Editorial credit: ﹏﹏﹏﹏﹏ / Shutterstock.com
Think back to the last NASCAR race you watched. Can you see the cars flying around the track at 200-mph? Do you see the fans cheering in the stands? Do you hear the roar of the engines? Great! Now answer this simple question: were the cars’ headlights turned on at any point? Now you’re picturing those lights…you know they’re there, but were they ever switched on?
For mainly safety reasons NASCAR does not utilize real headlights in their race cars. Night races rely on a well-lit track rather than headlights containing glass. With the frequent bumps and crashes this would cause glass to scatter on the track and create safety implications, Brand stickers are used as replacements
As fun as all this reminiscing is, there’s an even more burning question that you should be asking yourself, namely: do NASCAR cars have headlights at all? Now your face is likely screwed up in frustration as you think back once again to that image in your mind of the last race you saw. You definitely remember seeing lights on those cars…or did you?
In this article we’ll be taking a moment to look at the question of NASCAR vehicles and their headlights…or lack of them.
The answer to our core question is actually no, NASCAR vehicles do not have headlights. But why do we all have so fresh in our minds the image of headlights on these race cars that we saw so recently?
The answer is that the car makers do actually put stickers/decals in the place you’d normally expect to see headlights, and that’s why you think you’ve seen them with headlights, because from a distance it looks like they still do.
But why don’t NASCAR vehicles have headlights? Aren’t some of their races at night, or at least at times of day when the sun is going down? Don’t the cars need to have lights? Is it even safe to have cars on a track that don’t have lights on them? These questions and more we will try to answer in the sections below.
The primary reason for using decals instead of real headlights is actually safety. That may seem completely counterintuitive when headlights are a safety feature of any car, but it’s true. What is one of the main constituent parts of any headlight array?
The answer is glass. Even when the casings are not made of glass, there are still glass components within any headlight housing and that’s dangerous for the NASCAR track.
In another blog article, we talked about the frequency of crashes in NASCAR. In that piece, we revealed that crashes at key races like the Daytona 500 were still alarmingly frequent, but thankfully hardly ever fatal. Crashes bring debris onto the track, which is why NASCAR takes steps to minimize that possibility.
For example, there are no side mirrors to come off and get strewn onto the track. Equally, there is no glass in the light arrays to get broken and send hard-to-see shards of sharp tire-cutting glass all over the track. That’s good for race day safety, but also even better for the raceway workers who would otherwise spend hours scouring the track after each race looking for stray glass shards of all sizes.
The issue of safety doesn’t stop at the glass parts, either. Another safety concern when it comes to both headlights and taillights is dazzling other drivers. If you’ve ever been driving down a road where some idiot is coming at you from the other direction with their high-beam headlights on full blast, you know how disconcerting and potentially dangerous it is to get dazzled by lights.
Now imagine that you’re speeding around a track at 200-mph in an environment where you only have a second at most to make critical decisions. The level of concentration required is so high, that not even a momentary distraction from dazzling headlights and taillights is tolerable.
Another reason for using stickers instead of headlights is that the three main NASCAR vehicle makers: Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet, all want their cars to look as close to a real “stock” car as possible. They use decals to create the illusion that this race car could actually be just like any other Toyota, Ford or Chevy car that you see and admire in the street.
While we all might know that a NASCAR car is obviously different from one of these cars that we’d pick up at the dealership, it helps more people connect with the race if they can more easily identify what they’re watching, and that’s a big part of what headlight and other decals are really about.
It’s not cheap to build safe and effective NASCAR vehicles. They may be lacking all the bells and whistles that come with a high-end Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro; they may not even have side-view mirrors, but they are packed with a bunch of other equipment that has to be manufactured to the highest-possible standards and carefully installed to make sure it works every time it’s needed without fail.
All this adds up in cost, and so to make the car more budget-friendly — but without compromising on safety — the car makers forgo the headlights and taillights, opting to use stickers instead.
A final reason for using decals is also one of branding for each different car maker. The three main car makers for NASCAR: Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota, all use different shapes of headlight stickers to help viewers to differentiate between their cars while on the tracks. Don’t forget that NASCAR is just as much an opportunity for these brands to promote their street cars as it is an opportunity for anything else they want.
So how are the stickers different?
- First let’s look at Chevy. They use rectangular-shaped decals for their headlights, which are more reminiscent of the rectangular Chevy “bowtie” logo.
- As for Ford, they use egg-shaped stickers, not unlike the oval that encases the famous Ford logo.
- Toyota’s headlight stickers are edgier, thinner, and shaped in a more angular and diagonal way, perhaps a nod to the modernity that governs Toyota’s manufacturing culture.
Why use these stickers for branding purposes when each OEM has their logo on the vehicle? Well, between the speed the cars are going at any one time, and the plethora of other stickers that plaster each car representing the many sponsors of each team and driver, it’s actually quite hard to see the logo.
Using unique headlight stickers is just a good way to augment the unique branding of each team.
NASCAR Race cars may aim to if not actually be stock cars at least look like them. However they are designed for purpose not for commuting and headlights are an unneeded feature that is omitted for the reasons we have highlighted above.
As many fans will know the lack of headlights is not the only difference between a production model and a NASCAR racer, but it is one of the more visually obvious ones.