Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain. The races are run on oval rings of approximately one quarter-mile to 2.66 miles (about 0.4 to 4.2 kilometres) length, but are also raced on road courses. Shorter ovals are called short tracks; unpaved short tracks are called dirt tracks; longer ovals are known as superspeedways. Top level races are 200 to 600 miles (300-1000 km) in length. Average speeds in the top classes are 160 mph (275.5 km/h), while speeds of 220 mph (354 km/h) are typical in comparable levels of open wheel racing. Some NASCAR races reach speeds of 204-208 mph (328-334 km/h) at tracks such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway. For safety, NASCAR has implemented the use of restrictor plates at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway that limit top speeds to approximately 187 mph (301 km/h).
A stock car, in the original sense of the term, described an automobile that has not been modified from its original factory configuration. Later the term stock car came to mean any production-based automobile used in racing. This term was used to differentiate such a car from a race car, a special, custom-built car designed only for racing purposes. The most popular cars seem to be the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Chevrolet Impala. The cars have adopted larger spoilers so that the air passes smoothly over the car to provide a larger downforce over the back of the vehicle to prevent the car from flipping over. All cars have this spoiler.
When NASCAR was first formed by Bill France, Sr. in 1948 to regulate stock car racing in the U.S., there was a requirement that any car entered be made entirely of parts available to the general public through automobile dealers. Additionally, the cars had to be models that had sold more than 500 units to the public. This is referred to as "homologation". In NASCAR's early years, the cars were so "stock" that it was commonplace for the drivers to drive themselves to the competitions in the car that they were going to run in the race. While automobile engine technology had remained fairly stagnant in World War II, advanced aircraft piston engine development had provided a great deal of available data, and NASCAR was formed just as some the improved technology was about to become available in production cars. Until the advent of the Trans-Am series in 1967, NASCAR homologation cars were the closest thing that the public could buy that was actually very similar to the cars that were winning the national races.
Before NASCAR was founded in 1948, moonshine runners during the prohibition era would often have to outrun the authorities. To do so, they had to upgrade their vehicles and eventually started getting together with fellow runners and making runs together. They would challenge one another and eventually progressed to organized events in the early 1930s. The main problem racing faced was the lack of a unified set of rules among the different tracks. The racers could not race at different tracks because it was not legal for them to race there. When Bill France saw this problem he set up a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in order to form an organization that would unify the rules. From this meeting NASCAR was founded in 1948.
The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 with a displacement of 303 cu.in. is widely recognized as the first postwar modern overhead valve (OHV) engine to become available to the public, though all the major manufacturers were also in the process of modernizing their engine designs. The Oldsmobile was an immediate success in 1949 and 1950, and all the automobile manufacturers could not help noticing that its victories resulted in noticeably higher sales of the Oldsmobile 88 to the buying public. The motto of the day became "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday". However, in spite of the fact that several competing engines were more advanced, the aerodynamic and low-slung Hudson Hornet managed to win in 1951, 1952, and 1953 with a 308 cu.in. (5.0 L) inline 6-cylinder that used an old-style flathead engine, proving there was more to winning than just a more powerful engine.
At the time, it typically took three years for a new design of car body or engine to end up in production and be available for NASCAR racing. Most cars sold to the public did not have a wide variety of engine choices, and the majority of the buying public at the time were not interested in the large displacement special edition engine options that would soon become popular. However, the end of the Korean War in 1953 started an economic boom, and then car buyers immediately began demanding more powerful engines.
Also in 1953, NASCAR recommended that the drivers add roll bars, but did not require them.
In 1957 several notable events happened. The AMA banned manufacturers from using race wins in their advertising and giving direct support to race teams, as they felt it led to reckless street racing. This forced manufacturers to become creative in producing race parts to help racers win. Race teams were often caught trying to use factory produced racing parts that were not really available to the public, though many parts passed muster by being labeled as heavy-duty "Police" parts. Car manufacturers wanted to appear compliant with the ban, but they also wanted to win.
