Vickers hopes 'Science of Speed' translates to 'Dega
May 02, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
It's a concept that NASCAR drivers are more than well-versed in, especially this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, where track speeds routinely top 200 mph.
With the Sprint Cup Series in town for "Aaron's Dream Weekend" at Talladega, Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers -- who drives the No. 55 Aarons's Dream Machine Toyota -- visited the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club of Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday to host "The Science of Speed," an event designed to give teenagers an exciting and educational look at how a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education can pave the way to a future in NASCAR. Vickers, crew chief Billy Scott and some of the Michael Waltrip Racing crew members developed an instructive program to give teenagers a hands-on experience, demonstrating how a STEM education is applied in the motorsports industry.
The group taught students about the technology of the No. 55 Toyota and how Vickers applies STEM while racing at blinding speeds around the track, as well as the science and engineering aspects of the sport, from tire pressure and tread depth to building a shock and the technology that keeps drivers safe at the track.
"Science, technology engineering and math were really the core focus, but it was really all around just encouraging to continue education," said Vickers, currently in his first full-time Sprint Cup season with MWR. "It's so hard for kids to understand this sometimes, how important a good education is to the rest of their life. I think, for my part, just to explain what I do, what I like, I'm very blessed to have this ferocious curiosity to continue to learn and I've always had that. It's just helped me in my career; it's helped me in my life in so many ways."
The program was designed with an emphasis on encouraging continued education in these areas, focusing on showing how they could eventually lead to a career in motorsports. But there was plenty to take away from the event, even if the participants had other interests in mind.
Brian Vickers (left), driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine in the Sprint Cup Series, and his crew chief Billy Scott spoke with teens at the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday. (Photos courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing)
"All the kids, I was really impressed, they all had their passions, which obviously you want to encourage," Vickers said. "Some of them want to go to art school, some to design school, some wanted to do engineering. Some of them were really into racing and like 'Wow, this is so amazing, I've always found racing so fascinating. I'd love to pursue my engineering degree and get into motorsports. How can I start?'
"I think the more that kids hear it from someone besides their parents, you know they tend to get to that age where anything their parents say is wrong, so it's good to hear it from someone else and hear it from people they see on TV and engineers making cars go fast. Fast cars are always kind of sexy, right? For them to spend time with all of the guys on the team and the mechanics and the engineers and stuff, I think it was good and I hope we made a difference in all of them, but even if we made a difference in one of them it was worth every minute.
Vickers will look to take some of that speed he shared with the teenagers of Birmingham and apply it 45 minutes east at the 2.66-mile Talladega. It's a track where he's had plenty of success in the past -- picking up the first Cup Series win of his career in 2006 back when he was driving a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet -- but hasn't raced at in a Cup ride since his last full-time season, three years and one car generation ago.
"Anytime you haven't been to a track in that long, you want to get your feet wet and get settled in, but I think if I hadn't been in the sport so long I'd be more concerned about it. I've been in NASCAR now, including the Nationwide Series, for 12 years on and off. Taking time off and being away from some race tracks we're going to is not good, but I think if you've done something for over a decade it's not devastating either. We should be able to get back in the saddle pretty quick this weekend.
If Vickers is able to scrape together a successful weekend at Talladega, it'll continue an unprecedented start to 2014 that already sees him 10th in points, with a top-five finish at Texas Motor Speedway and another two top-10s (Bristol, Fontana).
It's a continuation of a successful 2013 campaign that saw him pick up his third career win at New Hampshire driving part-time for MWR. He's even led more laps than teammate Clint Bowyer thus far this season, and feels he and his No. 55 team are close to picking up a win soon and notching a provisional Chase spot.
Friday's early practice didn't go extraordinarily well for the 55 team, seeing Vickers place 23rd on the charts with a best speed of 197.990 mph, but that's something he isn't worried about.
"We haven't always unloaded with a fast car; some weekends we've been way off when we unload. But Billy and the guys have just done a phenomenal job just taking a car that we weren't happy with on Friday and by the end of the race, we're one of the fastest cars, if not the fastest car on the race track the last two runs of the race.
"I think what's working is this 'never give up' attitude of the Aaron's Dream Machine team. They've just done such a good job. We've had some really fast cars this year, we've had some bad luck, blown some tires a couple times, got caught up in The Big One at Daytona, but no one ever gave up. Even when we've had bad races and blown tires or gotten in wrecks, the team got the car fixed and salvaged a decent finish. I'm really proud of where we are as a company and as a team. We're not a dynasty yet; we've got a long way to go but we're on the right trajectory and I'm proud of it."