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NASCAR Lovers:
Start Your Engines


Merging his life-long love of cars and racing and a classroom of fourth graders, teacher Tom Stock created a winning learning combination.


"It seems odd to most people that a teacher like me would be dressed in ripped jeans and covered in dirt and oil at the local racetrack," reports Tom Stock, "but Ive always loved racing. My father took me as a kid to see the races on Saturday nights."

Students posed with two stock car drivers during the projects culminating event.

Cars always have played an important role in the life of Stock, a fourth grade teacher from Patchogue, New York. His father restored classic cars as a hobby, so unique automobiles were a fixture at his childhood home. And when his dad began to race at nearby Riverhead Raceway, Stock became a devoted NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) fan. Even his surname says "racing!"

Chatting with students in his fourth grade classroom at Medford Elementary School, Stock was surprised by the number of kids in his class who shared this interest. That discovery and the experience of working as a member of his father's pit crew inspired him to create a classroom activity entitled Start Your Engines.

"In the first lesson, we discussed what we could learn about people from how they dress, who they hang with, what they do, and how they behave. We examined a picture of a person and made guesses about the individual -- such as age, vocation, economic status -- just by looking at him," explained Stock. "Although it is not an exact science, we were able to guess a little about the individual's likes and dislikes."

Next, Stock shared a PowerPoint presentation about NASCAR teams and designs. Students listed what they were able to determine about the drivers based on the appearance of their cars. They then were introduced to the most important task of the "Start Your Engines" activity -- designing an original NASCAR car.

Drivers Scott Maliszewski (left) and Thomas Stock (center) signed autographs.

"The students had to design cars that illustrated something about them. They accomplished that by picking a major sponsor for their racecars, a color scheme, and a number," Stock told Education World. "The students also presented their cars to the class, and, to complete the task, they wrote a paragraph about how their cars represented them." Every student got to sit behind the wheel of a real race car.

Stock found car graphic planning kits (templates) for students and an interactive Web site to assist them with design. Students also used a car-designing screen from a PlayStation 2 NASCAR game. While students finished work on their personal NASCAR cars at home, the class continued with related engineering and science activities. One of those was creating a Puff-mobile.

"The object was to build a car that can be blown the longest distance with one breath of air. Materials included: 3 non-bending plastic drinking straws, 4 wintergreen Lifesavers candies, a piece of paper, 2 paper clips, masking tape, and scissors," Stock explained. "Students were arranged in groups of three and given one hour to complete the car. On the following day, all student-created and teacher-created puff-mobiles raced down the hallways of Medford Elementary. After several test runs for charting and measuring distances traveled, the races were on! The competition was fierce. When we got to the final few races, you could see the excitement in the children's faces -- the cheering, chanting, joy, and disappointment with the success (and failure) of each puff-mobile."

Students posed with two stock car drivers during the projects culminating event. As a culminating activity, two stock car racers -- Stock's father, Thomas and friend Scott Maliszewski -- paid a visit to the school with their cars. They discussed different sponsors advertised on the cars and how characteristics of the cars, including the number displayed on each, related to the driver. The drivers also pointed out the safety features of their cars and showed the equipment they wear, particularly stressing the importance of wearing a seatbelt.

Every student got to sit behind the wheel of a real race car.
Photos courtesy of Tom Stock.

"After students saw the cars and had an opportunity to sit inside one, they asked the drivers questions about the vehicles and about racing in general. The students received a photo of each car and, if they chose, an autograph from the driver," Stock reported.

Although the original number of NASCAR fans in the Long Island school of 600 students was impressive, their ranks only increased as a result of "Start Your Engines." Stock states that the activity eventually became the "talk of the town."

In his teaching, Stock finds that using sports and popular culture enables him to connect with as many students as possible. His students relish time to chat about things they love, like racing. Drivers Scott Maliszewski (left) and Thomas Stock (center) signed autographs.

"The students put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into their designs," Stock shared. "It very quickly went from being a boring classroom project to something they started to do in their spare time. I believe this project played a big part in the great beginning of a very successful school year."

More Racing Resources

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) provides many resources for teaching with activities related to racing.
* History of NASCAR
* NASCAR Glossary
* Point System
* 50 Greatest Drivers
* Anatomy of a Pit Stop
* Inside the Cockpit
* Track Jargon

Lessons and Activities
* My Dream Car: This lesson shares automobile history.
* Battery Operated Model Car Experiments: Calculate velocity and more.
* Future Car Teaching Guide: Construction of a balloon-powered racer.
* Recycled Racers: Build race cars made from discarded materials.