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Monday, July 27, 2009

FAR Future, Episode 98: The Rat Race, continued

Some things never change… and some, they change and pretend not to.

Sunday, April 23, 2045
The Rat Race, Continued

Coffee’s a luxury item these days — kind of like beef — and not always easy to get. But we got some yesterday, and I decided to make a half-pot rather than to lay in bed a little longer.

As I stumped through the living room, Rene was looking through the nightly media download. “I made some already,” he said. “Grab a cup and come sit. You might enjoy this.”

I poured my cup, added a dab of cream, and sat in the other chair. The screen showed what looked like a collection of electric cars, lined up in something like a starting grid for a race. “What’cha got here, Rene?”

“NASCAR, 2045-style,” he grinned.

“What? I thought those guys were long gone!”

“I guess they changed with the times. There’s an overview of the rules…” He poked at the remote and a text overlay came up:

NASCAR Full-Electric Division
Troy Fuel Cell 300 - Charlotte, NC
April 22, 2045

Standing start race
Fuel cells are sealed
DNFs: laps completed
count toward standings

“Interesting,” I said. “I’m guessing the fuel cells are standard sizes… which means, they have more efficient motors or have to limit their speed to make 300 kilometers?”

“Yeah. They still get points for laps led, more in the early running, so there’s an incentive to not sandbag. There’s a lot of strategy involved: do you try to lap the field then throttle back and coast across the finish line? Do you maintain a steady pace that will get you the distance and hope the guys running faster drop out? Or just go for the lead lap points and drop out early?”

“I guess it’s better than a matter of raw power. But I’m surprised they still run races these days.”

“Why not? It’s a test bed for new motors, fuel cells, and instrumentation. The best stuff eventually works its way into production vehicles.” Good point… we had the Heehaw rebuilt a couple years ago, and it now has a better range and cargo capacity than it did when new. They must have upgraded a lot of components in the last 10–15 years.

The race itself was interesting in that there were three drivers who wanted to go for the lead lap points. One dropped back immediately, probably executing Plan B, while the other two battled it out for a few laps, weaving through the slower traffic like Planet Georgia commuters in the 1980s. Eventually, the second driver fell back and left the last guy to rack up the lead lap points.

“Seems like a waste for Odum,” I said. “He burned a lot of juice.”

“Yeah, but he made Ramirez burn even more juice. Meanwhile, he can fall back and pace the field, a lap ahead of them. If he can finish the race — and I doubt Ramirez is even gonna try — he’ll be the guy to beat.”

Things settled into a routine, and Rene fast-forwarded until we saw a wreck on lap 34. At the relatively low speeds they were running, compared to the days of yore, this wasn’t anything like spectacular. But there was a fair amount of smoke and mixing of paint before most of the pack got straightened out and either kept rolling or headed for the pits for patch-ups.

Toward the end, the stats showed how the average lap speeds creeped up: about 100 kph in the first third of the race, working up toward 120 kph with 20 laps to go. (Ramirez dropped out about 2/3 of the way through, after pushing about 150 kph in the early going.) Odum had eased off his earlier pace after a close call in that lap 34 wreck; he was no longer the sole occupant of the lead lap, but continued to rack up points. “The question is,” the announcer informed us, “whether he can turn it up if he needs to. Teammate Brian Smith was knocked out in that wreck on lap 34, so he doesn’t have anyone he can easily hook up with for a draft. Meanwhile, Shadduck and Lopez continue to gain ground quick enough to make this a three-way race by the end — or a two-way race if Odum doesn’t kick it up a notch.”

As it turned out, Odum had to pit on lap 95 with a flat tire — the announcers speculated that he’d picked up a piece of debris from the wreck and got a slow leak from it. As luck would have it, Shadduck and Lopez wrecked each other on lap 97; they replayed the wreck and concluded it was inattention on the part of one or both drivers — an amateur move equal to an All-Star shortstop letting a grounder go through his legs. With three laps to go, the remaining eight drivers (out of a starting field of 30) let it all hang out and treated the crowd (and those of us who saw it a day later) to a barnburner. Some guy named Pachulo took the checkered, by maybe half a car-length; Odum finished sixth. The seventh and eighth place finishers literally coasted across, fuel cells completely depleted.

I think I like this version of racing better than the old. Like with most everything else in life, brute force is no longer the answer.



  1. Glad to know that they still have wrecks in 2045. Isn't that what the fans all hope to see? ;-)

  2. I am sitting here trying to imagine a Nascar race without sound. You gotta wonder what it would sound like.

  3. Hey guys!

    Boran, you probably have a good point there. Wrecks can still be pretty spectacular at today's highway speeds, and Future NASCAR might require trade-offs: traction or distance? Teams opting for narrow, hard tires would spin out easier, but might get enough extra juice to make it worth the risk.

    Wooly, there would be sound: electric motors whirring, wind, tires on pavement… and the squealing noises of tires at the edge of losing traction wouldn't be drowned out by engine noises. Those track-side cameras would pick up the zinnnggg of cars going by, it just wouldn't be ear-splitting.


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