- Edmunds.com has learned exclusively that Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, will enter the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015.
- A formal announcement will be made April 7 at the NASCAR STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
- Tesla will field a two-car team sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Duracell.
PALO ALTO, California, April 1, 2013 — A formal announcement will be made April 7 at the NASCAR STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but Edmunds has learned exclusively that Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, will enter the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015.
Paul Ryan, spokesman for the Tesla Racing initiative, confirmed that the long-rumored program is moving forward, pending an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy, which is committing to a three-year, $62 million deal that will allow Tesla to develop the racecar, and for sponsorship on one of the two Tesla racers.
Ryan said the other car in the stable will be sponsored by Duracell, and will be called the Copper-Top Tesla. NASCAR fans will appreciate its paint scheme, which pays homage to the Pontiac that Fireball Roberts drove to victory in the 1962 Daytona 500.
Ryan has promised Edmunds a test of the car upon development.
Industry sources suggest that the reveal was supposed to take place one week later, at the NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway, but with the announcement that the National Rifle Association would be the title sponsor of that race, the federal government decided to move the announcement to Martinsville. "We aren't sure how many fans would be friendly toward alternative energy at an event sponsored by the NRA," said the source, "and we have to assume a large percentage of them will be armed."
Under the supervision of Tesla's in-house engineering team, Lidocad-daleoxide battery technology is being developed specifically for the racecars at a Czechoslovakian research facility, Blázen Dubna, Ltd. It will work like this: A battery pack than can easily be lifted by two husky crewmen will slide into a compartment in the Tesla's trunk, located close to where the conventional fuel cell is now. When the battery begins to run low, the driver will pit for a new battery. Software will make sure the car is able to maintain the maximum speed until the battery is 80 percent depleted, at which time the driver will pit. NASCAR is expected to allow Tesla a limited number of batteries per race, meaning the depleted batteries will go on the charger after the pit stop.
Former NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp, reached on the golf course, said that NASCAR is working with the DOE to develop training for emergency workers in the event of an accident, to make sure they have the skills and capability to handle the high voltage the Tesla will require. "We don't want one of our guys slicing through a cable to try and extricate a stuck driver and getting fried," Tharp observed. "That would not be good for anybody."
Officials said that the two-car Tesla team will run in 2015 as an experimental entry, ineligible for points or price money, then in 2016 the car becomes a full-fledged competitor. For the first time in recent history, NASCAR is allowing the Teslas to sport three-digit numbers: The DOE-backed car will be number 100, the Duracell car 101.
"Obviously, we're excited," said Tesla head Elon Musk. "The Tesla has been phenomenally, unanimously successful within our small and very sophisticated niche, but I knew that if we want to reach Larry Lunchbox, we need to be in NASCAR." Musk added that his research staff has actually located a NASCAR fan named Larry Lunchbox, who will wave the green flag over the 2015 Daytona 500.
Longtime NASCAR team owner and crew chief Ray Evernham is expected to spearhead the project, but that could not be confirmed.
Reportedly Evernham has already addressed one issue facing the Tesla racers, or any electric car: It will need to make noise, both for the crew's safety and the fans' enjoyment. Supposedly Evernham has already purchased a retired Dodge Charger from Penske Racing, and will record the sounds the engine makes on a chassis dyno, and the Teslas will broadcast that sound through tiny but powerful speakers developed by another partner in the project, Bose.
Said Musk: "As a boy growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, which is sort of the South African equivalent of Charlotte, North Carolina, I dreamed of someday being involved in NASCAR. I had a little model of Richard Petty's #43 on my nightstand. And now that the dream is so close to coming true — I almost have trouble believing any of it will actually happen."
Edmunds says: First Toyota, and now this.