Home » How Fast Could You Run The Daytona 500 If NASCAR Had No Rules?

How Fast Could You Run The Daytona 500 If NASCAR Had No Rules?

No Rules Nascar Ts
ADVERTISEMENT

NEOWMN! That’s the sound a regulation NASCAR makes as it tears around the oval course at the Daytona 500. The 500-mile race usually takes around three-and-a-half hours to complete these days. That’s down to the speeds of the cars, which in turn is dictated by the prevailing rules in the series. But what if NASCAR had no rules? How quickly could you complete the racing distance?

For an answer to this question, one Hunter Freyer turned to engineer Randall Munroe. Best known for his webcomic xkcd, Munroe has since expanded his work into the What If? series, where he tackles weird and wonderful science questions, while taking them to extremes.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Freyer’s question was a simple one—asking if the contest was simply to get a (living) human being around a track 200 times as fast as possible, what strategy would win? Munroe’s answer used the Daytona 500 as an example, and highlighted that the limiting factor is not tires or engines or technology, but the fleshy meatbags that we call humans.

Munroe explains that how you get the human around the track is really kind of inconsequential. You could build a super-fast, high-powered racecar, you could use a rocket sled, or some kind of high-speed rail vehicle. But in every case, the limit you run into is human survivability. At best, you might be able to finish the racing distance in 90 minutes or so.

ADVERTISEMENT

It all comes down to acceleration. If you’ve ever heard of G-forces, that’s precisely what we’re talking about here. Humans are perfectly happy dealing with the nominal 1 G acceleration we feel due to gravity when we’re standing on the ground. For very short impulses, humans can survive very high accelerations. Robert Kubica survived a 75 G impact at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, and other drivers have survived even worse. It’s sustained G forces that are altogether more difficult to deal with. A highly-trained fighter pilot can handle 10 G during advanced maneuvers for a short period of time. However, that same level of acceleration would cause severe injury if sustained for tens of minutes or an hour.

Championb
Image: xkcd

Using data on human endurance from NASA, Munroe pencils out safe acceleration limits for the human body. He initially sets 4 Gs as a limit that a human being could withstand for the duration and survive. If you could build a car or other conveyance that could hit 240 mph on the tighter end curves of the Daytona circuit, you’d hit that 4 G acceleration due to centripetal force. Holding a constant 240 mph on the 2.5 mile course would see you complete 200 laps in just 2 hours and five minutes. That’s significantly faster than the course record of 2:48:55, set by Buddy Baker when he won the 1980 Daytona 500.

Trackdig
Image: xkcd

It’s possible to go faster, though. At 240 mph, the human in the vehicle would feel 4 Gs in turns, but not on the straights. If the vehicle was instead accelerated to higher speeds on the straights and then braked to slow back down to 240 mph for the turns, it would be possible to complete the race even quicker. Munroe also notes that humans are better at withstanding sustained acceleration in the forward direction, as when accelerating forwards in a car. G-forces in this direction cause less strain on the body rather than when going backwards, up, or down. Thus, it would be ideal to use some kind of rotating system to keep the forces acting on the body in the forward direction at all times.

Thus, if you created a swiveling pod that maintains 4G acceleration at all times, it would be possible to run the Daytona 500 course in around 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you had a particularly hardy human, or were willing to take more risks, you could cut that to 1 hour and 20 minutes by allowing accelerations up to 6 G. At 10 G, you could run the distance of the Daytona 500 in just over an hour, but it would be beyond the limits of the human body (James Bond excepted). To achieve that time would also involve breaking the sound barrier on the long back straight, which would be a great spectacle albeit highly damaging to the audience in the stands.

Graphgperson
Humans can better withstand sustained G forces in some directions than others. Image: xkcd

If you’re unconcerned with human survival, it’s possible to lap a track faster, but it all gets a bit beyond what we would typically think of as “motorsports” at that point. The rest of the video concerns itself with how fast centrifuges can theoretically spin based on material strength and the near-light-speeds achieved by particle accelerators. Definitely watch the full video to see just how fast humans could make something go around the track, sans human.

ADVERTISEMENT

Munroe’s analysis is a fun one, because it doesn’t bog itself down with the realities of tires, engines, and aerodynamics. Instead, it looks at the real fundamental limiting factor—if you want the human to survive, you can only go so fast.

Indeed, human limits already play a significant role in motorsports and their governing rules. CART famously canceled a race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001 for reasons very relevant to the topics discussed here. Drivers were running long stints on the steeply-banked oval at over 230 mph, and becoming dizzy and disoriented.  At those speeds, drivers were pulling G-forces of up to 5.5 Gs for extended periods. Prior to the race, driver Patrick Carpentier noted he couldn’t walk in a straight line for several minutes after stepping out of the car in earlier sessions, and other drivers complained of inner ear or vision problems after running tens of laps. Reports of tunnel vision and slowed reaction times also aligned clearly with the effects of high G-forces on the body. Fearing that drivers could lose consciousness if the race were to go on, the event was canceled.

