Weather in Racing: Grades 2-5
Learn how different weather conditions can impact racing.
Weather and Racing
- Identify different weather conditions by visual inspection and reading forecast models
- Understand how different weather conditions can impact racing
- Demonstrate how precipitation can impact racing
- Identify different weather tools used to measure weather conditions
- Track weather conditions through simulated radar
1. Map of the United States (PDF or online options)
4. Photo of NASCAR tires and rain at the track
5. Markers, colored pencils or crayons
7. Spray bottle (or an empty bottle by drilling small holes in the cap to create a sprinkler effect)
8. Aluminum foil, parchment paper or plastic bag
9. Cookie sheet or aluminum pan (rectangle)
10. Toy car with wheels (small)
Lesson Plan for Procedures for Adults
Note: Weather and life sciences are introduced to students starting in pre-school and taught throughout their student careers. This lesson is designed to have students think about weather from a job as well as personal impact.
1. Ask if the student(s) can tell you what the weather is by looking outside. Is it sunny, cloudy, foggy or raining? Discuss how they know what the weather is. Children make observations of weather in their community all day long.
2. Talk about different types of weather and seasons. Seasons change as the earth rotates and tilts toward or away from the sun. The transition of night to day also follows the rotation around the earth. Use a ball or another sphere to illustrate to your child.
3. Discuss what makes summer warm: what are the characteristics? What makes winter colder?
4. Explain the NASCAR race season (https://www.nascar.com/nascar-cup-series/2020/schedule/) is based on the season. The NASCAR season runs from February to November. Racing in the early part of the season is located more in the southern states (Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Southern California and Nevada.) As the season changes from spring to summer, the northern states have their races (New York, Michigan, Kansas, New Hampshire and Northern California.) Ask why they believe NASCAR might not race in the northern states in February. (The answer is snow or inclement conditions.)
5. Using a map, have the student(s) identify the states in step four. You can also look at photos or weather conditions in those states. Remember, northern states may still have snow in their forecast. (NOTE: Children do not learn state abbreviations until 3rd or 4th grade, so you will need to use proper names.)
6. Discuss why races cannot run in the snow or rain. Use the photos of NASCAR tires and raining at the track to help the student understand race tires are the same as the tires on bikes or cars. Look at photos of tires on a normal car to see if the child can notice the difference between race tires and street car tires. (HINT: There is no tread on race tires.)
7. Talk about how having tread on street car tires helps people drive in the rain, snow or wet conditions. The tread on the tires pushes the water away to allow the car to have more grip. But race tires are wider and meant to have more contact with the track surface, providing more grip - or what is called traction.
8. Ask the student(s) to share what they think may happen if a race car were to drive in the rain. (HINT: They would slide and not have any traction.)
9. It’s time to experiment! You will be simulating both dry and wet conditions at a racetrack. You can try the activity inside or outside, but we recommend outside if you can. Gather the following supplies:
Spray bottle (with water)
a. Toy car
b. Aluminum foil, parchment paper or plastic bag
c. Cookie sheet or aluminum pan
d. Empty garbage bag (if the experiment is done inside)
e. Explain the experiment will test what happens to a surface and race car when it’s dry versus when it’s wet. Question: What happens when car tires get wet? Does it “stick” as well to the surface?
Dry Conditions/Wet Conditions:
a. Place the toy car on a cookie sheet or aluminum pan, and give it a push. Discuss how the car traveled. Little resistance? Fast? Straight?
b. Using the spray bottle, wet the surface of the pan/sheet. Push the car and discuss what happened.
c. Make a comparison between the two surfaces – wet and dry.
d. Repeat with other surfaces in dry and wet conditions (aluminum foil, parchment paper and plastic bag.) Ask after each trial which was better for not having the car slide around – wet or dry.
10. Explain to the student(s) racing in the rain is not safe for drivers or pit crew members. NASCAR calls or stops the race when it starts to rain, even a little.
a. Use the photo of covered cars on pit road to illustrate this.
b. The race can only resume when it has stopped raining (for a while), and the air titans can dry the track which can take hours. Use the photo of the trucks with air jets to illustrate the drying of the track.
11. Activity for 2nd graders: Have your child watch a weather segment on TV or digitally. Discuss what a forecast is and how you use the forecast to make plans for your week.
12. Using the forecast PDF, explain that NASCAR and the teams use the forecast to determine if or how long they can race during a weekend. Teams arrive early at tracks (at least two days before the race day to practice and qualify to determine where they start the race) to adjust to the racetrack weather conditions (hot, humid, dry, etc.) for their car. Have the child, answer the questions on the PDF. Can they race?
13. Wrap up by asking the student(s) to share what seasons NASCAR races in, what weather conditions are best to race in and why races cannot happen in the rain.
Fun Extension: Create a monthly calendar of weather. Track the weather at your house three or four times a day. Using markers or colored pencils, divide a calendar day into fours. Have the student(s) draw or write the weather each day, four times a day. Have the student(s) come up with their codes or pictures. You can even track the temperature and then compare readings daily, weekly or monthly.
Extra Fun: Use the Farmers’ Almanac – a publication used by farmers for anticipating weather for planting and growing season – and compare your calendar of weather to the almanac.
Background information about weather and racing:
- NASCAR races in different climates and geographical conditions - from deserts to beaches, mountains to lakes and north to south.
- Weather in any geographical location can change due to season, and weather patterns can determine if a race will finish (or even begin.)
- Race car tires do not have tread like our cars. Some race car tires have thin tread like dirt track tires, but the national series (Cup, Xfinity and Truck) do not. Without tread, cars cannot race in the rain – even if it’s just a little misty.
- Tracking weather systems is vital to strategizing in racing. If you start the race and it begins to rain, it can take up to two or three hours to dry a track with large mounted jet engines (called Air Titans) before a race can resume. If the rain is expected for an extended period of time, a race may get postponed. Or, if it’s raining at the beginning of the race, it can be delayed to start. Rain is a big deal.
- Hot, sunny days are also impactful. The hotter the sun and outside temperature, the hotter the track will be. And the more cars racing on a track, the more heat it will get from the tires. Racetracks can start at 80 degrees and rise to more than 130 degrees by the end of a race. Tires will be impacted as the surface becomes slick due to the rubber as well the asphalt giving off oil.
- Sun direction can also impact how well a driver can see. A setting sun in the west can make it hard for a driver to race, as the sun is in their eyes. If we go from a day race to night, the conditions changing will also change how a driver races.
- Weather conditions and predictions are assessed by NASCAR to determine race impacts on the day. Crew chiefs utilize weather to determine how to set up the handling of the car, such as light air pressure in the tires or the engine’s intake of air.
- NASCAR has rules based on weather. If a race has started and drivers have completed 50 percent of the laps or traveled half of the way, then whoever was in the lead when it started to rain/other inclement weather wins. If the race has not traveled at least half of the way, then the race will be on a weather delay or postponed to the following day, and a winner will be determined when it‘s restarted.
- NASCAR crew chiefs will watch the weather radar before and during the race to see if rain or inclement weather is anticipated. They will adjust their plans based on what the weather is doing, how many laps have been completed and how many more they can complete before the race might stop.