You need to login before you download the free activities. You can register here.


High Speed Smash

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Interactive teaching
Topic: Forces

Richard Hammond was lucky to survive the 300 m.p.h. crash that nearly ended his career. He was testing a record-breaking dragster. At this high speed his safety helmet couldn't protect him. According to his doctors, the brain damage he suffered could take six months to heal. But what makes some cars reach such dangerous speeds. In this activity students consider balanced and unbalanced forces and their effect on the dragsters motion.

Published: 29th September 2006
Reviews & Comments: 14

Learning objectives

Students will describe how the relative sizes of drag and thrust affect motion.

Try the activity

Please login to download activities

7K Forces and their effect
use the concept of speed
relate forces acting to changes in motion
identify situations in which forces are balanced and unbalanced
9K Speeding up
Consider the relationship between forces (including balanced forces) on an object, and its movement.

Running the activity

Page 1 prompts students to discuss what makes some cars faster. Page 2 shows Hammond's dragster accelerating, covering half a mile at constant speed, and grinding to a halt after it swerved off the tarmac. Students arrange arrows to show the drag and thrust at each stage of the run. Then they use the sizes of the forces to explain the dragster's motion.

Background Notes
A dragster built by JCB broke its own diesel land speed record by reaching a speed of 350.092 m.p.h. (563.418km/h) during two runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA. Its predicted top speed is 370 m.p.h. (595 km/h). Presenter Richard Hammond was testing the car for TV's Top Gear – a program that has been criticised in the past for glorifying the pursuit of speed. He was euphoric after several successful high speed runs before the final one of the day ended so disastrously.

News links

The news story of Richard Hammond's tragic accident.
University of Cambridge
Flash animations to explain the effects of unbalanced forces.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Jun 17th, 2015

3 Star

Students expect interactive websites.
the data on the acceleration of the vehicle is good. It can be used to discuss unbalanced forces.

Reviewer: Anna Tait

Not EAL friendly

Oct 22nd, 2012

3 Star

Looks good for smart english speaking classes but my EAL class would struggle

Reviewer: Steven Morrissey


Sep 3rd, 2012

5 Star

A great way to check pupils understanding of thrust and drag.

Reviewer: Lauren Hutchings

Forces -High Speed Smash

Jan 12th, 2012

4 Star

The first down load I have done from this site and I am impressed. Students will enjoy it. being in Australia does mean we have to convert mph to km/h but it is also good for the students to know that different parts of the world use different measurements -opens up a whole new discussion. I did not check if I could access the original report. very new but am looking forward to more learning.

Reviewer: Jane van der Wethuizen


Jan 17th, 2010

5 Star

this is a good website for me and its very useful. It gives me a lot of help in physics, biology and chemistry. I'm doing physics and chemistry and so I love physics. Thanks apd8

Reviewer: piranavan satheesh


Aug 14th, 2009

4 Star

The flash animation was good and the children enjoyed the topic as they knew the presenter. Afterwards we looked up the actual crash on youtube and that helped too.

Reviewer: heather Duerre


Feb 25th, 2009

5 Star

worked really well with a year 7 class a good story behind the learning which enthused and excited the students.

Reviewer: ibrar zaman

High Speed Smash

Jan 20th, 2009

4 Star

Good for a number of topics.

Very good for P2 but also to extend very able students at KS3. If done as research project at KS3 studnets get quite enthused by this. Show You tube of accidnet.

Reviewer: James Mitchell

High Speed Smash review

Jan 19th, 2009

3 Star

worked well to encourage independent working. Even worked as a starting topic with a L6 physics group

Reviewer: Catherine Aspinall

Year 8 forces

Sep 26th, 2008

5 Star

I used this activity with top set year 8 and they loved it, The fact that it was based on a real event really appealed to them and they understood extactly what to do with the activity. This is probably a little simplistic for a top set group but can be easily extended by discussing streamlining and thrust. Will definately use this activity again.

Reviewer: Emma Whelan

High Speed Smash review

Nov 2nd, 2007

4 Star

worked well with year 7 forces wenbt on to design their own dragsters

Reviewer: colin white


Apr 23rd, 2007

5 Star

Used your 'Richard Hammond crash activity' for an interivew. The pupils loved it and the observers were incredibly impressed. Got the job too! Many thanks and keep up the great work!

Reviewer: Phil Day

High speed smash with year 9

Nov 12th, 2006

5 Star

Ran this activity with my challenging year 9 group who are just coming to the end of the speeding up unit. Worked exceedingly well in stimulating them and reinforcing the idea of balanced / unbalance forces . The activity prompted some interesting discussion about cars being designed to go so fast when speed limits are what they are ! Excellent.

Reviewer: Pauline Elston


Oct 26th, 2006

2 Star

Some basic physics about balanced forces covered well, but there are some misconceptions about the "streamlined" shape of a dragster. A dragster has a high drag coefficient; necessary to keep it on the ground and generate enough friction at the huge back wheels, not as described on the worksheet.

Reviewer: Ben Ryder