NASCAR tracks at the time were mainly dirt tracks with modest barriers, and during the 1957 season a Mercury Monterey crashed into the crowd. This killed many spectators, and resulted in a serious overhaul of the safety rules which in turn prompted the building of larger more modern tracks. Also in 1957, Chevrolet sold enough of their new fuel injected engines to the public in order to make them available for racing (and Ford began selling superchargers as an option), but Bill France immediately banned fuel injection and superchargers from NASCAR before they could race. However, even without official factory support or the use of fuel injection, Buck Baker won in 1957 driving a small-block V-8 Chevy Bel-Air.
In February 1959 Daytona International Speedway became the first "superspeedway" on the NASCAR circuit. Its long straights and highly banked turns allowed much higher top speeds, and it remained the fastest course on the NASCAR schedule for just over a decade, when Talladega Superspeedway held its first race in September 1969. Since then additional superspeedways have been built and added to the schedule.
In 1961 Ford introduced the FE 390 in a low drag Galaxie "Starliner", but 1960 and '61 championships were won by drivers in 409-powered Chevy Impalas.
The desire from fans and manufacturers alike for higher performance cars within the restrictions of homologation meant that car makers began producing limited production "special edition" cars based on high production base models. It also became apparent that manufacturers were willing to produce increasingly larger engines to remain competitive (Ford had developed a 483 they hoped to race). For the 1963 season NASCAR engines were restricted to using a maximum displacement of 7.0 Liters (427 cu.in.) and using only two valves per cylinder.
Also, even with heavy duty special editions sold to the public for homologation purposes, the race car rules were further modified, primarily in the interest of safety. This is because race drivers and their cars during this era were subjected to forces unheard of in street use, and require a far higher level of protection than is normally afforded by truly "stock" automobile bodies.
In 1963 Ford sold enough of their aerodynamic “sport-roof” edition Galaxies to the public so it would qualify as stock, and with the heavy duty FE block bored and stroked to the new limit of 427, the top 5 finishers were all Ford. Chrysler had bored their 413 to create the “Max Wedge” 426, but it still couldn't compete with the Fords. GM's headquarters had genuinely tried to adhere to the 1957 ban, but their Chevrolet division had also constantly tried to work around it, because the other manufacturers had openly circumvented the ban. In 1963 GM gave in and openly abandoned compliance, and Chevy was allowed to produce the ZO6 427, but it did not immediately enjoy success.
Then, in 1964 the new Chrysler 426 Hemi engine so dominated the series in a Plymouth Belvedere "Sport Fury", the homologation rules were changed so that 1,000 of any engine and car had to be sold to the public to qualify as a stock part, instead of just 500. This made the 426 Hemi unavailable for the 1965 season.
In 1965 Ford adapted two single-overhead-cams to their FE 427 V8 to allow it to run at a higher RPM (called the Ford 427 Cammer). Ford started to sell "cammers" to the public to homologate it (mostly to dealer-sponsored privateer drag racers), but NASCAR changed the rules to specify that all NASCAR engines must use a single cam-in-block. But even without the Cammer, the Ford FE 427 won in 1965.
In 1966 Chrysler sold enough of the 426 Hemi's to make it available again, and they put it in their new Dodge Charger which had a low-drag rear window that was radically sloped. It was called a "fast-back", and because of this David Pearson and Richard Petty's Chargers dominated the series that year.
The 1969 season was dominated by the Dodge Daytona due to a radical body shape change. This car exceed 200 mph (321 km/h) which was a significant improvement over their competitors, 180 mph (289 km/h) was common at the time. Richard Petty could not come to contractual terms with Dodge before the 1969 season, but when he saw the Daytona, he demanded that Plymouth make something similar, but they declined (for the time being). He signed a lucrative deal with Ford and they made the Torino "Talladega" which had enough aerodynamic body improvements that it gave the Torino a higher top speed with no other changes. It was not enough, however, to catch the Daytona. NASCAR feared that these increasing speeds significantly surpassed the abilities of the tire technology of the day, and it would undoubtedly increase the number of gruesome wrecks that were occurring. As a result, the 1970 Homologation rules were changed so that one car for every two U.S. dealers had to be sold to the public to qualify, hoping to delay the use of aero-bodies until tires could improve.
