Math at Top Speed: Exploring and Breaking Myths in the Drag Racing Folklore

Richard Tapia
Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM), Rice University

(November 4, 2010 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM)

Math at Top Speed: Exploring and Breaking Myths in the Drag Racing Folklore

Abstract

Throughout his life, either as participant, support individual, or involved spectator, the speaker has been involved in some aspect of drag racing. As such he has witnessed the birth and growth of many myths concerning dragster speed and acceleration. In this talk the speaker uses his mathematical training to identify elementary mathematical frameworks for the study of a particular popular belief and then applies mathematics to better understand the belief at hand. In this manner some myths are explained and validated, while others are destroyed. Included in these examples will be attempts to determine how fast dragsters are really going, what is the maximum acceleration achieved , and what is the acceleration curve profile of today's dragsters? The speaker will explain why dragster acceleration is greater than the acceleration due to gravity, an age-old inconsistency and present his "Fundamental Theorem of Drag Racing." The first part of the talk will be a historical account of the development of the sport of drag racing and will include shots of various family members. A component of the presentation will be several lively videos used to illustrate points.