You might be aware that NASCAR stands for “National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing” and that it’s second only to the NFL in terms of sports television ratings in the U.S. Maybe you’ve even heard that NASCAR is broadcast in over 150 countries. So what is NASCAR exactly? Does it simply entail cars speeding around and around in a circle, or is there more to it than meets the eye?
NASCAR history traces all the way back to the Prohibition days. Back when moonshiners needed a way to transport their illegal goods across the Appalachian region of the United States, they began to design and build faster getaway cars to evade the police. Even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, they continued to modify and race these cars along the winding roads, this time trying to escape “revenuers” who sought to tax their merchandise. In the 1940’s, races were organized in Daytona Beach, Florida and thus NASCAR was born.
NASCAR is more complicated than cars racing around a loop as fast as they can- it requires strategy and a point system. Influential factors that must be considered in a team’s strategy include track conditions, minor car adjustments, fuel consumption, and tire changes. Techniques like drafting, where teammates will slip in behind each other as the leader takes on most of the air resistance, and timing a pit stop just right add up to create a significant change in race performance. What’s more, drivers must drive fast and somehow conserve as much fuel as possible to prevent an otherwise unnecessary pit stop. NASCAR racing is preceded by a qualifying round, where each driver is given a few laps to set the best time he can. How fast a driver qualifies determines his spot on the grid (the lineup of cars at the starting line). Additionally, winning the race itself isn’t what this auto sport is all about- there’s also a point system through which drivers are rewarded for leading laps and how they finish the race. At the end of the entire regular season, the twelve drivers with the most points compete in the Chase for the Championship, a series of ten more races.
Here’s a list of the many terms you’re likely to hear while watching NASCAR:
Aerodynamic drag= How well a car travels through the air.
Apron= The paved section of track that divides the racing surface from the infield.
Back marker= To be near the back of the pack during a race.
Balance= When a car doesn’t “oversteer” or “understeer.”
Banking= The sloping of the track.
Chassis= The area of the car that includes the floorboard, the interior and the roll cage.
Chute= A track straightaway.
Dirty air= Any air disturbance that impacts a car’s performance.
Downforce= The aerodynamic and centrifugal force on each tire.
Drag= Air resistance.
Firesuit= A fire retardant suit worn by all drivers.
Firewall= A metal plate in a car that divides the engine compartment from the driver’s compartment.
Fuel cell= A holding tank for a supply of gas.
Garage= The area on the infield where cars are worked on.
Groove= The best route around the track.
Happy hour= The last official practice before an event.
Handling= A car’s performance.
Hauler= A trailer that transports cars and equipment from the shop to the track.
Interval time= The time-distance between two cars.
Lapped traffic= Cars one full lap behind the leader.
Loose= When the front of the car has more grip than the rear, which causes the car to fishtail.
Lucky Dog= The first car that is one lap down from the leader. When the yellow caution flag is waved, this car is put into order as the last car on the lead lap, which gives the car a lap back without having to pass through the field.
Marbles (a.k.a. “loose stuff”)= Debris from rubber tires, dirt and gravel.
Pit road= Area where cars pull off to be serviced.
Pit crew= Team members that work on cars during the race, including a gas man, catch can man, jack man, front tire changer, front tire carrier, rear tire changer, and rear tire carrier, all managed by a crew chief.
Pit stall= Area along the pit road assigned to a team for pit stops.
Pit stand (a.k.a. “the war wagon”)= The stand where team personnel like the crew chief and team owner view the race, complete with satellite television screens, scoring information, and communication devices for race operations.
Pole position (a.k.a. “the pole”)= The foremost position on the starting grid.
Push= When more grip in the rear causes the front end of the car to slide toward the wall (see “tight”).
Quarter panel= Sheet metal located on both sides of the car from the C-post to the rear bumper between the deck lid and wheel well.
Restrictor plate= Thin metal plate with four holes to restrict airflow from the carburetor into the engine to reduce horsepower.
Setup= Tuning of and adjustments made to the suspension.
Short track= Track less than one mile long.
Silly season= Later part of the season when some teams announce driver, crew or sponsor changes.
Splash ‘n’ go= Quick pit stop for enough fuel to get past the finish line.
Speedweeks= The three-week period between January and February that begins with the Rolex 24 Hours of Grand-Am race and features several racing and motorsports activities at the Daytona International Speedway.
Spoiler (a.k.a. “blade”)= A strip of aluminum across a car’s rear decklid that increases traction by creating downforce on the rear of the car, but also creates more aerodynamic drag.
Stagger= The difference in tire circumference between the two sides of a car for turning purposes.
Stickers= New tires.
Stop and go= A black flag penalty where a driver must retreat to his pit stall until the official says he can come out.
Superspeedway= Track of typically 2 miles or more.
Trading paint= Aggressive driving.
Telemetry= Usually used for onscreen broadcast, this is data that explains important functions of a car, such as RPM.
Tight (a.k.a. “understeer”)= When front wheels lose traction before the rear wheels do, which won’t allow a driver to steer sharply enough through turns.
Tri-oval= A track with a “hump” or “fifth turn.”
Turbulence= Air behind a car that disrupts the flow of air to the following cars.
Victory lane (a.k.a. “the winner’s circle”)= Wherever the winner of the race parks to celebrate.
Wedge= The amount of downforce applied diagonally from the left rear to the right front end of the car to help it tighten or loosen the car.
As you can see, there’s more to NASCAR than what your kids can do with a few toy cars and a loop of track. There’s plenty of strategy and terminology to learn before you can honestly call yourself a NASCAR fan, so before you go and say something that will make you look foolish, get in the know! Car racing is a real sport. Even though drivers spend the whole race sitting down, they use plenty of mental strength- and they most certainly find ways to break a sweat!