For the 1970 season Dodge did not sell enough Daytonas to compete with their aero-body, but Plymouth managed to sell over 1,920 Plymouth Superbirds, which were almost identical to the Daytona. Petty came back to Plymouth in the 200+ mph Superbird, and easily won in 1970, and '71. This led to several makes of proposed 1972 "aero-cars" having their maximum engine displacement decreased to 358 cu.in. (approx. 5.8L) or they could remain at 7.0L with a restrictor plate to limit top speeds. As a result, Ford dropped out of NASCAR for several years.
Fans, drivers, and manufacturers alike demanded a complete revamping of the rules. NASCAR responded in a way that they hoped would make the cars safer and more equal, so the race series would be more a test of the drivers, rather than a test of car technology.
1972 brought so many rule changes, it has prompted many to consider this year as the start of the modern era of NASCAR racing. In addition, R.J. Reynolds (the tobacco conglomerate) took over as the major sponsor of NASCAR racing (changing the name to the "Winston Cup") and they made a significantly larger financial contribution than previous sponsors. Richard Petty's personal sponsorship with STP also set new, higher standards for financial rewards to driving teams. The sudden infusion of noticeably larger amounts of money changed the entire nature of the sport.
The 1973 oil crisis meant that large displacement special edition homologation cars of all makes were suddenly sitting unsold. From this point forward, stock cars were quickly allowed to differ greatly from anything available to the public. Modern racing "stock" cars are stock in name only, using a body template that is vaguely modeled after currently-available automobiles. The chassis, running gear, and other equipment have almost nothing to do with anything in ordinary automobiles.
Modern stock cars may superficially resemble standard American family sedans, but are in fact purpose-built racing machines built to a strict set of regulations governing the car design ensuring that the chassis, suspension, engine, etc. are architecturally identical on all vehicles. Ironically, these regulations ensure that stock car racers are in many ways technologically less sophisticated than standard cars on the road. For example, NASCAR (the premier stock car organization in the U.S.) requires carbureted engines in all of its racing series, while fuel injection is now universal in standard passenger cars. Also, the majority of production car engines use a double overhead cam (DOHC) and four valves per cylinder, while NASCAR vehicles are restricted to two valves-per-cylinder actuated by pushrods using a single cam-in-block. Modern NASCAR engines are restricted to a maximum displacement of 358 cu. in. (5.8L) even though there are still many production engines available to the public that are noticeably larger. In addition, the Ford Fusion, Dodge Avenger, Chevrolet Impala, and Toyota Camry that competed in the 2007 season were all front-wheel-drive sedans, but the NASCAR versions continue to use rear-wheel-drive.
Engines, while still containing varying components from the various manufacturers who compete in the series, are of fixed displacement, and are generally designed to ensure all entrants have near-equal vehicles. There are several categories of stock car racing, each with slightly different rules, but the key intention of cars that look like production cars, but with near-identical specifications underneath, remains true. The super-speedways continue to require the use of a restrictor plate under each carburetor to limit top speeds, while the shorter tracks do not require them.
The closest European equivalent to stock car racing is probably touring car racing, though these are raced exclusively on road courses rather than ovals.
'True' stock car racing, which consists of only street vehicles that can be bought by general public, is sometimes now called showroom stock or U-Car racing. In 1972 (same year as the beginning of modern NASCAR era), SCCA started its first showroom stock racing series, with a price ceiling on the cars of $3,000. Some modern showroom stock racing allow safety modifications done on showroom stock cars.
The most prominent championship in stock car racing is the NASCAR championship, currently named the Sprint Cup after its sponsor Sprint Nextel, and previously known as Strictly Stock (1949), Grand National (1950-1970), Winston Cup (1971-2003), and Nextel Cup (2004-2007). It is the most popular racing series in the United States, drawing over 6 million spectators in 1997, an average live audience of over 190,000 people for each race.
The most famous event in the series is undoubtedly the Daytona 500, an annual 500-mile race at Daytona Beach, Florida. The series' second-biggest event is probably The Brickyard 400, an annual 400-mile race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the legendary home of the Indianapolis 500 of the Indy Racing League, an open-wheeled racing series. NASCAR also runs the Nationwide Series, a stock car junior league, and the Craftsman Truck Series, a junior league where pickup trucks are raced. Together the two car-based series (Nextel Cup and Busch Series) drew 8 million spectators in 1997, compared to 4 million for both American open-wheel series (CART and IRL). In 2002, 17 of the 20 US top sporting events in terms of attendance were NASCAR races. Only football drew more television viewers that year.
