Motorsport is an incredibly broad category of sports that is incredibly simple to define: it's any competition involving something with a mechanical engine. Obviously, motorsport includes auto racing, which is by far the most famous type. What most people don't realize however, is that motorsport includes competitions - racing and non-racing - of anything (and we mean anything
) with a motor, from aircraft to watercraft to snowmobiles to lawnmowers.
The following have their own pages
Twenty Four Hours Of Le Mans
World Rally Championship
United Sports Car Championship
Ever since the earliest days of the automobile, there have been folks who have attempted to organize races. While there were earlier attempts (included a few farces where only one competitor showed up), the first race is universally agreed to have been the Paris-Rouen
in 1894. Within two decades, the first purpose-built racetracks had sprung up
Naturally, with even the smallest race cars being larger than the average person, and going at speeds well above accepted road speed limits, safety has always been a major concern - both for the drivers and for the spectators. Especially in auto racing's early days, fatal accidents were incredibly
common. The deadliest accident in motorsport history was the 1955 Le Mans disaster
, where a car flew into the crowd and killed 84 people. That incident led to auto racing being banned in several countries, including Switzerland (where it remains banned to this day).
Thankfully, safety improvements in the major series have made even injuries far less common than they used to be, and deaths on the racetrack a near impossibility. Not so thankfully, those safety improvements only came after deaths of well-known and well-loved (or hated) competitors - namely, Ayrton Senna in Formula 1 (1994) and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in NASCAR (2001).
Safety improvements can take many forms, of course. Car construction is the most obvious means, but driver items (like the HANS device) were brought to the fore after Earnhardt's death, along with the 'SAFER' barrier meant to reduce the forces of a crash into a wall. Even procedures can be changed, whether how to reply to a caution period or what a driver should do after a wreck.
Types of Auto Racing
Open-wheel racing is the most well-known form of auto racing worldwide, and sanctioning bodies include Formula One
and Indy Car
. It is so named since the cars have no fenders, and the wheels are "open."
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is the most well-known form of auto racing in America
, where the highest-level sanctioning body is NASCAR
. Stock car racing is named because, initially, the cars were the same cars that were sold to everyone on the market ("stock"). As any fan can tell you though, as time went on, the cars became less and less "stock," and by the 2000s, the manufacturer decals (and likely not even those) were possibly the only thing "stock" left.
Stock car racing has its origins in Prohibition, where moonshine runners in the American South would use ubiquitous but illegally modified road vehicles to evade the police. When Prohibition ended, the moonshiners had nothing to do, until someone got the idea to organize races. These became popular entertainment in the South, and soon dirt ovals sprung up all across the region. NASCAR was founded after World War II as a way to consolidate and organize these widely disparate races. By the 1970s, the races had moved from dirt to paved tracks. An explosion in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with some slight disputes
within the Indy Car sanctioning organization(s), cemented NASCAR's place atop the American racing hierarchy.
Reflecting its humble, blue-collar origins, stock car racing has always had a reputation for being more aggressive and down-and-dirty its open-wheel counterparts. Using one's car to push and/or shove competitors, a criminal offense in open-wheel racing, is perfectly acceptable (and even encouraged) in stock car racing, and many, many races over the years have been determined by this. (Deliberately wrecking competitors is still frowned upon.)
A large Fandom Rivalry
exists between open-wheel and stock car fans, particularly within the United States.
Endurance racing, unlike standard races where the winner is the first to cover a certain distance, involves racing for a certain time.
The most famous endurance race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is racing for 24 hours straight around the circuit at Le Mans
. Since few, if any, people have the sheer willpower to drive race cars for 24 hours straight,note
each car will usually be driven by a team of 3 or 4 drivers who take shifts.
Notable North American endurance races include the Rolex 24 at Daytonanote
and the 12 Hours of Sebring, which both race under the Tudor United Sports Car Championship
banner in 2014, after several years of being administrated by rival sports car racing bodies - the Rolex Sports Car Series for Daytona and the American Le Mans Series for Sebring.
Despite advances in communications, radios, lighting, and so forth, one constant in just about any motorsports event is some guy waving a flag. There may be just one at the start/finish line at a local quarter-mile dirt track, or perhaps one with some assistants at Daytona ... or a bunch of them scattered around a long road course at various stations. However many there are, their main purpose is to control and direct the competitors. These can vary amongst sanctioning bodies, but a few stand out.
- GREEN: Go. All's well in the world. Basically, normal racing conditions (e.g. 'It's been a weird day. We've had about two laps under green and fifty not.')
- YELLOW: Caution. Something's wrong. Don't race; just proceed calmly, and no passing for position (unless the other guy just can't keep up at the reduced pace). Some racing bodies (Formula One being the most notable) will have these in sections for minor incidents, a 'local caution' or 'local yellow', with a green flag waving past the point to signal all's well. More severe incidents can cause a 'full course caution', or more often 'safety car' period: the entire track is put under caution conditions and a safety car is sent out to set the pace. Most oval tracks don't bother with 'local' cautions; NASCAR doesn't bother with them even on their road courses. In these cases, all cautions are run behind a pace car.
