Steve O’Donnell: NASCAR to ‘take a look’ at electric exhibition series

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Steve O’Donnell said Thursday NASCAR is “exploring some opportunities” to produce an exhibition series featuring electric cars.

O’Donnell, in a teleconference following his promotion as NASCAR’s chief operating officer, emphasized that Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota have all displayed significant interest in moving toward electric cars in competition.

“We are exploring some opportunities around an exhibition series in that space,” O’Donnell said. “And as everyone knows, there’s a huge push across all of our (original equipment manufacturer) partners, and even potentially new OEM partners. So it’s important for us to explore that space. I think there’s a lot of interest from our current partners to be part of that.”

Last year, 6.5 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide, according to research published in February from market research company Canalys. The report stated that was a 109% growth from 2020. Canalys’ research reported that the total global passenger car market grew 4% in 2021.

O’Donnell, who previously served as the sanctioning body’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, also noted NASCAR has no set timeline toward going fully electric. His hope is for both forms of motorsport to coexist as manufacturers look to exhibit their road technologies at the racetrack.

“We look at NASCAR as a place where, in an ideal world, we’ll be all things to all people,” O’Donnell said. “So if you went to a NASCAR event weekend, you could see whatever type of technologies you wanted throughout a race weekend.”

O’Donnell also noted NASCAR fans are “very open, which is surprising to some” in regards to going electric. Other power sources, like hydrogen, are being looked at by NASCAR executives as well.

“But for us, the race has to be entertaining,” O’Donnell said. “Our fans, they love noise. They love the sound, the feel of racing. So if we’re going to get into the electric space, I promise you, it will be entertaining, and it’ll be something that fits into our portfolio and something our fans will be proud of.”

Talks of moving to a hybrid model with the current Next Gen car are also in play. Ahead of the 2021 Daytona 500, one year before of the Next Gen’s debut, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said he “would be surprised if a new OEM came in without some type of electrification.”

“I’m not talking about all-electric. I’m talking about a hybrid system,” he continued. “I think it’s something, obviously something that we’re exploring now with our existing three OEMs. The question is, what is it? What’s the timing of it?”

The Next Gen car is built with both hybrid and electric capabilities in mind. NASCAR has yet to announce any concrete timeline to take the necessary steps to shift away from its traditional gas-powered power supplies.