (For what it's worth, it looks like fans and drivers should be nice and dry when the checkered flag comes down.)

The TV platform is only the most visible segment of Nascar's outreach efforts. "TV is important, and obviously Daytona reaches such a big audience," Ms. Brink said. "But we hope social media (we're really hope to resonate the 'mommy-blogging community') and word of mouth between parents and teachers is equally important. … There's that natural sharing component with parents and kids, and it's in those interactions where we think it'll really catch on."

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