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Auto Racing Three Popular Circuits: Drag, NASCAR, and Formula One

Updated on September 16, 2016

The roots of competitive auto racing can be harkened back to France, 1887. From then to now, all manner of the sport has evolved: the automobiles, the rules of competition, and the skills and talents of drivers. It has become a global affair and is considered one of the most widely viewed sports on television. In the United States, drag racing sanctioned by the NHRA or National Hot Rod Association, and stock car auto racing under the banner of NASCAR -National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, are the most popular. In Europe, it is Formula One.

Scott Kalitta Dragster
Scott Kalitta Dragster | Source

Drag Racing

This sport began in the 1930s on the dry lake beds of California’s Mojave Desert. Owners of sports cars would illegally and dangerously pit their vehicles against each other. No organized body sanctioned these races until the Road Runners Club which Wally Parks helped establish in 1937. A decade later, its name was changed to the Southern California Timing Association. They created an event called Speed Week and this was the first time drivers raced against time with the use of a stopwatch. In 1951, as the editor of Hot Rod Magazine, Parks was able to create the National Hot Rod Association, legitimizing drag racing. He also became the organization’s first president. Meanwhile in 1950, C.J. Hart co-opened the first official drag strip on an airfield in Southern California, Santa Ana to be exact. He used the quarter horse racing competition of this era as the blueprint for his races.

The first NHRA-sanctioned race was held in 1953 on the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California. Today, this modernized track hosts both the season-opening NHRA Winternationals and the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. The first national race under this body called The Nationals was held in 1955 in Great Bend, Kansas. The event later found a home in Indianapolis, Indiana. Currently, the NHRA boasts 80,000 members and is described as the largest sanctioning body in the world. According to their website, they have 140 member tracks and about 35,000 drivers licensed to compete in races. Tracks vary from short (3.8 seconds) to long (quarter mile or so).

The design of today’s top-fuel dragsters, as the cars are often called, is based on the class of the race entered. They compete as Funny Cars with forward-mounted engines and aerodynamic, open wheels; Pro Stock with chassis resembling that of regular cars, large rear wheels under the chassis, and no turbo or super charging, and the last category, Top Fuel Dragster where cars have long, sleek front frames housing small wheels, engines and larger wheels in the rear, and are fueled with the combination of 90% nitro methane and 10% alcohol. Speeds are slowed at the end of the race by the deployment of parachutes at the rear of the cars. Today’s top speeds are in the 330 miles per hour range. All dragsters race in a straight line.

Corporate sponsors include Full Throttle, Lucas Oil, and Summit Racing Equipment. Some star drivers are John Force, Matt Hagan, and Mike Neff for Funny Cars; Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin, Jr., and Mike Edwards for Pro Stock; Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, and Tony Schumacher for Top Fuel. Family dynasties include the Tascas, the Kalittas, and the Forces.

Matt Kenseth's car
Matt Kenseth's car | Source


Stock car racing began as a regular county fair event which grew into regional competitions where every region and every track within a region established their own set of rules and regulations. A man named Bill France, Sr., who was involved in the beach road races in his hometown of Daytona, Florida, decided to hold a meeting on stock car racing in December of 1947. It led to the creation of the NASCAR sanctioning body. Their first official race occurred two months later.

Stock cars are modified versions of regular factory-designed sedans. Chassis and engine designs are tightly regulated. NASCAR drivers can reach up to 200 miles per hour as they compete in a series of races which are divided into three categories, depending on the length of the oval track: Short Track – less than a mile, Speedway –one to two miles, and Superspeedway – two plus miles (usually 2.66).

Darlington Raceway in South Carolina was the first superspeedway and was constructed in 1950. These super tracks always include two or three harrowing left turns. The premier race, the Daytona 500, is 200 laps around the high-banked Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach which is held every February. The very first race won here was by Lee Perry in a photo finish with Johnny Beauchamp. One of the premier series is the Sprint Cup formerly called NASCAR Grand National. It consists of 36 races.

Fortune 500 corporations as Sprint heavily sponsor competitions and racing teams. Their colorful logos and brands are lavishly displayed on the cars and on teams’ uniforms. Other big race sponsors are Nextel, Nationwide Insurance, and Canadian Tire of the Canadian Tire Series. Team sponsors include Toyota, Ford, and Hendrick. Stars of NASCAR include Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harwick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Gordon. Dynasties include the Allisons, the Waltrips, the Bodines, the Pettys, and the Andrettis.

Formula One, Bahrain 2010
Formula One, Bahrain 2010 | Source

Formula One

The series also called Formula 1 or F1, stemmed from France’s European Grand Prix Motor Racing in 1894. This race was similar to Drag racing and NASCAR in its beginnings as it was illegal, unsafe, and occurred on roadways. In 1947, the race was organized and sanctioned by the World Driver’s Championship with cars like Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo competing. The first official F1 championship was the Silverstone Circuit held in England in 1950.

Formula One racing is said to be the largest and most popular of all auto racing competitions worldwide. It is also highly regulated and specialized and that includes the races, drivers, and automobiles. It is touted as the most expensive sport in the world. Today, it is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile that is, International Federation of Automobiles or simply FIA. Competitions called Grand Prix are held globally, but mostly on European soil. Races run on custom-built tracks or on city streets. Each Grand Prix, according to F1’s official website, takes place over three days with practice sessions, qualifying, and the final race day. The Monaco Formula One Grand Prix of 78 laps is one of the most prestigious, popular and televised. It is usually held in May on the closed streets of the downtown area of the Principality of Monaco.

F1 cars can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour. Motorsports website reports that they can go from zero to 100 miles per hour and back to zero in less than five seconds. This is aided by their sleekness, open cockpit, open wheels, and their forward and back wings. Both driver and constructor of the winning car are awarded prizes.

Celebrity drivers include Jensen Button, Sebastian Kettel, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Racing dynasties include the Rosbergs, the Andrettis (same as NASCAR), the Stewarts, the Fittipaldis, the Sennas, and the Schumachers. Some winning constructors are Ferrari with the most world championships at 16, Team Williams, Lotus, McLaren, and Red Bull. As noted, constructors are often major corporations.

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