Americans have given their own flair to racing cars for competition. American auto racing has gone hand in hand with the development of the automobile in this country. As soon as industrious Yankee builders pushed their new creations out of that barn or workshop or off the factory floor; the most natural questions to ask was “how fast will it go and can I beat the pants off the guy down the road?” America’s answer has been a unique variety of road challenges testing the limits of both driver and vehicle. This article focuses on the major types of American auto racing.
Stock car racing
In America, stock car events are arguably the number one type of auto challenge. Usually held on a big oval track, stock cars look like production cars, but that’s only skin deep. At their heart are purpose-built machines, constructed to tight specifications. The largest stock car governing body is NASCAR. The Sprint Cup Series is NASCAR’s premier series, its most famous events being the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. However, this isn’t all they oversee and there are lesser series that NASCAR governs which are no less exciting to follow.
Next in line for popularity would have to be drag racing. Here, the objective is to get to the end of a straight-line track from a standing start (traditionally ¼ mile), before the guy in the lane next to you – simple! Drag racing was organized as a sport by Wally Parks in the 1950s through the creation of the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association). The NHRA was formed as an organized response to discourage the dangerous activity of street racing.
Single seat cars are also known as open wheel cars and the best known type is Formula One. In the USA, our twist on this type of event is currently the Indy Car Series, and previously CART. The cars are typically less sophisticated than F1 vehicles and there are more restrictions on technology (to control costs); but the competition is every bit as exciting!
Touring car racing
Touring car events are road racing done with vehicles that are built up from production models. Here, “rubbing” is racing due to the small speed differentials and big grids. The SCCA’s SPEED World Challenge Touring Car and Grand Touring championships are the “big dog” in North America touring car racing. America’s historic Trans-Am Series is the “grand-daddy” road racing series. So these are the events to lookout for if road racing is your thing.
Sports car racing
Sports car racing involves cars that are built up from production sports car models, as well as prototype sports cars, competing within classes on closed circuits. These races are often held over long distances, at least 1,000 km (621 mi), and cars are driven by teams of drivers, switching every few hours. Famous American sports car races include the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
In off-road racing, various classes of modified vehicles, including cars, compete in an off-road environment. In North America these challenges often take place in the desert, such as the famous Baja 1000.
Gosh! I’m out of space and I haven’t even touch on Production car racing, Historic car racing, kart racing (aka karting), Rally racing or the likes of The Pikes Peak Hillclimb which was a demanding challenge for participants in the years 1947-1955 and 1965-1969.
As my last, parting factoid, I want you to know that an American race track in West Allis, Wisconsin; the “Milwaukee Mile” holds the distinction of being the oldest motor racing track in the world, Auto races have been held there since 1903. Yup, that’s true! In the 1800’s, this venue starting life as a one-mile (1.032 mile to be exact) horse racing track. Later, it operated as a dirt track for cars (until 1953) and then was paved in 1954. The track has held events sanctioned by major sanctioning bodies, such as the USAC, NASCAR, CART/Champ Car World Series and the Indy Car Series.