There are definitely some things you need to know in order to enjoy NASCAR racing. As a lifetime fan and writer, I can help you wade through some of the great unknowns of a niche sport that has legions of followers and is not only fan-friendly, but also family-friendly.
Here’s a quick primer on things you need to know to start enjoying the biggest American racing series in motorsports.
20 things you need to know to enjoy NASCAR
- NASCAR really started with drivers and owners who were moonshiners and runners from the law. Junior Johnson was one of the many driver/owners in the early days of the sport that had a dubious background. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Johnson for his 1956 moonshining conviction.
- There are three main series for NASCAR: the Camping World truck series, the Xfinity series and the Cup series at the top. But there are also local NASCAR sanctioned races you can enjoy at your local short tracks. You may want to try one of these races to see if racing is in your veins. Look for the K&N or Whelen series at a local track near you.
- Racing is better in person than on TV. The fan experience is amazing and the sound is incredible. Drivers and many owners are pretty accessible for autographs prior to the race.
- The sports’ biggest race, Daytona 500, was actually run on the sand at Daytona in the early days.
- The Cup series season is 36 races long, starting in February with the Daytona 500 and ending in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The season in broken down in to two sections: a 26 race regular season and a 10-race playoff.
- The Cup series playoff consists of the top 16 drivers and the bottom 4 performing drivers are eliminated every 3 races, leaving 4 drivers to race for the championship in a winner takes all race at Homestead.
- The two lower tier series have a similar playoff with tweaks based on smaller fields, fewer races, and different tracks.
- The series sponsors (Camping World, Xfinity and Monster Energy) change every so often as sponsors’ marketing needs change. Just like the different series, each team needs a long list of sponsors to help pay for the operating costs of keeping a race team in operation. A primary sponsor can pay anywhere from $5 million to $35 million a year. Associate sponsors pay $250,000 to $2 million. NASCAR drivers know where their bread is buttered and make sure to name their sponsors as often as they can.
- The starting grid for the Cup series can be up to 43 cars. The race starts on the green flag and ends on the checkered flag. If a car is damaged on the track, it has a 5-minute period to fix the car and make it safe to return to the track. Otherwise, the car has to retire.
- There are two road courses each year at Watkins Glen (New York) and Sonoma (California). The rest of the races consist of oval tracks from ½ mile to 2.5 miles in length.
- Restrictor plates are used on two of the biggest, fastest and highest banked tracks on the circuit – Daytona and Talladega. The cars can reach well over 215 miles an hour and in a wreck, can get airborne. While the restrictor plates help keep the speeds down, they cause the cars to be closer in speed to each other creating large packs of crash drafting each other. A crash in the pack of cars can often result in damage to multiple cars and send some airborne.
- G-forces in a car can run as high as 4-5 G’s in a turn. Drivers can also 5-12 lbs. in a race and dehydration can affect their focus and decision-making. The heat can often exceed 100 degrees in the car and even higher near the floorboards. Drivers can wear special shoe fittings to keep their feet from blistering.
- Richard Petty was the first seven-time Cup champion with his final title coming in 1979. He was followed by Dale Earnhardt in 1994. It wasn’t until 2016 that Jimmie Johnson was able to join that elite level.
- SAFER barriers are employed at most tracks. SAFER stands for “Steel and Foam Energy Reduction.” These walls help to absorb energy in a crash and help protect the driver.
- Pit stops in the Cup series can be done in less than 12 seconds. The 6-man crew can change all 4 tires and lug nuts while dumping in about 18 gallons of gas.
- The teams strategize before each race to decide when to pit under various circumstances so they are able to manage tires and fuel to get them to the end of the race. The driver is often asked to “save fuel” at some tracks where gas mileage become a key factor. The 800 horsepower engines get between 4 and 5 miles per gallon.
- Pick a favorite driver or two to follow during the race. Just like in any other sport, it helps to have someone to root for. Many drivers have charities they support so check that out. A lot of the drivers are also involved in social media making them even more accessible. From good guys to bad guys, young guns to veterans, NASCAR has someone for everyone.
- Get a radio headset. You can enjoy listening to your favorite driver during the race. These can be rented at each track or you can buy your own set. But beware, these radio conversations are not edited and can contain some adult language you may not want little ones to hear.
- Learn the lingo. Just like all sports, each has its own language and rules. From downforce to track bar, there is a lot of terminology about mechanical issues and aerodynamics you will need to know — and impress your friends with.
- Have fun! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. NASCAR fans are always willing to help out novices coming into the sport.
Chuck Abrams is longtime racing fan and staff writer for the MotorSports News Gazette and can be found there at http://www.motorsportsnews.
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