More than mere speed

Neil deGrasse Tyson, introducing Car and Driver’s Speed Issue for 2014:

What we really seek are rapid changes in our speed. Those who recite the fast-lane mantra “I feel the need for speed” almost surely instead mean “I can’t wait to accelerate.”

People who like the feel of going fast prefer a stiff suspension because it allows you to “feel the road,” which is driver’s code for feeling all the abrupt disruptions to what would otherwise be a smooth and steady ride.

In the formal language of physics, we go a step further: Acceleration is not only a change in speed (up or down) but also a change in direction. That’s why going around tight turns — especially banked turns — is vastly more fun than driving in a straight line. That’s why the most-fun roller coasters are not the ones that go fast, but the ones that flip, twist and turn you incessantly.

Two or three months from now, we’ll see a couple of letters from drag-strip fans who question that “change in direction” line. (Sorry, guys: acceleration is a vector quantity, with both magnitude and direction.) Then again, what can you say about someone whose fun is over in 16 seconds or less?


  1. Charles Pergiel »

    14 July 2014 · 2:43 am

    I think dragsters are down below six seconds now. Or maybe even four.

  2. CGHill »

    14 July 2014 · 8:51 am

    A Pittsboro, Indiana chap named Antron Brown drove one of Don Schumacher’s Top Fuel cars 0.25 mile in 3.701 seconds in the fall of 2012.

    I used 16 seconds as my benchmark because that’s about the best I’d get out of my car.

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