NASCAR

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The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the largest sanctioning body of motorsports in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the NEXTEL Cup, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. It also oversees seven regional series and one local grassroots series. NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 38 states, Canada, and Mexico.

Beginning as regional entertainment in the Southeastern U.S., NASCAR has grown to become the second most popular professional spectator sport in terms of television ratings inside the U.S., ranking behind only the National Football League. Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries. It holds 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S.1, and has 75 million fans who purchase over $2 billion in annual licensed product sales. These fans are considered the most brand-loyal in all of sports, and as a result, Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR more than any other sport.

NASCAR's headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in Charlotte, North Carolina; Mooresville, North Carolina; Concord, North Carolina; Conover, North Carolina; New York City, Los Angeles, Arkansas, Mexico City, and Toronto.

File:NASCAR practice.jpg
NEXTEL Cup drivers practice for the 2004 Daytona 500

History

Early History

Many early racing drivers were involved in bootlegging. The runners would modify their cars in order to create a faster, more maneuverable car. The next logical step for the owners of these cars was 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. NASCAR was co-founded by William France Sr. and Ed Otto on February 21, 1948. William France, Sr. had the notion that people would enjoy watching unmodified, "stock" cars racing and promoted a few races before World War 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 "Strictly Stock" 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 the 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. This was the only time NASCAR came out west, until the opening of Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970, and the only road course NASCAR ran on until the track closed in 1988.

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 Company (RJR) (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. Luckily for NASCAR, the race coincided with a major snowstorm along the United States' eastern seaboard, successfully introducing much of the captive audience to the sport.

The beginning of the modern era, which NASCAR defines as 1972, 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.

The first NASCAR competition held outside of the U.S. 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, Ontario, 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.

An exhbition race was held in 1988 in Australia, with Neil Bonnett winning. In 1996, NASCAR went to Japan for Suzuka NASCAR Thunder 100 at Suzuka Circuitland in Suzuka City on November 24, 1996. This exhibition (non-points) race was won by Rusty Wallace. Two more exhibition races were held in Japan in 1997 and 1998. On March 6, 2005 the first NASCAR points-paying race outside of the United States since 1958 was held for the 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.

NEXTEL Cup

File:NASCARNextelCupLogo.png
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup logo

Main Article: NEXTEL Cup

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series is the most popular and most profitable series operated by NASCAR. People often use the name NASCAR interchangeably with NEXTEL Cup, incorrectly. This series is the most documented, has the most famous drivers, and is the most watched and followed by fans and the media.

In 2004, NEXTEL took over sponsorship of the premier series from Winston, renaming it the NEXTEL Cup Series.

Chase for the Cup

In 2004, NASCAR implemented a ten-race playoff system it called the "Chase for the Cup". After 26 races, the top 10 drivers in points (plus any driver within 400 points of the leader who may be outside the top 10) are placed in the "Chase". Eligible drivers' points are elevated to a level mathematically unattainable by anyone outside this field. Points are also bunched together in 5-point increments so the leader is 45 points ahead of 10th place. Race layouts remain the same and points are scored the same way in the final 10 races. Whoever leads in points after the 36th race is declared the NEXTEL Cup champion.

This playoff system was implemented primarily to increase television ratings during the college and National Football League seasons, plus the Major League Baseball pennant race and post-season as well as the outset of the NHL and NBA and to make the points race more competitive. Previously, the champion may have been decided before the last race (or even several races before the end of the season) because it was mathematically impossible for any other driver to gain enough points.

Drivers that are not in the "Chase" (not statistically able to win the championship) still race in the final ten races. Many long-time fans and several veteran drivers have decried the new format.

Historic moments

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.

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 (4.28 km) (Talladega Superspeedway). While some tracks are ovals (Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway), many are tri-ovals (Kansas Speedway, Michigan International Speedway). Other configurations are quad-oval (Lowe's Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway), oval with unequal ends (Darlington Raceway), 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 (New Hampshire International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway). Two courses (Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International) 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 98 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 today's 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 high-banked superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega), a restrictor plate must be placed between the carburetor and intake manifold to restrict air and fuel flow and, therefore, power and horsepower. This has reduced speeds at these tracks to the point that higher speeds are now seen at some tracks where restrictor plates are not mandated, specifically Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. While Atlanta is generally considered the fastest track where restrictor plates are not mandated, in 2004 and 2005 higher qualifying speeds were posted at Texas, earning it the title of the circuit's fastest track. Unrestricted, NASCAR cars run at over 800 horsepower (600 kW).

Present racecars

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. There have been reports that Toyota, led by Bill Davis Racing will enter the Cup Series in 2007. In the Craftsman Truck Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, the Dodge Ram and the Ford F150, as well as the only non-American brand in NASCAR, the Toyota Tundra, are used. NASCAR rules state the cars or trucks must be manufactured in the US if they are to be used in races. Tundra qualifies since it is now manufactured in the US.

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 will mandate changes during the season if one particular car model becomes overly dominant.

Safety

Safety in racing has come a long way since the first green flag dropped. Up until the last few years, NASCAR was heavily critizied for its lack of focus of safety. Many safety precautions were not mandatory, like they are in other racing series, but were only optional or recommended. NASCAR changed its stance on this after the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt was killed in a racing accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Using new technology, NASCAR has 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.

