The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the largest sanctioning body of motorsports in the United States. It was co-founded by William France Sr. and Ed Otto in 1948 in the USA. Officially incorporated on February 21, its purpose was to organize and promote the sport of stock car racing. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the Nextel Cup, Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series.
Despite its regional beginnings as Southern entertainment, NASCAR is now the second most popular professional spectator sport in the entire U.S., behind only the National Football League.
However, North Carolina has been deemed "NASCAR Valley" as 73% of all American motorsports employees work in North Carolina (this includes other motorsports series such as CART and ARCA). The majority of NASCAR teams are located in or near the Charlotte-metro area. Cities in North Carolina that are home to NASCAR teams include: Charlotte, Wilkesboro, Mooresville, Concord, Statesville, Huntersville, Welcome, Kernersville, Randleman, Greensboro, and High Point. Specifically, 82% of Nextel Cup teams, 72% of Busch Series teams, and 55% of Craftsman Truck Series teams are based in North Carolina. Michigan, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee also host teams. The majority of NASCAR drivers maintain their primary residences near Charlotte.
Many early racing drivers were involved in bootlegging, the illegal transportation of alcohol. The drivers would modify their cars in order to create a faster more maneuverable car. It was a logical step for the owners of these cars to race them. These races were popular entertainment in the rural South, and they are most closely associated with the Wilkes County region of North Carolina.
Most races in those days were of "modified" cars, street vehicles which were lightened and reinforced. William France, Sr. had the notion that people would enjoy watching unmodified, "stock" cars racing and promoted a few races before WW II. In 1947, he decided that this racing would not grow without a formal sanctioning organization, standardized rules, a regular schedule, and an organized championship. This led to the formation of NASCAR in 1948. The first NASCAR race ever was held at the old Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949. (This is not the same speedway as Lowe's Motor Speedway that is near Charlotte).
Initially the cars were known as the "Strictly Stock" Division and raced with virtually no modifications from the factory models. This division was renamed "Grand National" in 1950. However, over a period of about a dozen years, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s the vehicles were purpose-built racecars with a stock-appearing body.
Most races were on half-mile to one mile (800 to 1600 m) oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina in 1950. This track, at 1.38 miles (2220 m), was wider, faster, and higher-banked than the racers had seen. The famous Daytona, Florida race used a two mile (3 km) stretch of the beach as one straightaway and the beachfront highway as the other, prior to the construction in 1959 of the Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5 mile (4 km) high-banked track that became the icon of the sport.
Growth of the sport
The sport began to attract more attention through the 1950s as manufacturers realized the opportunity to promote sales through racing. At various times Ford Motor Company (Ford and Mercury), General Motors (Chevrolet and Pontiac), and Chrysler (Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth), all supported factory teams, openly and sometimes covertly when they pretended "not to be involved in racing". The teams became full-time jobs for the top drivers and owners. Although stock racing did not have much following outside the Southeast, people like Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Smokey Yunick and Junior Johnson became well known within the racing world.
Almost all the races were held in southeastern U.S., because the economics of traveling with racecars, parts and mechanics demanded it. Many of the venues were county fairgrounds or local tracks that hosted local racing on Saturday night when the touring stars were not in town. An exception was Riverside Raceway, in Riverside, California; because of the travel distances involved, it traditionally either started the Grand National season, or ended it.
Beginning of the modern era
NASCAR made major changes in its structure in the early 1970s. The top series found sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds tobacco (tobacco companies had been banned from television advertising and were looking for a promotional outlet). The "Winston Cup" became the top competitive series, with a new points system and some significant cash benefits to competing for championship points. The next division down, called Late Model Sportsman, gained the "Grand National" title passed down from the top division and soon found a sponsor in Busch Beer. In the mid-1970s some races began to get partial television coverage, frequently on the ABC sports variety show, Wide World of Sports.
Finally, in 1979, the Daytona 500 became the first stock car race that was nationally televised from flag to flag on CBS. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, wrecked on the backstretch while dicing for the lead, and Richard Petty passed to win. Immediately, Yarborough, Allison, and Allison's brother Bobby were engaged in a fistfight—on national television. This underlined the drama and emotion of the sport and increased its broadcast marketability.
