There is nothing to compare with 40 V8 racing cars roaring around an oval track for over three hours, at average speeds of 200mph inches away from each other for 500 miles. These racing cars represent the state of the art engineering, reliability, and safety. With bulky roll cages and doors that don’t open, they are not designed around the driver’s convenience, so adjustments need to be made to get the driver in and out of the car, one of these is to the NASCAR Steering wheel.
The two main reasons why NASCAR has removable steering wheels are safety and accessibility. A NASCAR has doors welded shut, seat side bolsters, and roll cages making entry and exit difficult. A removable steering wheel enables better access for the driver, and in emergencies, it is easier to get the driver to safety.
NASCAR is designed to run as fast as reliably and in as safe a manner as possible. In their quest to meet these goals, driver convenience is less important. Removable steering wheels contribute not only to the driver’s ease of comfort but also to the driver’s safety in the event of an accident.
Why are NASCAR Steering Wheels Removable?
There are two reasons why NASCAR steering wheels are removable. These are:
Safety Of The Driver
Unlike Formula 1 cars which struggle to race behind the vehicle in front, NASCARs actively use the slipstream benefits by tailgating the car in front. Reducing drag in this way can increase their speed up to 5 mph.
NASCAR races involve cars running inches away from each other, at average speeds of two hundred miles an hour (321 kph). If a driver makes a slight error of judgment or suffers equipment failure, the potential chain reaction involving several cars can be spectacular and catastrophic.
At these high speeds, any accident is a major event; cars go flying (literally) out of control, hitting other vehicles, or smashing against the safety fences bordering the track. With G-Forces between 50g and the record 240g, Cars are pretty smashed up and, without the protection of the roll cage, would end up as smashed bits of metal and very injured drivers.
After an incident, a well-practiced and coordinated safety operation clicks into gear, and trained emergency and medical personnel are quickly at the scene assessing the situation and the actions which need to be taken to preserve the driver’s health.
Removing the driver from the car and, if necessary, to emergency facilities is the main priority, and removing the steering wheel and drivers’ safety harness are vital actions that enable this.
As the driver’s position is such a tight fit, If the steering wheel were not removable, valuable time would be lost removing the driver and, if necessary, applying the appropriate treatment.
Ease Of Access For The Driver
As advanced as NASCARs are, the driver’s ease of entry and exit into the car is not simple. Firstly, the doors are welded shut, meaning the driver must be a contortionist and enter, feet first through the window on the driver’s side. He then needs to maneuver around the form-fitting seat with thick bolsters, avoid the car’s roll bar, and finally land in the driver’s seat.
Removing the steering wheel makes this process easier and a little less athletic for the driver. It also has to be fitted and locked back into position one the driver is in place.
How Are NASCAR Steering Wheels Designed?
NASCAR uses steel or aluminum spoked steering wheels and a steel circumference ring; this makes the steering wheel strong, and light is essential to ensure the wheel doesn’t deform in an accident.
Interestingly, when wheeling the car in the garage, the teams put on a different steering wheel; this protects the integrity and reduces the chance of damage to the racing steering wheel.
NASCAR steering wheels are generally of a hexagonal or splined hub. Apart from safety rules, there is no specific legislation that forces the driver to use one or another design, and the final design of the steering wheel will be driven by the driver’s comfort and personal preferences.
Who Installs The Steering Wheel?
Unless there is an emergency, the driver will typically attach or remove the steering wheel. Most crews have a procedure that ensures that a second person (mechanic) will check the attachment of the steering wheel and that it is secure.
Has the Steering Wheel ever come off during a NASCAR race?
The driver, however, remains responsible for the secure attachment of the steering wheel so if it comes off the responsibility lies with them.
There have been two relatively recent incidents when the steering wheels came off a NASCAR during the race.
Both occurred In 2016.
At the Phoenix International Raceway, Jimmie Johnson started to accelerate, and as he pulled on the steering wheel, it came off in his hands, and the car veered into the outside wall. In Johnson’s words, it led to one of the scariest moments in the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion’s life.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the second driver in that year to have his steering wheel coming off at top speed. (You can watch this above) On the backstretch of the Talladega Superspeedway, fortunately under caution, Earnhardt’s steering wheel came loose. In a fantastic testament to his ability to think under pressure and skill, he grabbed the steering column bolt and regained control as the car turned toward the wall. He then calmly reattached the wheel before entering the third turn.
Why Do NASCAR Drivers Sit so close to the Steering wheel?
Racing Drivers will tell you, at length in our experience, how fatiguing driving a race car can be. Whether this is a 10 minute race around an Autocross track, or more believably, the extremes of the coca Cola 600 NAscar race.
- Being closer to steering wheel offers a few benefits in a race car. One is that extending your arms for periods of time is going to invite cramp and pain. Two things you definitely don’t want to happen when you are travelling at 200 miles an hour in a pack of 30 cars. The further away you are the more you relay on just one muscle group in your shoulders. Driving closer to the steering wheel spread’s this strain out more.
- The other is is actually gives better control over the car, which is something you definitely do want to happen in a pack of 30 cars travelling at 200 miles an hour! If you are closer you can use all the muscles in your arm to help you control the car, biceps, wrists and forearms as well as your shoulders,
Does NASCAR Use Power Steering?
Stock cars can weigh up over 3300 lbs, and travel at 200 miles an hour. That is a lot of car to be throwing around a track. In the early years of NASCAR drivers would have to use their brute strength to hold the car in position around corners but the races were not as long. Now it is a feat of endurance to just complete a race.
So power steering has become an essential in NASCAR. It was introduced to the sport by Geoff Bodine in 1981 and quickly became common in NASCAR race cars.
It does occasionally break, like on Dale Earnhardt’s car in the 1985 Bristol Speedway 500. For 450 laps Dale had to fight the car around the track without power steering, eventually emerging victorious. We bet he had arms like Popeye after that!
Power steering has enable the drivers to maintain more control over the cars, and with the closeness of racing especially on ovals, it has improved safety hugely.
Who Makes NASCAR Steering Wheels?
Currently most drivers use a steering wheel from MAX Papis. They are a company that specializes in steering wheels for motorsports. Including NASCAR, Karting, Drag racing boating, gold carts and even simracing. So if you wanted to use an authentic Sim steering wheel for racing they have it covered.
There are other, perfectly decent option on Amazon of course if you don’t have that sort of money!
As discussed in the first part of this article, accidents during drafting can be major traumatic events. A removable steering wheel saves time when removing or recuing a driver from a car.
NASCAR in the early days considered safety very much a secondary thought. In the interim, great strides have been made in the sport. One of the less well-known, however equally significant, was NASCAR’s decision to make the steering wheels removable.
Not only does the driver have easier access and exit for the car, but a removable steering wheel also allows EMS crews faster access to the driver.
As long as they come off when they are supposed to, and not during the race that is!