Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Man, that was something!

So there I am watching the Daytona 500 with two three friends. The cars are single file, under the yellow flag. When the green flag comes out, there will be just two final laps of racing. The sentimental favorite, the loved-by-everyone Mark Martin, driving the US Army car, is up front. He has never won this flagship event. Behind Martin is the Kellogg's car of Kyle Busch. Busch, less than half Martin's age, is generally despised by all. We all are pulling for Mark Martin. Everyone in the NASCAR universe is pulling for Martin.

I silently take note that my favorite driver, Kevin Harvick, in his red and yellow Shell/Pennzoil number 29, is about seventh on the restart. I'm hoping he can get a top-ten, but his car has been up and down all day.

And then a perfect storm occurs. Harvick goes outside first, and nobody in front of him does the smart thing, which would be to pull in front of him, to get pushed. As we cheer for Martin to hold off Busch, I alone, being the only Harvick fan present, keep one eye on Harvick coming on the outside. I'm thinking to myself: He just might win this thing! Kyle Busch finally realizes that he has no way around Martin unless he pulls up in front of the charging Harvick, but misjudging Harvick's speed, he waits too long, almost putting Harvick into the wall. Busch comes back down the track leaving Harvick and Martin in a race to the finish. Martin "gets loose" (wiggles) just a bit—and behind him Bush spins out causing a "big one." With cars crashing behind them, Harvick edges out Martin by 0.02 seconds.

One car (one of Harvick's teamates) crosses the finish line upside down and in flames. Unblelievable. What's not to like about NASCAR?

I was really excited but had to curb my enthusiasm because everyone who was not a Kevin Harvick fan was devastated that Martin, once again, came up short.

In fact, the NASCAR world went through some angst, with about half of it arguing that the yellow flag should have come out when the crashing started, which would have frozen the field and given the race to Martin. Nonsense—this understandable response is only because Martin was the driver in question. Had Harvick beaten Kyle Busch in the same manner, the NASCAR world would have been virtually unanimous in congratulating the officials for having the courage to let the race finish under green.

Man, it was something.

If you didn't see the ending, here it is.

Cool Physics Problem:

Suppose there is a hole through the center of the earth from the North Pole to the South Pole. Now suppose you fell in. Neglecting air resistance, assuming a spherical and uniform density earth, how long would it take to fall all the way through? How fast would you be going as you passed the center?

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