Do NASCAR Race Cars Have Speedometers?


Do NASCAR Race Cars Have Speedometers

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a NASCAR really looks like? You might imagine that the dash is just a pared down version of a regular street car, but the story is actually a lot more interesting than that. One question that has filled the minds of some curious about NASCAR is what the dashboard of race cars looks like whether or not these superb race cars have speedometers.

NASCAR dashboards do not have speedometers. NASCAR drivers use the RPM and gearing to determine on track speed. With the introduction of the Digital dashboard in 2015 and its 16+ information choices they can access more relevant racing information like RPMs and water, oil, fuel, brake pressures and temperatures.

We’ll answer that question and take a closer look at what kind of gear you do find on a typical NASCAR dashboard in the article below.

Do NASCARs Have Speedometers?

The simple answer is no, they do not. NASCAR Cup cars do not carry speedometers even though the drivers push the cars to speeds of 200-mph or more during some races. So, why is this? Why remove an instrument like a Speedometer in a NASCAR that the rest of us regard as having such critical importance to a car’s overall safety?

You might think a NASCAR driver would both want and need to monitor his/her speed using a speedometer as they fly around the track.

The primary reason this isn’t the case is that the speedometer would undoubtedly prove too much of a distraction when the typical NASCAR driver already has a million and one things to focus on as they travel at those 200+ mile-per-hour speeds.

As it happens, many regular gauges that you might find on the typical car dashboard don’t work in the same way on NASCAR vehicles because of the way some of the tracks are built.

The cars are frequently dealing with banking of anywhere from 5 to 30 degrees, which means things like fuel gauges wouldn’t give accurate readings.

In 2015, NASCAR implemented a new policy of installing digital dashboards in all cars. The move towards digital dashes is a key safety move as it provides accurate and easy-to-see information that the driver needs. The driver can get it instantly, and thus less of their precious reaction time is eaten away trying to read gauges.

When you’re in a car driving at NASCAR speeds, reaction time is your most precious commodity. For every mile per hour you go over 150, the amount of time you have to react to various situations is diminished. The slightest lapse in concentration can result in missing a hazard and causing a potentially fatal crash.

What’s On a NASCAR Dash?

NASCAR digital displays show a number of important pieces of information. The most important of which is arguably the RPM counter, but all features play their role: lap time, water and oil temperature, water and oil pressure, fuel pressure, voltage, and so on.

The display can usually hold 16 (up to 24 options) different bits of information depending on how each team configures it. There is no uniform standard that all teams must follow when it comes to configuration. It’s down to each team.

What Information Can be Displayed on a NASCAR Digital Dashboard?

Use of Dashboards became mandatory in NASCAR in 2016, and the options for information displayed were increased greatly as well. We mentioned earlier that there are multiple aspects about the race and the car that can be displayed on the Dashboard while a NASCAR is racing.

We list some of this information in the table below.

Table 1: Most Common Feature Options on a NASCAR Dashboard.

Information on NASCAR Digital DashboardReason for Display
Rpm ReadoutRPMs to a NASCAR driver give an indication of how fast the car is running, and the limits of the gearing. it used to be a series of green, yellow orange and Red lights. If red light come on in the pit lane you were going to get caught with a speeding penalty.
Lap TimeLap times should be known to both the driver and the cree chief to plan race strategies once the green flag is dropped. Knowing these can help manage pit stop needs, number of tires, fuel needed and issues and improvements to the car
Water TemperatureThe temperature of water in the engine will affect both the oil pressure and temperature. We explain why this is important below. If the water gets too hot it will lose its cooling ability and the engine can overheat.
Oil TemperatureOil works best as a lubricant, important in all engines, especially important high RPM ones. It works best at around 230-260 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 285 degrees and it loses its lubricating effectiveness. (petroleum that is, synthetic can go higher)
Water PressureWater Pressure keeps the liquid in contact with the metal, to low and it becomes less effective.
Oil PressureEngines will operate at their best with an optimum oil pressure, however high oil pressure can affect horsepower so a balance needs to be struck.
VoltageShows the voltage of the battery in the car.
Fuel PressureHow much pressure is pushing the fuel into the engine. most engines have an optimum pressure.
Fuel TemperatureFuel temperature has to be just right, to high and less dense and it may combust to early and produce knocking, to low and more dense and it may reduce peak performance.
Brake PressureThis has to be at its optimum, although brakes are seldom used on large Ovals, you want to make sure they work as intended when needed! to low and it will take longer to stop,and tooo high and they will stop too sharply.
Air TemperatureThis can effects oil temperature and therefore pressure.
Track bar positionAlso called the panhard bar, this will shows if the cars is set up for under or over steer by moving the track bar up or down respectively.
Crankcase pressureControlling this can give improvements in horsepower and engine life.
Manifold pressureReads the suction power of air into the engine. More air and fuel, more power.
Lambada left and rightMeasures oxygen Levels in both exhausts
Rollover protection activeFeature that shuts off the engine if the car flips.
Throttle input selectionDisplays the throttle sensor input information
Gear temp road courseMonitors the temperature of gears on road courses, where they are used more frequently.
Trans temp road coursetransmissions operate best (usually) at between 175 to 225 degrees. This helps monitor that temperature.

