BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — NASCAR driver Brian Vickers is an avid reader and science buff who subscribes to "Scientific American" on his tablet. Crew chief Billy Scott went back to school in his mid-20s to finish his degree in mechanical engineering.
Vickers, Scott and other crew members gave several dozen Birmingham teens at the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club a tutorial Wednesday on the "Science of Speed," stressing how important technology, science, math and engineering are in their field and others.
Vickers is hoping the love for science and math proves contagious.
"If we can change the life of just one of these kids and start them down the path of a math, science, technology or engineering degree, it will dramatically change their life," Vickers said before the event. "That's really cool to me.
"To think that 20 years from now, they could be an engineer maybe building something that I hopefully could use, something really cool, making a great life for themselves. Changing the world and bettering this country because they were intrigued about math and science because we showed up here one day and talked to them about it. That's cool."
Michael Waltrip Racing specialists Kevin White (tires), Jeremy Sharpley (shocks) and David Cropps (safety/interior mechanics) fielded questions about their areas of expertise at stations around the room. Then the kids posed with the crew around a NASCAR pace car.
Decardious Harris, 13, asked Scott, "How come the car has no doors?"
Answer: It's about aerodynamics, safety, and the rules.
Mikhail Smith, 15, wanted to know how it feels to drive that fast?
"Going 200 miles an hour, that is like four times as fast as you can go on the highway," Vickers answered. "It's an incredible rush."
High school freshman Alex Slaughter, 15, said he was already a fan of NASCAR — and math and science — before the session.
"It opens your eyes more to what's really happening behind the wheel, with the pit screw and stuff," said Slaughter, an aspiring cardio thoracic surgeon. "It was really amazing."
Vickers told the youngsters about some of the behind the scenes work that goes on with some 200 employees at the race shop, including about 40 engineers.
He also stressed that his parents wouldn't let him race "if I didn't have straight A's."
Vickers said he still reads 3-4 hours a day. Among his interests: particle physics and quantum mechanics.
"I was kind of weirdly excited about the Higgs boson discovery," said Vickers, referring to a subatomic particle scientists detected in 2012. "Like, why would I care? I just find that stuff fascinating.
"NASA always fascinated me. If it wasn't for motorsports, there's a very good chance that's where I probably would have ended up."
Scott, who finished his degree at North Carolina-Charlotte in 2005, said he had an idea of the technical aspect of racing because he started on three-wheelers at age 5. He said he jumped at the chance to share that significance with the kids
"It's hard to put it in perspective for someone who has no idea, who's never been exposed to it and doesn't know what goes into it," he said. "That's kind of cool."
Scott said Vickers' interest in engineering is evident in the day to day operations.
"He is pretty engineering driven," Scott said. "He understands a lot of it. He's always been very interested in what the computer says, how we come about our analysis. He'll even make sure you're not getting stuck on a narrow-minded path. He'll ask questions about the technical side of it, like 'Are you guys have thought about it this way?'"
Race title sponsor Aaron's helped put on the event and announced a $1 million contribution to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's national teen leadership program.