At the same time, the limits he set still leave plenty of room for current race teams to improve. We haven’t even gotten under the two-hour barrier yet, so clearly we need to be building faster NASCARs to get closer to these theoretical times. Or, we could admit to ourselves that motorsports technology outpaced human limits a long time ago, and that it’s fine that the Daytona 500 takes over 3 hours to run. If anything, it’s a boon for the TV stations because they can sell more advertising. Bully for them!

Image credits: xkcd’s What If? via YouTube Screenshots

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
50 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Drew
Drew
3 months ago

I’ve been an xkcd fan for a long time, and the What If? books are great. Absurd hypotheticals are always fun.

Now I think I want to see an Autopian/Munroe collab with another thing he’s done: explain things using only the ten hundred words people use most often https://xkcd.com/1133/

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Drew

That’s excellent. I’ve said in technical training a time or two, “Ok, now break that down for me with crayons on a napkin”

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
3 months ago

Maybe its because I always play with my Y-axis inverted on games, but anyone else annoyed that the arrows point the opposite direction in the video that what their brain says they should?

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago

The limitations on the human body are also why we will likely never have interstellar space travel. At 2G, it will take nearly half of a year to accelerate to the speed of light. The nearest star system is 4 light years away. Best case scenario, about 5 years to travel to the nearest star system, and that’s if we find a way to travel light speed. It has been theorized that a large solar sail the size of Texas could get the occupants up to half of light speed, but any piece of debris(even a tiny spec of dust invisible to the naked eye) that hits such a large area would be nothing short of catastrophic.

But lets assume we found a way to travel at light speed.

Consider that as light speed is approached, the kinetic energy present begins to approach half of the energy stored in a given amount of mass as expressed in Einstein’s equation E = m*c^2, vs KE = 1/2*m*v^2. One Tsar Bomba at 58.6 MT releases 2.45*10^17 J upon detonation. Hitting a 13 lb rock at light speed would involve the same amount of kinetic energy impacting your space ship, as a nuke capable of wiping out the entirety of a large city would release.

That would be a spectacular display, to say the least.

Last edited 3 months ago by Toecutter
Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

That’s why the Enterprise has a navigational deflector dish.

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

If I’m ever going into space, I’m riding with these assclowns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzjyPZ76OO4

They’d make the long trip more fun.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
3 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Actually, it’s the inertial dampeners that prevent the crew from turning into bloody splotches on the view screen. ????

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago

There wouldn’t even be any recognizable blood let alone splotches at that point given the energy and heat transfers involved. Randomly arranged molecules, possibly particulates…

Regorlas
Regorlas
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

To quote another What If?: “You wouldn’t really die of anything, in the traditional sense. You would just stop being biology and start being physics.”

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
3 months ago

Right, but it’s the deflector that keeps those 13lb rocks from turning the ship into Drookmani bait at warp speed.
Don’t ever question my nerd cred when it comes to Star Trek. 🙂

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
3 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

LOL, good point! (I tried to use the nerd emoji in my post, just came up as ????)

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Not too surprisingly, Munroe’s book (either What If, How To, or What If 2… not sure which one) mused upon this.

Supposedly one has a spaceship that accelerates in a balmy 1G nonstop, it only takes about 40 years to travel to the end of the Universe, thanks to time dilation.

Phuzz
Phuzz
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

It would take five years to travel to the nearest star system from an observer’s perspective. For someone on the ship it would take roughly a couple of years.Relativity helps us out here.

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

True. That couple of years for the occupants will be spent on both acceleration to and deceleration from light speed.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
3 months ago

My fear is if they took the spacer plates off of the cars, it would be like CART at Texas in the early 2000s too much gforces for the body to handle for long periods of time.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
3 months ago

Ok, but if we really want to test things in the context of NASCAR, I need to know more about what G-forces do to moonshine.

SoCoFoMoCo
SoCoFoMoCo
3 months ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

It sounds like moonshine and excessive G-forces have similar effects on humans. So if you drink moonshine before experiencing high G-loads it should cancel things out, right? If not, at least you’d get to see what happens to vomit at 5+Gs.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
3 months ago
Reply to  SoCoFoMoCo

That would explain NASCAR’s pre-restrictor plate years.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
3 months ago

Fun fact, Rusty Wallace once tested a 4th gen Cup Car in 2004 at Talladega without a restrictor plate. He got it to 228, said it could do more, but was concerned about the tires before backing it down. No way they could run at those speeds with those old 4th Gen Cup Cars, even today it would be a deadly proposition, but fun to think about.

https://greensboro.com/wallace-goes-unrestricted-at-talladega-rusty-wallace-says-he-traveled-228-mph-without-a-restrictor/article_febc3af8-0bf6-5113-adf5-c1e3350c85f4.html

Don’t forget also that Indycars almost ran the first year of Talladega. They came to their senses and cancelled that event as well.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

I remember that CART race. At the time, there was a lot of grumbling about “real racers deal with it”, but it was clear it had to be cancelled. Michael Andretti talked about how they were doing fighter-pilot stuff and needed G-suits.
Funny how modern IndyCars can race at Texas with no issues. Oh, right, because as PT said, they’re “crapwagons”.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
3 months ago

Insurance companies have a lot of say in how fast race cars are going these days. Crowd fatalities and near misses in the early 2000s were pretty scary. If the Tony Renna crash had occurred with people in the grandstands, it would have been really ugly. It seems like both Nascar and Indycar have found workable limits.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
3 months ago

Bring back the Can Am series and racing anarchy! THE STREETS DEMAND IT!!!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago

Every time I watch F1 and they mention DRS, I always think, eh that’s nothing compared with the Can-Am crazy.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
3 months ago

Since cheating is a grand NASCAR tradition, I have long advocated for a Cheater Series where you take the officially approved car of the period and enhance it in any you want. And there could be a WOOOO, FREEDOM!!!!!!! Series where anything goes as long as it meets safety regs.