The beginning of the modern era, which NASCAR defines as 1971, also brought a change in the competitive structure. The purse awarded for championship points accumulated over the course of the season began to be significant. Previously, drivers were mostly concerned about winning individual races. Now, their standing in championship points became an important factor.
In 2004, Nextel took over sponsorship of the premier series from RJR after the United States government cracked down further on tobacco advertising, renaming it the Nextel Cup Series. As part of bringing attention to NASCAR during the busiest part of the sports calendar in the United States with the climax toward Major League Baseball's World Series, the start of the college and NFL seasons and later, the onset of the NBA and NHL seasons (the 2004-05 NHL schedule was never played due to a labor impasse between the league's owners and players union), it was decided that the top ten point earners would participate in a ten-race "playoff" called "The Chase for the Nextel Cup" as points earned through the first 26 races (the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 was the last "regular season" race) would decide the ten drivers who would compete for the championship, as well as anyone within 400 points of the leader. When the checkered flag dropped on the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (the last race of the 2004 season), Kurt Busch won the championship by a mere eight points over Jimmie Johnson.
Races and racetracks
NASCAR races are not conducted on identical tracks. Oval tracks vary in length from 0.526 miles (847 m) (Martinsville Speedway) to 2.66 miles (4280 m) (Talladega Superspeedway). While some tracks are ovals, many are tri-ovals. Other configurations are quad-oval, oval with unequal ends (Darlington), and triangular (Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania). Courses also differ in degree of banking on the curves, with differences in degree of banking and course length contributing to different top speeds on various courses. Two courses (Sonoma and Watkins Glen) are complex shaped road courses.
Race speeds vary widely based on the track. The fastest track is Talladega Superspeedway where the record race average speed is 188 mph (303 km/h) with the record qualifying lap of 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h) set by Bill Elliott. The slowest tracks are Infineon Raceway, a road course, with a record race average speed of only 81 mph (130 km/h) and qualifying lap of 99 mph (159 km/h); and Martinsville Speedway, a very short, nearly flat "paper clip" oval, with a record race average speed of 82 mph (132 km/h) and a qualifying lap of only 97 mph (156 km/h). The average speed is figured out based upon the winner's lap speeds throughout the entire races including laps spent under caution.
Generally, tracks with a length of less than one mile (1.6 km) are referred to as "short tracks". Initially tracks of over one mile were referred to as "superspeedways", but many NASCAR venues now are 1.5 miles or 2 miles (2.4 or 3 km) in length. Tracks on todays standards are now considered superspeedways if they are over 2 miles (3 km) in length. Tracks between 1 and 2 miles in length are called "intermediate" tracks.
As a safety measure to reduce speeds at the two fastest tracks (Daytona and Talladega), a restrictor plate must be placed between the carburetor and intake manifold to restrict air and fuel flow and, therefore, power. While Atlanta Motor Speedway, is generally considered the fastest track where restrictor plates are not mandated, in 2004 and 2005 higher qualifying speeds were posted at Texas Motor Speedway, earning it the title of the circuits fastest track. Unrestricted, NASCAR cars run at over 800 horsepower (600 kW).
The closest European equivalent is touring car racing, although the European circuits are on road courses. The first NASCAR competition held outside of the United States was in Canada, where on July 1, 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile (800 m) dirt track in Stamford Park, ON, near Niagara Falls. On July 18, 1958, Richard Petty made his premiership debut in a race at Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. He completed 55 laps before crashing, while father Lee won the 100-lap feature.
In 1996, NASCAR went to Japan for Suzuka NASCAR Thunder 100 at Suzuka Circuitland in Suzuka City on November 24, 1996. This exhibition race was won by Rusty Wallace. On March 6, 2005 the first ever NASCAR points-paying race outside of the United States was held for the minor league NASCAR Busch Series at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City. The winner of this twisty road course event was defending series champion, Martin Truex Jr..
While the manufacturers and models of automobiles for Nextel Cup and Busch Series racing are named for production cars (Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Ford Taurus, with the Fusion replacing the Taurus for 2006), the similarities between Nextel Cup cars and actual production cars are limited to some shaping of the nose and grill areas. A fourth model, the Pontiac Grand Prix, was used until it was retired in 2004, when Pontiac ended its sponsorship with NASCAR. In the Craftsman Truck Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, the Dodge Ram and the Ford F150, as well as the only non-American brand, the Toyota Tundra namesakes are used.
