There are several books on the market that explain the laws of physics by grounding them in familiar settings. Looking around my office, I see titles like Physics of Baseball, Physics of Golf, and The Physics of Christmas. To that list we may add Fast Car Physics, which is a deep romp through physics as it is applied to auto racing.
One difference between this book and some other recent works is that this is not obviously a book for newcomers to the non-physics subject. The first chapter jumps in with the question “How should a driver select shift points when racing?”, and explores the region between 4000 and 7000 rpm in a search for an answer. Subsequent chapters take on the challenges involved in road racing and the intricacies of steering and suspension; the detail involved here is far beyond what the average driver thinks of as “fast”. With that in mind, the book functions well as a deep look into auto racing as well as a good description of applied physics.
The author, a physics professor at the Naval Academy and an experienced Sports Car Club of America driver, is well-positioned to describe the subject, and does so in a very engaging manner. The text rewards close reading without skimping on mathematical sophistication — a multiple integral makes an appearance on page 100 — and provides genuine insight into the simple laws that govern the complex behavior of a high-performance race car.
Mark Bollman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate professor of mathematics at Albion College in Michigan. His mathematical interests include number theory, probability, and geometry. His claim to be the only Project NExT fellow (Forest dot, 2002) who has taught both English composition and organic chemistry to college students has not, to his knowledge, been successfully contradicted. If it ever is, he is sure that his experience teaching introductory geology will break the deadlock.