The seat belts in stock cars are 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, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt under similar circumstances, NASCAR has made it mandatory for the drivers to wear the HANS Device (Head And Neck Support) to restrict head movement and subsequent neck injury during a crash. Though NASCAR allowed another system (Hutchens) in the past, as of 2005, HANS is the only head and neck restraint device allowed for use. 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, although it is not guaranteed.

Beginning in the early 2000s, most tracks have installed softer walls and barriers along the track, called SAFER (Steal And Foam Energy Reduction) Barriers. Soft walls are typically built of aluminum and styrofoam; materials that can absorb the impact of a car at high speeds, as opposed to a concrete wall which absorbs little-to-none of the impact. 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) — This system 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.

As with changes to car models, NASCAR will institute new rules during a season if it deems it necessary to enhance safety.

North Carolina race shops

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, High Point, Harrisburg, and Kannapolis. Specifically, 82% of Nextel Cup teams, 72% of Busch Series teams, and 55% of Craftsman Truck Series teams are based in North Carolina. The majority of NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series drivers maintain their primary residences near Charlotte.

Other NASCAR racing series

In addition to the three main 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 also 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 and less powerful than Nextel Cup 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 standardized 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, called the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions. This event has been hosted at Irwindale Speedway in California since its inception.

Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the NEXTEL Cup series. In 2002, over 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.

NASCAR and popular culture

Broadcast coverage

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 (from the second race of the season, currently at California Speedway, to the last race before the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, currently at Infineon Raceway)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. For balance, the opposite network will air Daytona's July race, the Pepsi 400. 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) [1]. FOX-owned Speed Channel carries the entire Craftsman Truck Series schedule. It has been reported that TNT and NBC will walk away from the current agreement after 2006, and Disney-owned ABC and ESPN will take over the second half of the package beginning in 2007. FOX/FX is forefitting the last two years of the current contract for a new contract beginning in 2007.

Audio coverage

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.[2]. Motor Racing Network (MRN), a subsidiary of International Speedway Corporation (ISC), 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, the Gatorade Duel and Nextel All-Star Challenge. Performance Racing Network, a subsidiary of Speedway Motorsports, airs ten Cup races and nine Busch races. 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 [3].

International coverage

NASCAR races in Canada are available on Rogers Sportsnet or TSN, in addition to FOX, NBC, or Speed Channel which are available in Canada. In the United Kingdom, television coverage is available on North American Sports Network (NASN), a subscription channel on satellite. In New Zealand, Nextel Cup races are shown on Sky Sport.

Video games

Main article:NASCAR Video Games

NASCAR has collaborated with Electronic Arts to develop several best-selling video games that simulate NASCAR racing.

The current game is titled NASCAR 2006: Total Team Control.

Related television shows

  • NASCAR Drivers: 360: A reality show on FX Networks that follows the life of several Nextel Cup drivers while off-the-track.
  • NASCAR Gold: A report on CNBC that first aired on July 11, 2005, presented by Dylan Ratigan; the show focused on the business of NASCAR, especially the advertising by large companies
  • NASCAR Nation: A weekly show on SPEED Channel that documents drivers' lives off the track, for example a community service event a driver participated in.
  • Inside Nextel Cup: A weekly show on SPEED Channel that recaps the previous race, with commentary from drivers.
  • NASCAR This Morning and Trackside: Weekly shows on the SPEED Channel that previews the upcoming race
  • NASCAR Victory Lane: Weekly show that recaps each race on SPEED Channel
  • NBS 24/7: Weekly show on SPEED Channel that focuses on drivers of the Busch Series

Perceptions of NASCAR

While the sport has grown tremendously, NASCAR still faces bias from many people who do not enjoy the sport.

Fan Demographics

Some bias comes from the belief that most NASCAR fans are rednecks because of the sport's Southern heritage; this stereotype is largely inaccurate. According to NASCAR, about 10% of NASCAR fans are African-American, which is a slightly smaller percentage of African-Americans than in the general population. This compares to the NFL, where African-American NFL fans represent about 11.7 percent of the total NFL base. The percentage of African-American NASCAR fans has grown by 86% since 1999. About 40% of fans are female. Almost half have attended college and about 25% have attained a college degree. About 36% of NASCAR fans make more than $50,000 a year. Finally, NASCAR fans are evenly distributed across the country. For example, 20% of NASCAR fans live in the Northeast U.S.; this is in line with the general population--20% of the U.S. population lives in the Northeast. While the largest base of NASCAR fans live in the Southern U.S., only 38% of the NASCAR fans live in the South. Again, this is in line with the general population--35% of the population lives in the South.

Other criticisms

In addition, many detractors of the sport do not enjoy what they perceive as repetitive driving around an oval, the shape of most NASCAR tracks. There are also NASCAR critics claiming that the old technologies used in the 'stock cars', such as the use of carburetors, cast-iron pushrod engine block, and leaded racing fuel bears little resemblance to modern day street vehicles.

See also

External links

News External links

References

Notes

Note 1: The largest NASCAR tracks can accommodate upwards of 170,000 people in the stands and infield, dwarfing even the largest venues of other North American sports.

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