Useful Notes: Motorsports
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 pagesFormula One Indy Car NASCAR 24 Hours of Le Mans Rallying World Rally Championship United Sports Car Championship
HistoryEver 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
SafetyNaturally, 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 racingOpen-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 racingStock 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 racingEndurance 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.
Racing flagsDespite 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.