Much like Hansel was way back in 2001, electric vehicles (EV) are so hot right now. Super hot. Occasionally on fire, even. Which, as it turns out, is just a little too hot for an already-hot place like Texas Motor Speedway.
The track, which hosts an event every Friday called Friday Night Drags, has banned the use of EVs at the event, highlighting concerns over battery fires and safely combating them.
The decision isn’t totally unwarranted—a series of battery fires resulting from crashes and others that have seemingly occurred out of nowhere have made headlines in recent months, stoking fears among members of the public.
There’s no definitive evidence suggesting that a vehicle with a battery electric powertrain is more likely to go up in flames than one with a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE). According to some statistics, including Tesla’s own data, EV fires may even be less likely. But the frequency of battery fires is not the primary reason behind the ban.
Rather, according to Texas Motor Speedway, it has more to do with the ability to extinguish an electric battery fire. David Hart, Texas Motor Speedway’s vice president of public relations, addressed the ban in a statement to Teslarati:
“The reason for the exclusion is, in the event of a crash and possible resulting fire, our emergency vehicles currently do not carry the specific equipment required to suppress EV fires. As I’m sure you’re aware, conventional extinguishers are of no use in fighting lithium-ion battery fires.”— David Hart, in an interview with Teslarati
Combating an EV battery fire is more challenging than an ICE powertrain fire, and most fire departments are less prepared to deal with them.
When damaged, the lithium-ion cells found in EV batteries are prone to thermal runaway, a phenomenon in which a cell’s temperature rapidly increases and triggers the same reaction in neighboring cells. First responders have found that foam and other chemicals used to combat fires in ICE vehicles are ineffective in combatting EV fires, leading to the adoption of new methods.
Complicating matters further is the fact that EV batteries can easily re-ignite a day or more following the initial fire. The risk is so high that one of the most popular procedures used to prevent re-ignition involves completely submerging the vehicle in a vat of water.
In spite of the documented risks, there are those who believe that Texas Motor Speedway’s decision has less to do with fire control and more to do with competition control. Commenters on the Teslarati article announcing the ban suggested that the real reason behind it is that ICE cars are losing to EVs in 1/8-mile straight line races.
Regardless of Texas Motor Speedway’s motivations, the recent success of EVs in drag racing is undeniable. Earlier this year, a Tesla Model 3 Performance went head-to-head against a Ferrari 458 and won. Even more recently, racing legend Don Garlits broke another drag-racing speed record in his Swamp Rat 38 electric dragster.