The cars are high-powered, low-tech hot rods with a roll cage chassis and thin sheet metal covering, and are powered by carbureted engines with 4 speed manual transmissions. The engines are limited to 355 cubic inches (5.8 L), with cast iron blocks, one camshaft and a pushrod valvetrain. However, significant engine development has allowed these engines to reach exceedingly high levels of power with essentially 1950s technology.
The automobiles' suspension, brakes, and aerodynamic components are also selected to tailor the cars to different racetracks. The adjustment of front and rear aerodynamic downforce, spring rates, rear track bar geometry, and brake proportioning are critical to the cornering characteristics of the cars. A car that is difficult to turn in a corner is said to be "tight", causing the car to want to keep going up the track with the wheel turned all the way left. While one that has a tendency to slide the rear end out is said to be "loose", causing the back end of the car to slide around which can result in the car spinning out if the driver is not careful. These characteristics are also affected by tire stagger (tires of different circumference at different positions on the car, the right rear being largest to help effect left turns) and tire pressure (softer being "grippier").
NASCAR racing has its share of great finishes. The closest finish in NASCAR history was at Darlington Raceway between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch on March 16, 2003. Craven came in ahead by .002 seconds after the drivers raced the last stretch with their cars touching each other. See the picture here.
In the United States, television broadcast rights are split between FOX/FX and NBC/TNT, with FOX/FX airing the first half of the season and NBC/TNT airing the second half. The networks alternate coverage of the first and most famous race of the season, the Daytona 500, with Fox getting the odd years and NBC the even ones. The current television contract was signed for eight years for FOX/FX and six years for NBC/TNT and is valued at $2.4 billion (US) . Fox-owned Speed Channel carries the entire Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
Audio coverage of all Nextel Cup, Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series races is available in the United States on both satellite radio and regular over-the-air broadcast radio on both the AM and FM bands. XM Radio currently holds the exclusive satellite radio broadcast rights for all NASCAR coverage through the end of the 2006 season. On February 23 2005, NASCAR awarded the satellite radio contract to XM Radio's primary competitor Sirius Satellite Radio for exclusive satellite radio rights to the 2007 through 2011 racing seasons in exchange for $107 million dollars.. MRN Radio (Motor Racing Network), a subsidiary of NASCAR, holds the over-the-air broadcast radio rights of 25 Nextel Cup races, all truck races and 26 Busch Series races, as well as the Budweiser Shootout and Nextel All-Star Challenge. A list of MRN Radio broadcast affiliates in the U.S. can be found here:. Performance Racing Network, a subsidiary of Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, airs ten Cup races and nine Busch races. Afiliates for PRN can be found here , while the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's network carries the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. All broadcasts are also available (for a fee) via the web at NASCAR.com .
In the United Kingdom, television coverage is available on NASN (North American Sports Network), a subscription channel on satellite.
On video games
Every year, NASCAR and EA Sports team up to create a video game based on the Nextel Cup Series. While the circuit was still called the Winston Cup, the game was called NASCAR Thunder. When the circut changed its name to Nextel Cup, the name of the game changed to NASCAR: Chase for the Cup. The "Chase for the Cup" phrase will be dropped from the 2006 edition of the game. Instead, the game will be titled NASCAR 06: Total Team Control, meaning that a player who has teammates in the field can actually switch to their teammates' cars and control them during a race.
- NASCAR Drivers: 360
- A reality show on FX Networks that follows the life of several Nextel Cup drivers while off-the-track.
Related racing series
In addition to the Nextel Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR operates several other racing circuits.
Many local racetracks across the United States and Canada run under the Dodge Weekly Series banner, where local drivers are compared against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation, as based on a formula, wins the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship.
NASCAR sanctions three regional racing divisions, the Whelen Modified Tour, which races open wheel "modified" cars in Northern and Southern divisions, the AutoZone Elite Division, which races late-model cars which are lighter than Nextel Cup cars, and less powerful cars, split into four divisions, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest, and the Grand National Division, which races in the Busch North and the West Series. Grand National cars are similar to Busch Series cars, although they are less powerful.