Besides NASCAR, there are a number of other national or regional stock-car sanctioning bodies in the United States. The Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), American Speed Association (ASA), Champion Racing Association (CRA), International Motor Contest Association (IMCA), and United Speed Alliance Racing (USAR) all sanction their own forms of stock-car racing, on varying types of track, and with various levels of national and media coverage. Young drivers from these series generally aspire to move to the Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series in NASCAR. The International Race of Champions (IROC) series uses stock cars, but is usually perceived as being outside of the usual stock car racing scene because of its 'All-Star' design.
Internationally, stock car racing has not enjoyed the same success as within the United States. Prior to its purchase by NASCAR, Canada's CASCAR organized three racing series (two regional and one national) that enjoyed generally strong car-counts; the base of the sport in Canada was the short-oval region of Southern Ontario. In Europe there has been a persistent effort to introduce stock car racing. The Stock Car Speed Association ASCAR or Days of Thunder is based in Rockingham, United Kingdom, though the series has raced at the Lausitzring in Germany as well. Brazil also has a successful stock car racing series, with starting grids of 40 or more cars, and four brands competing: Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and Peugeot. Brazilian Stock Car also has two developing series. Argentina also have a popular stock series, called Turismo Carretera. Unsuccessful efforts have been made in Australia, South Africa, and Japan as well.
Stock car racing is also a popular local event. Many tracks exist in the United States and a few in Canada, catering to a wide variety of car types and fans. There are a few organizations that cater to these local short tracks, such as ARCA, ASA, CRA, IMCA, and UMP. NASCAR also supports local short track racing with their Elite Division and NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series racing.
Dirt track drivers follow the same general path. Their highest divisions are less well-known national touring late model series such as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and regional touring series.
In particular the aerodynamics ensure that cars which are following each other both have less drag than either car alone. The car in the front of a chain has slightly less drag at the rear of his car than when driving alone, while the car in the rear of a chain experiences a dramatic reduction in frontal aerodynamic resistance (called drafting). This is an important strategic advantage for team drivers, as the rear driver will get significantly better fuel consumption which will allow fewer re-fueling stops. Therefore it is in the drivers' interests to cooperate in forming chains of cars with low drag. However, a driver must at some point end cooperation in order to win the race. The combination of cooperation and non-cooperation leads to some very sophisticated strategic decision making between team members and competitors alike.
Also it should be noted that the tracks, at least those used by NASCAR, are not identical, with some being oval, some being tri-ovals, one being essentially triangular, and two of them in fact being road courses that are also used by road racing series. At many of these tracks, the drafting tactics described above play little factor. More so, at the grassroots level, most stock car races take place at short tracks, where these aerodynamic effects are negligible.
The modern British Formula One Stock Car is a highly sophisticated purpose built race car with race-tuned V-8 engines developing 650 bhp, quick change axles and gearboxes and biased and staggered chassis and braking set up for constant left turning. However large bumpers/armour is mandatory with contact very much encouraged to remove opponents. The sport can be seen at venues throughout Britain and Mainland Europe. The smaller Formula Two Stock Car Racing, previously known as "The Juniors" or "Junior Stock Cars", is also very popular. A downsized version of the Formula One Stock Car Racing, these cars are powered by the 2 litre Ford 'Pinto' engine. There are also many other formulas running on the oval tracks throughout a season that starts around Easter and continues to the end of October/mid November.
In the World Final, this year at Kings Lynn, Stuart Smith Jnr. raced to victory becoming the 2007 BriSCA World Champion from former champion, also his older brother Andy Smith.
Mick Sworder won the F2 World Final at Arena Essex in September 2007.
Another open wheeled stock car formula that races in the UK are Spedeworth V8 Stock Cars. Licensed by Spedeworth, as opposed BriSCA, the V8 stock cars use small block 5 litre Chevrolet engines and race at tracks operated by Spedeworth. Previously known as F80 and Spedeworth F1.