Newly-promoted NASCAR chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell confirmed to members of the media on Thursday that NASCAR is continuing to explore the possibility of adding an all-electric division to its racing portfolio, as the sport of stock car racing looks to the future of its competition and racing development relative to interest from both current and prospective automakers involved in the sport.
NASCAR’s exploratory interest in an all-electric series was first reported a year ago, as NASCAR was exploring the concept as a potential companion to the Cup Series. Speaking Thursday, O’Donnell framed the prospect of an all-electric division as an exhibition series that would complement existing racing technologies.
“There’s a huge push across all of our OEM partners and even new OEM partners. It’s important for us to explore that space,” O’Donnell said of electrification. “I think there’s a lot of interest from our current partners to be part of that. But we look at NASCAR as a place where, in an ideal world, it would be all things to all people. If you went to a NASCAR event weekend, you could see whatever types of technologies you wanted throughout a race weekend.”
As electrification becomes increasingly prevalent in the automotive industry, motorsports has begun to follow suit — most notably with Formula E, an all-electric division of open wheel racing that serves as a companion to Formula 1. In the face of that, NASCAR has been in an interesting place: while the Next Gen car represents a significant technological leap, stock car racing and its culture has generally held onto traditional and even dated technologies such as carburetor engines. For instance, fuel injection was not introduced to NASCAR until 2012, and the transmissions on Cup cars remain manual instead of automatic.
Despite the sport’s culture of traditionalism, O’Donnell mentioned that there is fan receptiveness to the idea of an all-electric series as well as other new technologies. And he stressed that ultimately, the end goal of featuring different automotive technologies would be to provide entertaining races for fans.
“Our fans actually are very open – which is surprising to some – about that technology and seeing how that would work within a NASCAR portfolio,” O’Donnell said. “And then there’s a lot of other technologies to explore too. Hydrogen, a lot of new things we could look at.
“But for us, the race has to be entertaining. Our fans, they love noise, they love the sound, the feel of racing. So if we’re gonna get into the electric space, I promise you it will be entertaining and it will be something that fits into our portfolio and something our fans will be proud of.”
Should an all-electric series get off the ground, it remains to be seen exactly what its place would be relative to NASCAR’s other touring series. Presently, NASCAR has three national touring series — Cup, Xfinity, and the Camping World Truck Series — and merged its East and West regional touring series with ARCA starting in 2019.