In 2003, NASCAR standardised rules for its AutoZone Elite and Grand National divisions regional touring series as to permit cars in one series to race against cars in another series in the same division. The top 15 (Grand National) or 10 (AutoZone Elite) in each series will race in a one-race playoff at Irwindale Speedway in California to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions.
Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the Nextel Cup series. In 2002, 9,000 drivers had licenses from NASCAR to race at all levels.
The winners of the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship, the four AutoZone Elite Divisions, the two Whelen Modified and Grand National Divisions, and the three national series are invited to New York City in December to participate in Champions Week ceremonies which conclude with the annual awards banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Safety in racing has come a long way since the first green flag dropped. Using new technology, they have tried to make racing as safe, and still as thrilling as ever to protect the drivers, fans, and keep racing exciting.
The seats that the drivers sit in have evolved over the past few years. Most of the seats found in the race cars wrap around the driver's rib cage which provides some support during a crash, spreading the load out over the entire rib cage instead of letting it concentrate in a smaller area. Some of the newer seats wrap around the driver's shoulders as well, which provides better support because the shoulders are more durable than the rib cage. However, even though the seats are safer for the driver, some don’t like them due to the fact that it takes away some of the feel for the track.
The seat belt in a stock car is very important. They are built to be stronger than a normal seat belt. The seat belts used are the five-point harness, which is two straps coming down over the driver's shoulders, two straps wrap around the waist and one comes up between the legs. Since a string of accidents in 2000 and 2001 that killed Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Dale Earnhardt under similar circumstances, NASCAR has made it mandatory for the drivers to wear the HANS Device (Head And Neck Support) as the only device for use as of 2005. The HANS device is designed to reduce the chance of injury caused by unrestrained movement of the head during crashes. It is a semi-hard collar made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, and it is held onto the upper body by a harness worn by the driver. Two flexible tethers on the collar are attached to the helmet to prevent the head from snapping forward or to the side during a wreck.
In 1994, NASCAR introduced roof flaps to the car, which designed to keep cars from getting airborne and possibly rolling down the track. If the speed of the car is high enough, it will generate enough lift to pick up the car if it spins backwards. To prevent this, NASCAR officials developed a set of flaps that are recessed into pockets on the roof of the car. When a car is turned around, and is going fast enough, the flaps come up and disrupt the airflow over the roof, eliminating most of the lift. The roof flaps generally keep the cars on the ground as they spin. Over the last couple years, NASCAR has installed safer walls and barriers along the track. Soft walls are typically built of some kind of crushable material that can absorb the impact of a car at high speeds. There are four types of softer walls and barriers: Cellofoam - This is an encapsulated polystyrene barrier -- a block of plastic foam encased in polyethylene. Polyethylene Energy Dissipation System (PEDS) - which uses small polyethylene cylinders inserted inside larger ones. Designers of PEDS believe the system increases the wall's ability to withstand crashes of heavy race cars. Impact Protection System (IPS) - This inner piece of the wall is then wrapped in a rubber casing. Holes are drilled in the concrete wall and cables are used to tie the segments to it. Compression barriers - this idea is to place cushioning materials, such as tires, against the concrete wall, and then cover those cushions with a smooth surface that would give when impacted, and then pop back out to its previous shape once the impact is over.
Pit road safety has become the latest focus of NASCAR officials in recent years. At each track there are different speeds the cars are required to travel at (the speed depends on the size of the track and the size of pit road, generally 35 mph (60 km/h) on short tracks and road courses, 45 mph (70 km/h) on intermediate tracks and 55 mph (90 km/h) on superspeedways). NASCAR has placed a new electronic scoring system in use as of 2005 to monitor the speeds of cars on pit road by measuring the time it takes to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. As none of the cars are equipped with speedometers, the cars in prerace warm up laps are driven around the track at the pit road speed following the pace car so the drivers can mark on the tachometer the telemetry (term referring to the Revolutions Per Minute it takes to travel at the "speed limit") for the day. The tachometer then "guides" the speed of the car down pit road. Over the wall pit members are now required to wear helmets after a string of members were hit and in the open wheel series many members were ran over. In addition to the helmets, all members are required to wear full fire suits and gloves while the refueller must wear a fire apron as well as the suit. Tire changers must also wear safety glasses to prevent eye injures from lug nuts thrown off the car.
Information credited to hansdevice.com and auto.howstuffworks.com
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