Automotive racing can be a perplexing sport, as the competitive aspects of it do not appear to test human faculties compared to most other professional-tier sports. However, its tremendous popularity certainly verify that it is an international phenomenon in sport-related entertainment. The facets of auto-racing that make it unique revolve around how it pits competitors against each other. In a simplistic sense, auto-racing is surprisingly akin to chess; both activities center on the performance of the individual, and that performance is measured against another’s will and patience. It also requires focus, mental stamina, and strategy above sheer physical endurance. The “mechanical” aspect of auto-racing is left to the vehicle itself. Interestingly enough, a prominent side effect of dividing up the psychological and the physical aspects of racing between man and machine is the impact it has on the rules of the sport. After all, if all of the “heavy-lifting” that accompanies a sport is to be handled by a machine, careful restrictions and regulations must be implemented to prevent significant advantages from being unfairly achieved and exploited, particularly in a professional environment. Thus, when it comes to stock car racing, it is not unexpected that the most critical rules often revolve around the vehicle, not the driver.
Fuel Tank Regulations
All stock cars are required to operate with a 22-gallon gasoline cell. Apart from the obvious reason of preventing any unfair advantage in size, this standard is strictly enforced to ensure strategic driving will contribute to a solid win. In day-to-day driving, optimum gas mileage is a nice thing, but most people don’t place much importance on it. When it comes to auto-racing, on the other hand, precise calculations on the weight and usage of gasoline are critical and often necessary for success. After all, fuel acts as more weight on a car chassis until it’s actually burned for energy, and the emptier a vehicle’s tank, the less power it requires for acceleration. The constant fluctuation between weight and thrust can be tricky to manage at breakneck speeds!
Engine Power and Attributes
Any engine used in NASCAR racing are equipped with (and required to boast) 8 cylinders and pose a considerably resilient frame; this is to ensure that it can respond to the strenuous demands not commonly found on civilian roadways. In recent years, the parameters of an acceptable racing engine have been seeing more restrictions. For example, the upper limit of engine capability, according to the official 2015 NASCAR news release, can no longer exceed 725 horsepower. Those in favor of this change hope that a reduction in engine power outputs will leave more up to the skills of those in the driver’s seat, and argue that as a professional sport, even racing should strive to put as much variability in the hands of the person competing.
The Safety Harness and “Roll Cage”
While the exterior of most NASCAR racing vehicles is adorned with the logos of sponsors, flashy accessories, and the racer’s signature number, the cockpit is a bit more neglected. Racing vehicles are not built to carry extra passengers and generally forgo the comforts and luxuries reserved for regular vehicles. However, one component of every NASCAR racer that is not found in any general-public models is a heavy-duty safety harness, which substitutes air bags and conventional seatbelts. The harness is designed to cradle the driver and, for obvious reasons, does not provide much wiggle-room. In addition to this fortified pilot seat, surrounding the main cabin of every racer is a “roll cage” – a skeletal frame, usually made of steel piping, which acts as a driver’s first line of defense in the event of a crash. The fast-paced, frantic nature of auto racing goes without saying, but all vehicles are designed as much for safety as they are for success.
Aside from the fuel tank, engine, and the framework of the car’s chassis, pretty much every other piece of automotive hardware in a racing vehicle is designed for two basic purposes: maximum drivability and minimum drawbacks. The shape and design elements of a NASCAR racing machine are designed to channel downforce – a specific type of kinetic force that effectively weighs the car into the ground without actually making it heavier. Downforce is a critical part of what keeps the aerodynamic powerhouses from flying out of control on the track. When harnessed stably, downforce can improve the handling of vehicles at higher speeds.