NASCAR racer embraces self-driving tech
Landauer: Seeks a balance
DETROIT — As a NASCAR driver and Stanford University graduate, 25-year-old Julia Landauer is determined to find a way for the workingman’s sport to incorporate new technologies that have captivated Silicon Valley.
But she acknowledges that autonomous-drive technologies face a tough sell with NASCAR.
NASCAR executives “have this commitment to the integrity of the sport,” Landauer said last week at SAE International’s World Congress Experience here. “How do we balance that with cutting-edge technology that young fans want to see?”
The notion of self-driving vehicles has captured the public imagination and automakers are speeding forward to bring the sophisticated new technologies to market. But this has left NASCAR — the embodiment of American mass-market car culture — defending the merits of the sport as is.
Last year, when the organization incorporated digital dash displays into race vehicles to make it easier for drivers to access crucial information, one executive emphasized that the line stops at automation.
“We want the driver to drive the car,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, in a company release. “That’s our history, and that’s the way we want to keep it.”
Falling TV ratings and dwindling attendance at live races have complicated the debate around innovation in the sport.
Landauer, who started out racing go-karts as a 10-year-old, has carved a role for herself as the voice of the future. She is taking on a historically male sport, and was selected as an honoree in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 feature in 2017.
She also has done a stint as a cast member of the reality TV show “Survivor.”
In addressing last week’s audience of global automotive engineers, she championed the incorporation of autonomous technology into the racing experience.
Her ideas include many that are seemingly nonthreatening, such as automating the pace car, automating the shuttles that transport fans to and from the track, and using new connected technologies to speed maintenance checks during races.
But ultimately, she said, the goal should be to excite fans around new technology.
“Racing is a way to showcase what the auto industry is doing,” Landauer said. “We’re in that crucial time where that might get harder and harder because there is a bigger gap between what we’re racing and what we’re selling.”