Math at Top Speed: Exploring Myths in Drag Racing Folklore

Primary tabs


Throughout his life, either as participant, support individual, or involved spectator, Richard Tapia has been involved in some aspect of drag racing. As such he has witnessed the birth and growth of many myths concerning dragster speed and acceleration.

In this talk, Professor Tapia will use his mathematical training to identify rather elementary mathematical frameworks for the study of a particular popular belief and then apply mathematics to better understand the belief at hand. In this manner, some myths are explained and validated while others are destroyed. Included in these examples will be attempts to determine how fast dragsters are really going, what is the maximum acceleration achieved, and what is the acceleration curve profile of today's dragsters? Professor Tapia will explain why dragster acceleration is greater than the acceleration due to gravity, an age-old inconsistency and present his "Fundamental Theorem of Drag Racing." The first part of the talk will be a historical account of the development of the sport of drag racing and will include shots of various family members. A component of the presentation will be several lively videos used to illustrate points.

Richard Tapia is a mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is internationally known for his research in the computational and mathematical sciences and is a national leader in education and outreach. Tapia has authored or co-authored two books and more than 100 mathematical research papers. Among his many honors, Tapia was the first Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Professor Tapia is recognized as a national leader in diversity and has delivered numerous invited addresses at national and international mathematics conferences, served on university diversity committees, and provided leadership at a national level. Two professional conferences have been named in his honor, recognizing his contributions to diversity: Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference and the Blackwell-Tapia Conference, whose founders described Tapia as a seminal figure who inspired a generation of African-American, Native American and Latino/Latina students to pursue careers in mathematics.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Jupiter
  • Created:10/12/2009
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016