Jeff Gordon needs no introduction. In his racing career, he’s won too many titles to name and has become an ambassador of sorts for the sport, becoming a household name and helping NASCAR reach a wider audience. Gordon has accumulated a vast knowledge of automobiles over the years, and now he’s looking to share it.
In no other sport do people work so closely with machines. In his time, Gordon has seen technology grow by leaps and bounds. He’s seen safer barriers and head-and-neck support devices make racing cars safer, but what’s really impressed him is the way our day-to-day driving has changed.
Expanding vehicle intelligence
“I don’t know what I’d do without a back-up camera and all the sensors that are on cars these days,” Gordon explains. “I bought a go-kart for my son recently. It’s connected to an app where you can control the speed, the perimeter… it’ll even stop if it detects an object in front of it.”
When it comes to smart vehicles, though, Gordon is particularly excited about what self-driving cars could do for our roads.
“If you had a vehicle that could read when a car was slowing down so everyone slows down together and everyone accelerates together, the amount of traffic it would eliminate would be amazing,” he hypothesizes. “In a racecar, you talk about the domino effect in accidents… if you could read what the other person is doing and react to it at the exact same time that they are, think of the advantage that creates.”
As smart as our cars have gotten, Gordon stresses that sensors and cameras are still no substitute for driver attention.
“The biggest [vehicle] risk today is distraction,” he affirms. “We’re just so used to accessing our phone for information on a constant basis… Taking your eyes off the road is the most dangerous thing there is. All it takes is somebody to step off the sidewalk or a car to stop abruptly in front of you. You take your eyes off the road for a split second and a major accident can happen.”
The human element
With technology growing at an exponential rate, there are likely things on the horizon that no one can imagine. But, Gordon offered us some insight on what lies ahead. “From a purely transportation standpoint, it’s going to be efficiency,” he says. “Battery technology is going to advance, and racing is going to fast-forward that. It forces things to advance more quickly. Fuel cells, hydrogen and continuing to improve solar technology — I see that advancing quickly into the future. Same thing with autonomous driving. I’ve heard about some manufacturers who are putting self-driving cars on a race track and comparing it to the inputs of an actual driver.”
A large part of this is the way new technology is presented to the public. Getting the consumer interested, Gordon explains, is the best way to build support for new technology.
“Look at Tesla — the way they’ve advanced the battery technology in the electric car industry,” he says. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t think you’d see other manufacturers start to push this, because of what they’ve already invested in gas-powered technology”
But no matter how much technology changes our vehicles, Gordon knows that there’s one thing that can never be replaced, at least in the racing world: the human element.
“The thing that’s as fascinating as the actual on-track racing is the personality,” says Gordon, who now gets to enjoy the drama from the announcer’s booth. “The emotion, the agony of defeat, as they say, and the thrill of victory. That needs a personal element.”
Dash Lunde, [email protected]