A NASCAR driver used a desperate, last-minute physics trick in order to beat several other cars to the finish line. The risky move saw Ross Chastain move up five places by – and we can't stress enough that we are not messing with you here – driving the car along the wall like he was in Mario Kart.
Using the move, which he told interviewers he saw in a videogame, he was able to go from tenth place to fifth, and put on one hell of a show for the audience.
Chastain says that he picked up the move from an old GameCube game, but not Mario Kart Double Dash.
"[I] played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with [my younger brother] Chad growing up," he said in a post-race interview. "You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work."
"I mean, I did that when I was eight years old. I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of two on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn't tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn't catch the turn four access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it."
The trick works in video games and apparently real life, if you are not worried about things like tearing your car to shreds. But why?
Well, during a normal race you (a boring person who is unwilling to ram the walls) rely on the friction between your tires and the road to create a "centripetal force" and turn the car. If the track is sloped towards the inner curve, this will also help, but let's not complicate things too much by going into that.
The force necessary to keep you moving along in a circular motion is equal to your mass times your velocity squared, divided by the radius of the imaginary circle you are making (F = m v2/r). If your force is too low, you will spiral out of the circle, either making a much larger circle or crashing into a wall.
As mentioned earlier, the force is created by the friction between your tires and the track, which is fine for most road users but not for anybody who wishes to take a corner at insane speeds to win a race without flying off the track. Fortunately, there are several ways to make this centripetal force (and thus turning) achievable, as you have probably already spotted in the equation. You can decrease your acceleration (as most drivers do), start losing mass very quickly (like throwing out car seats as if you are on Wacky Races) or take the corner wider.
Slowing as they go around the corner is what most drivers did in the race, but Chastain chose secret option number three: add more turning force that isn't coming from the friction between the tires and the track. He uses the force of the wall to turn the car.
Of course, the wall applied friction to the car too, which would have had a slowing effect, but not enough to compensate for the time he gained by being able to take the corner at much higher velocity than he would have done using conventional turning alone. Damage to his car, though the above videos show it was immediately damaged, was not enough to put him out of the race on this final lap.
The extra places he gained through physics (and playing just the right amount of videogames as a child) allowed him to qualify for the NASCAR championship.