That was the message professor Diandra Leslie-Pelecky shared Friday with more than 600 middle school students from throughout San Bernardino County during Mathematics and Science Day at Auto Club Speedway.
"That car at 180 miles per hour has the same kinetic energy as 2.2 pounds of TNT," Leslie-Pelecky said.
Leslie-Pelecky joined local educators and representatives from the Speedway in putting on the event, which featured NASCAR-themed films, lectures and labs that focused on the physics of racing.
"There's a lot of schooling behind those cars, and I hope you see the excitement in that as well," said San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Gary Thomas during a speech to open the event.
The students formed crews that conducted force-height experiments, as well as labs where they learned about mass, velocity and distance related to friction.
Miguel Linares, an eighth-grader from Ranchero Middle School in the Hesperia Unified School District, worked with classmates to measure distance and time as they pushed a racing tire off ramps of various surfaces.
The tires themselves impressed Linares as much as how they reacted to the surfaces.
"The tires are big," Linares said. "I've never seen tires that big before."
Leslie-Pelecky, who earned undergraduate degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of North Texas, and a doctorate in condensed matter physics from Michigan State University, said she became interested in the science of racing after she happened to see a televised crash.
The crash seemingly didn't have a cause, which inspired Leslie-Pelecky to contact racing professionals to learn more about the sport.
Leslie-Pelecky said that kind of curiosity comes naturally to physicists.
"When we see something and don't understand it, it drives us nuts," she said.