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
3 months ago

Cheating is a grand RACING tradition… fixed

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

“As long as it meets safety regs?”
That’s commie talk. Go back to Russia.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
3 months ago

Randall Munroe / Autopian is the collab I didn’t know I needed in my life.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Yes. Very yes!

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
3 months ago

If there are no rules at all then I’m going to have a much smaller track, and only have to complete one lap of it. The problem then becomes making a car small enough.

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago

Thus, it would be ideal to use some kind of rotating system to keep the forces acting on the body in the forward direction at all times.

Or maybe they could turn right sometimes and balance the forces that way. 😉

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

How Fast Could You Run The Daytona 500

The premise of the article did not follow what I expected from this headline.

I expect I could run 500 miles in about 2 weeks, given the right shoes and enough time to rest each day.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Dude! That’s 35+ miles per day, every day for 2 weeks. I don’t think an Olympic marathoner could do that.

Maybe 2 months?

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago

May I direct you to the achievements of Suzy Eddie Izzard, British actor, comedian, and activist:

“She is also known for completing a series of extreme marathon challenges to raise money for charity, including running 29 marathons in 29 days in 28 different countries.”

https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/04/entertainment/eddie-izzard-standing-uk-parliament-intl-scli/index.html

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Wow! That is not something I would have expected from Izzard of all people.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

Remember that I would not be approaching anything like a marathoner’s pace. I’m giving myself basically the whole day besides breaks for sleep and eating to go 35 miles. I would not even need to average 3 mph, which is more than an 8 hour marathon.

“Running” is probably a misnomer for what I’d actually be doing.

Last edited 3 months ago by V10omous
Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Most overfed Americans wouldn’t last 4 hours walking. You must be in good shape.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I am hardly at the peak of physical fitness, but I am a former distance runner who still tries to stay in shape as best I can.

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

At least you’re fit enough to walk all day long for multiple days on end. You could probably run at least a full mile without being completely exhausted for the day, too.

It would be nice if more people did this. Your assessment of being able to cover the Daytona 500 in 2 weeks is quite realistic. Our hunter-gather ancestors sometimes had to cover distances on this sort of scale on foot without paved roads, out of survival necessity.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

At least you’re fit enough to walk all day long for multiple days on end

In fairness, I have never actually done this and am just guessing.

You could probably run at least a full mile without being completely exhausted for the day, too.

This part is true, though less and less so every year. Aging sucks.

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Even a fit person would be sore for sure by the 2nd day, walking that sort of distance. But with adequate rest, it is doable.

You should see the sort of distances cycling participants in the TABR cover.

My trikes require pedaling, which has done a lot to keep me in shape.

The electric microcar/”bicycle” has a torque sensing bottom bracket that senses my own power output. When I fly down a state highway at 45 mph in it, my pedaling is accounting for about 200-250W of the 1kW or so required to keep it at that speed.

My unmotorized Milan SL can also be pedaled to 50 mph on flat ground for brief periods, but that requires about 500-600W and takes a mile and a half of full effort sprinting to reach. Sustainable cruising speed in that is closer to 30 mph, which considering it is unmotorized, is a testament to the impact of aerodynamic drag.

I’m not a pro-athlete, but I could definitely walk 30 miles in a day if I had to, for the same effort to hold 15 mph in the Milan. And I’d definitely be sore at the end of that day.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Aging does suck.
I try to remember that the alternative sucks way harder
-every day

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I feel like my feet would give out first. No matter the shoes I just don’t have the calluses for that even if I’m fit enough otherwise.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
3 months ago

Dave Alley and Gary McKee have entered the chat…

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

With my knees? Nah. I’ll walk that, though. How much am I getting paid for this spectacle?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

That being the challenge I would need to use the months a calendar as a measurement

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

But would you walk 500 miles, and would you walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked 1000 miles to fall down at her door?

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
3 months ago

Well done. By the 4th word my brain had switched from reading to singing your comment. I’m currently re-watching How I Met Your Mother, so its especially apt.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
3 months ago

Another XKCD reference?

(https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/)

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I think I could walk it in that time. 6 km/hour which is slower than my normal walking pace, 10 hours a day. I’ve done days on end surveying at that pace and felt fine, never 2 weeks.

Drew
Drew
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

How Fast Could You Run The Daytona 500 If NASCAR Had No Rules?

This makes me think I’m the only one on foot and all manner of car is zipping around the track. I figure DNF, unless you count what ends up on the car(s) that hit me as finishing.

50
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x