Why is Knowing the RPM Important to a NASCAR Driver?

Indications of the current RPM level in the engine is important because of the way NASCAR drivers operate the transmission in their cars. NASCAR vehicles are all manual cars with 4 and now 5 gear ratios. Though they are manual and even though there is a clutch pedal in the car, the driver does not use the clutch pedal to change the gear ratio.

To change gears in a NASCAR vehicle, the driver needs to have an incredible sense of their speed, but also an indication of their current RPM. By matching the RPM and road speed, the driver can know when the gears’ rotational speeds are matched enough to make the shift without using the clutch. It’s an extremely challenging skill that’s at the very core of the NASCAR playbook.

It is also how they navigate Pit lane speeds and speeds behind the safety car. They can remember the RPM needed to travel at that speed and then use the same when driving in for a pitstop. Therefore preventing penalties. We may need a speedometer in our cars as we don’t have the experience of using our gears and revs to work out our speeds, but NASCAR drivers certainly don’t.

It obviously takes a lot of practice, but getting an indication of the RPM levels is a critical factor, which is why it is prominently featured on the NASCAR dash either as a colored-light indicator or a very big and clear number.

Why Did NASCAR Switch to Digital Dash Displays?

Ultimately, NASCAR made the decision in 2015 to switch to dash displays not just for drivers and their teams to have access to both more information and to make it safer, but also for the more hardcore fans who really like to dig into the statistics and information that comes out of every race.

Similarly as this is Stock car racing, most stock versions of these cars have digital displays as well.

Visibility and Customization

As we’ve touched on above, 2 of the key drives to the digital move were to help drivers and teams improve dash visibility and allow them to create a more customized dash by setting up the 16 individual preset screens in ways that benefit their individual drivers.

That means the car is better tailored to the driver and the team can ensure a better experience and hopefully more success out on the track. What’s more, drivers themselves have commented positively on how much easier the information is to see compared to analog gauges. They can even choose the colours and sizes of how the information is displayed, useful if the driver has to wear glasses for example.

2-Way Communication

Another key aspect of going digital was to provide an effective platform for 2-way real-time communication between NASCAR drivers and their teams.

The system allows crew chiefs to keep a close eye on things like oil and water pressure and temperature, and then communicate any cautions to the driver. They can also do the same with any penalties.

Data Collection

The beauty of running the system on a digital platform is that it provides a lot more precise and instant data for teams to use. When analyzing a race after the fact, teams can better determine where and when things started to go wrong, and make better provision and strategy for the future to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

This data is also of tremendous interest to many of the fans who may want to know in precise terms everything that was going on in a driver’s car. Greater precision of data enhances the overall sport for teams and fans alike.

There’s a lot more potential for the digital dash too as NASCAR works with other key suppliers like tire makers to work on allowing the digital dash to more accurately display current tire pressure, and so on.

The more information is available to teams, the better they can set up each car to suit the driver and each race where different factors become more or less of a worry and they it can help them to get the most out of a car during the race.

Final Lap

So NASCAR drivers rely on other methods like gearing and RPMs to work out their speed, and NASCAR does not use Speedometers in their cars. Even though this is stock car racing there is plenty that is, and has to be different, in a car that travels 500 miles at 200 miles an hour. They are no headlights, signals, wing mirrors, dvd players, or music systems either. There will be no quarter stuck behind the back seat, though you can find one glued to the dashboard of Dale Earnhardt’s car in the Richard Childress Museum in North Carolina.

They are built for purpose, not to take people to and from work!

References

https://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/05/dale-earnhardt-jr-nascar-pit-road-speeding-penalty-hendrick-motorsports

https://www.motorstate.com/why-gauges-matter/

https://www.mclaren.com/applied/products/telemetry-control-and-analytics/

https://www.espn.com/racing/nascar/icons/news/story?id=3677600

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