- RED: Stop. Whatever happened, all drivers will be directed to a certain area and told to just park it. Mild reasons include not wanting the last laps of a race to be run under a full-course caution, or rain on an oval course. Major reasons include things like 'track blocked by wrecks and/or debris', 'cars upside down', 'walls broken', or 'driver laid out on ground in pain after bad wreck'.
- BLUE: A faster car behind you (often almost a full lap ahead of you) is about to pass. This is often called a 'courtesy' flag, and you have no formal obligation to let him by. (Formula One is a little more strict with this one.)
- BLACK: Uh oh. Go to the pits. Go directly to the pits. Do not pass 'Go', et cetera. Some bodies will have variants for different reasons, but in general you do not want to see this.
- CHEQUERED: Well, except this one. End of the race.
Some bodies will have different flags for various purposes, and of course conduct under each flag is regulated by your sanctioning body.
Well, you have to race on something ...
Ovals (and variants)
Best known for NASCAR and sprint car races, these tracks are generally oval shaped. Go fast and turn left. Asphalt or dirt, this is generally where an aspiring stock car driver will start his or her career, often at a local speedway. These can range from 0.25 mile local tracks to 2.5 mile super speedways.
Naturally, some folks just can't make do with an oval. Daytona International Speedway is one of the better known tri-ovals
; one side of the oval has a little kink in it, making it resemble a triangle. This came about because Big Bill France, NASCAR's founder and the designer of Daytona (and its sister track Talladega, the next best known tri-oval) wanted a frontstretch design that would improve line of sight for fans so those at the edges of the grandstands wouldn't have to crane their necks so much as the cars ran around the track.
Inspired from when races were held on actual roads, these courses feature multiple turns in either direction (although generally moving either clockwise or counterclockwise). They're still purpose-built, and may feature different configurations for different racing leagues or sanctioning bodies.
Some venues aren't purpose-built tracks. Instead, with the support of the local government, streets will be closed off for racing, whether a few blocks for go-karts in Illinois, or the famed Circuit de Monaco for Formula One. In any case, temporary walls/fences/barricades will be set up to help contain things.
A blanket way of covering courses that have a bare indication of where the racing surface is. These can range from "short course" setups that are just one to two miles in length (such as those found in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series, which races primarily in the U.S. Southwest and Pacific Northwest) to rally courses that are thousands of miles long, meant to be run over the course of days.
Terms and techniques
No tyre will last 300 miles of heavy racing, and race cars are not known for fuel efficiency. Pit stops (done on 'pit road') allow a crew to replace tyres and fuel during a race on a circuit (road or oval), and make various adjustments. This can range from adjusting handling setups to mending minor damage to replacing the driver. Pit road can get congested, of course, especially if for some reason (say, a full course caution) everyone decides to get service done. Note that there are no formal time outs—if you spend 20 seconds changing tyres, and everyone else spends 13, you've lost 7 seconds. And possibly your job as a tyre changer.
This is THE place to be, especially in a corner. Essentially, it's trying to make the widest-diameter circle when in a turn. Staying glued to the inside means you have to slow down to take a turn that sharp; contrast turning right with turning left. Yes, that works wherever you are. One of those is sharper than the other. The other you can turn faster on. Same principle. Naturally, if another car's where you want to go, you'll have to make do ...
Of course, track conditions and tire composition can affect whether one line or another is even viable for racing. For instance, NASCAR's oldest track, Martinsville Speedway, has turns that are banked at 12 degress, which is relatively flat by their standards, and are extremely tight, in much the same way as "hairpin" turns at road courses. Naturally, many drivers approach these turns in the same manner as a hairpin, trying to outbrake their competition going into the turns, something that's more effective on the bottom. Additionally, tire wear at Martinsville tends to take the form of "marbles", large pieces of rubber that sit loosely on the track instead of being matted in like the smaller pieces that allow for increased grip during the course of the race. These pieces collect on the outer grooves, and when they adhere to the tires, they cause the cars to lose grip, which forces a driver to slow down even more or risk spinning out. Because of these two factors, the bottom lane is the only viable lane at Martinsville, and to some degree or another most other flat tracks that NASCAR runs at.
Drafting / Slipstreaming
This refers to following another car in its aerodynamic wake. Two cars doing this can drive faster than one, or it can allow a rear car to slingshot around a front one. Note that 'bump drafting'
is not really aerodynamic about how it speeds up the car in front ...
Most racers don't like being passed. Basically, this means putting your car so it ... blocks another. This can be dangerous; Carl Edwards tried this twice in the final lap of a race in 2009. He got away with one move. The second, Brad Keselowski was already at his fender. Edwards's car ended up in the catch fence. (The fence ABOVE the retaining wall.) NASCAR lets nature enforce blocking restrictions (as mentioned); other leagues may prohibit it (to avoid things like that).
Safety Car / Pace Car
As noted above, sometimes the entire field needs to be slowed down in order to safely clear something from the track, but the race itself doesn't need to be outright suspended or stopped. For these full-course cautions, a safety car (or, typically for stock car racing, a pace car) will be sent out, lights flashing, to set the proper slow pace.
DO NOT HIT IT.
In fact, don't even pass it without authorisation; the whole point is that you're supposed to go as slow as it is. (If somehow the safety car is wrecked, this rule may be waived. This HAS happened!)