NASCAR was founded in 1948, but its stock car racing roots trace back to the prohibition era. Bootleggers needed fast and nimble vehicles that could evade the law and navigate sinuous mountain roads.
After prohibition ended, the drivers transitioned into racing for profit, perhaps the biggest achievement of the temperance movement. The evolution of racing has now culminated into modern-day cars traveling literally 100 miles per hour faster than the race cars from 60 and 70 years ago.
And the latest technology has pushed the sport to a place stock car pioneers couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Incredibly realistic simulators have improved drivers’ opportunities to prepare for race day. Drivers sit in a roll cage, as they would on a real track. The seat is placed on sliding rails in the middle of a virtual reality room with a panoramic screen.
Drivers also stay in radio contact with engineers who can make adjustments (such as brake pressure) on the fly. The simulator incorporates a lot of movement and vibration, even causing motion sickness in rare cases.
Retired NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon called it
“an enlightening experience…Once you get in the car and the video screen comes alive, basically the car’s running. You put it in gear, you release the clutch just like you would if you were sitting on pit road on an actual race track.”
Gordon, who is also Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) co-owner, has been putting his drivers through these simulations.
From a USA Today report:
When he [Gordon] tried it again, he was amazed at the simulation’s accuracy for Pocono Raceway – from the track’s bumps to its turns.
According to Chevy, these simulations are crucial for developing vehicle performance and add a new element to driver practices without the risk of injury or car damage.
There’s also a quick turnaround for updating the cars. If the team runs through a test on Thursday and finds an adjustment that could benefit the car, they can make that change by Friday.
HMS test driver Alex Bowman even joked once the drivers realized the advantages of the simulations, they’re practically fighting over “time in the seat.”
“I feel like it’s really made our race cars better and our packages that we unload with better,” Bowman said in [FOX Sports’] Race Hub‘s video. “And it kind of helps us roll through changes at the race track faster.”
The simulator provides an entertaining and stress-free experience for the drivers–they can do “donuts” or intentionally send the car over a wall–but at the end of the day, it’s serious business.
The drivers use the simulations to carve out any advantage they can find.
From a NASCAR.com article:
For teams, the highly advanced piece is the next best thing to turning laps on an actual track, and can be used to assess setups for each of the tracks on the NASCAR schedule — from superspeedways to short tracks, road courses to intermediates. For drivers, it’s also an opportunity to log laps and become familiar with the nuances of each venue. It’s also one place where weather is never an issue.
“The biggest help for me is just more seat time,” [Chris] Buescher said.
It should be noted that Buescher went on to win the XFINITY Series race a short time later at Mid-Ohio for his first career victory.
NASCAR has progressed from a grassroots activity to the second-most popular sport in the United States behind the NFL.
And with an ever-growing influx of enthusiasm and money, technology will continue to raise the sport to new heights.