While automobile racing is a big sport around the world, the United States is king. No other country in the world has as many types of automobile racing as the United States. In many parts of the country it is hard to find a community that is not within an hour’s drive of a small dirt track or drag strip. The two most notable types of racing in the United States are NASCAR stock car racing and NHRA Top Fuel drag racing.
NASCAR has its roots in the days of the moonshine runners. During prohibition, haulers of moonshine souped up their cars in order to outrun the revenuers. NASCAR has evolved from small dirt tracks to high tech super speed ways. The majority of NASCAR races are run on ovals with two road courses thrown in the mix. NASCAR events are of varying lengths and very confusing names. In some races the number means that the race is that many miles long, in others it is the number of laps. “As a rule of thumb, short track races are measured in laps, most everything else is measured in miles.” Except for the Phoenix 500 which is measured in kilometers so it is actually 312 miles and 312 laps. The road courses are close to 350 kilometers or about 220 miles in length.
The cars driven in a NASCAR event have the appearance of the average car driven on the road, but this is very deceiving. The cars are front engine rear wheel drive and weigh 3,300 lbs. with weight added by a formula which includes the driver’s weight. The power plant is a 358 cubic inch V-8 engine (about 5.8 liters) which produces 725 horsepower. The cost of a NASCAR is about $150,000 on the low end. The tires are slick handmade Goodyears that are used on a lease basis. The fuel is Sunoco Green E15, a 98 octane blend that is green in color. Speeds in NASCAR can approach 200 mph but have been reduced in recent years for safety.
NHRA Top Fuel Drag Racing
Drag racing got its start as illegal street races to see who had the fastest car, but it was not long before money and respectability took over and special tracks were constructed. Originally dragstrips, the race track on which drag races are run, were a quarter mile in length. These early races were started with a man waving a flag, but this has now been replaced with the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is a light tower with two amber lights at the top, followed by three yellow lights with a green light and a red light on the bottom. The type of cars raced was originally cars off the street, but over the years the sport has evolved to include many classifications, Stock, Pro Modified, Pro Stock, Funny Car and Top Fuel being just a few. Of these classifications, Top Fuel is king, a pure racing machine built for speed.
Top Fuel Dragsters race on a course that is a straight three-sixteenths of a mile plus 10 feet (1,000 feet) long, any longer and the power of the cars would literally shred to pieces. The speeds approach 330 mph, most reaching a speed of 100 mph in the first eight-tenths of a second. The drivers are subjected to 4 g’s on acceleration and 8 g’s upon braking.
The cars weigh about 2,320 lbs. and are powered by a 500 cubic inch V-8 (8.2 liter) engine, which generates 10,000 horsepower. To put this in perspective the first cylinder generates the same horsepower as the cars in the first four rows of the Daytona 500 combined. The cost of a top fuel car is $500,000 plus. The tires are slick Goodyear 17.5 inch, which cost over a thousand dollars a pair and only last about 4 runs at the track. The fuel is a maximum of 90% nitromethane and 10% methanol blend.
*Photo courtesy of ATOMIC Hot Links at Flickr's Creative Commons.