The Loh Down On Science

Crash Test

Is NASCAR the sport . . . of nerds?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

North American Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR, is crash-tastic! Conventional wisdom has long held that NASCAR’s huge TV popularity stems from the thrill of its high-performance cars, aggressive driving and, occasionally, smash-ups!

But John Solow, an economist at the University of Iowa, recently wondered: Statistically speaking, is that true?

So Solow and team pulled data from 135 NASCAR races. They examined statistics such as: crashes, track length, and whether NFL games were broadcast at the same time.

Then they created a mathematical formula measuring how those factors, uh, impacted each race's Nielsen TV ratings.

Turns out, wrecks indeed increased viewership. About six percent, per crash, per race! But they also found a surprise. Crashes mattered MORE prior to 2004. That’s the year NASCAR adopted a year-end, point-based championship tournament.

After that, crashes still mattered, but close point rankings mattered more.

Meaning: NASCAR dads? Closet stat geeks! Who knew?

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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