BOONE, N.C. – Educators are betting on NASCAR’s popularity to help boost an interest in science and math and promote healthy lifestyles among 7th and 8th grade students in the Charlotte and Kannapolis areas and surrounding Piedmont counties.

The project, funded by a $300,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, is collaboration among the N.C. Biotechnology Center, Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab on the N.C. Research Campus (NCRC), North Carolina Motorsports Association (NCMA), Discovery Place in Charlotte, and UNC Charlotte’s motorsports engineering program.

The collaborators are providing in-kind support that equals the Golden LEAF grant.

A total of 50 teachers and 1,500 students will participate in the project that will use NASCAR pit crew activities as the catalyst to help under-represented middle-school students become more involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning.

Appalachian’s Human Performance Lab (HPL), a program of the College of Health Sciences, will provide physical fitness testing and counseling to the teachers and students similar to what HPL personnel have been doing with NASCAR pits crews.

Dr. David Nieman, professor of Health Promotion at ASU’s Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science, said through experience with Hendrick Motorsports, he has discovered what’s important for pit crews in terms of physical fitness.

“Carrying too much fat has been the top problem affecting pit crew fitness and speed along with the need to boost endurance and efficient oxygen use, also known as aerobic power,” said Nieman. “Knowing that can also translate to what’s important for the students. If we can instill a love of fitness and health in 1,500 kids in this area, that can multiple to their families and school systems, and help lot of people turn the corner on fitness.”

A “boot camp” will be held at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College classroom and laboratory at the NCRC in July to test the participating teachers’ physical fitness and train them on the different STEM models being developed by Discovery Place that will be incorporated in the classroom.

At the end of the boot camp, teachers will compete in a pit crew challenge to reinforce the curriculum with the assistance of an NCMA member and a NASCAR pit crew team. They will begin implementing the project at their respective schools in August.

In addition to focusing on healthy diets and physical activity, students will learn the science behind motorsports, such as aerodynamics and Newton’s law of motion, and compete in their own pit-crew challenge using a training apparatus they will build to simulate changing tires, pushing a car, jacking up a car, and filling it with fuel.

The project is being coordinated by Marjorie Benbow, executive director of the N.C. Biotechnology Center’s Greater Charlotte office.

“Motorsports and biotechnology combined represent more than a $70 billion economic impact, including more than 250,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state – jobs that require individuals who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math,” Benbow said. “Increasing students’ interests and proficiency in science and math through the lure and tradition of motorsports may help address the state’s urgent need for a professional workforce skilled in science and biotechnology.”

Founded in 1984 by the legislature as a private not-for-profit, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s (NCBC) mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina through support of biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.

The center has provided annual professional development workshops for teachers since 1987.

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.