NASCAR stands for the National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing. In the early days of NASCAR racing drivers literally drove the family car to the track, let the family out, and raced the car with no helmet or safety gear and usually wearing a t-shirt and jeans. If the driver had a wreck he might not have a ride home.
Much has changed since those early days. Today drivers are required to wear fire suits, helmets, gloves, and safety gear before being allowed to race.
The cars are no longer any resemblance of those original stock cars. Every part of a NASCAR race car is custom made by the race teams themselves or purchased from someone who specializes in the part required. Cars must pass an inspection by NASCAR officials before being allowed on the race track.
In recent years NASCAR officials have made rules to help the racing teams save money – it can cost 10 to 15 million dollars each season to maintain a racing team in Sprint Cup.
Sprint Cup is similar to the major league in racing. There is also the Nationwide Series, the ARCA series, and regional and local tracks. The trucks also have their own series called the Camping World Truck Series (previously the Craftsman Truck Series).
All racing has risen in popularity over the past several years, but it is the Sprint Cup that draws the most attention. There are 36 races in a season. Only the All-Star race does not earn a driver points. Drivers collect points for their position in each race and at the end of a season a winner is crowned the champion.
Tracks are divided into two categories short track and super speedway. Short tracks are anything less than one mile in length. The super speedways are all over one mile. There are two tracks that are consistently referred to as a super speedway and they are at Daytona and Talladega. These tracks are also known as restrictor plate tracks. Daytona – which is the home of the Daytona 500 (the biggest and first race of the season) and the race in July formerly called the Firecracker 400 – is 2.5 miles in length. Talladega – which is also the home of two races – is 2.66 miles in length. Speeds on both of these tracks can easily exceed 200 miles per hour so NASCAR has developed a restrictor plate which restricts the air flow allowed into the carburetor. By restricting the air flow the speed of the car is slowed down. Fans and racers also call these restrictor plate tracks and restrictor plate races.
Drivers often talk about drafting and bump drafting. Drafting is when a driver will come right up behind the car in front of him. This action causes both cars to go faster. Once the first driver “cuts a hole in the air” succeeding cars who are right on the bumper can move faster. Bump drafting is similar except the driver behind actually nudges or bumps the driver in front to help him move faster. If a driver is bumped too hard or while turning in a corner the cars can wreck.
Drivers do work together with fellow team mates or close friends but one the checkered flag is in sight it’s “every man for himself” with no help.
There are 43 cars in each race. Starting positions are determined by qualifying – a process where drivers race against the clock to see who is fastest. The driver who is fastest receives the pole position.
While the driver is responsible for what takes place on the track itself during a race, he has a pit crew who services his car – putting on tires and filling it with fuel, and repairing the car in case of a wreck – and a spotter who keeps him apprised of what’s happening around the driver on the track. With all of the safety equipment installed in the cars and on the drivers visibility is nearly non existent; as a result, drivers need a set of eyes stationed above the track to help them out.
Race fans see race weekend as much more than just a race but a place to gather with friends and root for their favourite drivers. Many race fans go from track to track using RV’s and set up camp in the track infield. Unlike a tailgate party before a football game, racers tailgate the entire weekend – before, during, and after the race.
For the avid race fan, following their favourite driver is more than just being a fan, it’s a way of life.