Power steering is one of those automotive technologies that was invented very early but took some time to really take off around the entire world. The main reason for the slow uptake was the fact that early power steering systems lacked the force feedback that drivers gained later on when other technologies helped cover that gap.
NASCAR Stock Cars have utilized power steering systems since 1981. The closeness and length of races and the increasing speeds are cited as safety factors behind the decision, and as power steering became “stock” in road cars it became more acceptable to add it to NASCAR Race cars as well.
As the technology proliferated and became a standard part of passenger cars, was it also adopted into the world of motorsports? More specifically, is power steering used in NASCAR Race Cars? The answer may surprise you!
In short, yes it does. All NASCARs have had power steering as a standard feature for many years now. Further below we’ll cover the main reasons for it, but broadly speaking the decision to include power steering was informed by the need for greater safety.
There was significant resistance to introducing power steering at first, but in 1981 it was decided that it would be a net-positive change to the sport. We’ll explain the exact reasoning behind that decision in the next section. The first NASCAR driver to use power steering was none other than the legend himself: Dale Earnhardt, who sourced the parts needed through his own Chevrolet dealership.
To start with, NASCAR vehicles are big, heavy and powerful machines that are pretty tough to maneuver in the way they need to be if you want a win. We can agree on that, right? That being so, isn’t it better — as well as being an important matter of safety (see further below for more) — for the cars to have power steering that helps make maneuvering these V8 RWD cars just a bit more bearable?
Let’s face it, even with power steering, NASCAR is hardly an “easy” motorsport, is it? If power steering took away a significant portion of the difficulty, then it would be a step too far, for sure. However, since it only makes it marginally easier without taking away other challenging elements that people love, it was decided that it would be a positive addition.
The whole point of NASCAR is to emulate stock cars as much as they possibly can. Obviously, it’s not “street legal” to be going 200-mph on public roads, but the idea is that mechanically speaking, a NASCAR is close to a stock car – not tuned up or in possession of “secret weapon” parts not available to the general public.
Power steering is an absolutely standard feature on street-legal cars these days. It’s no longer some luxury option like it was back in the 1950s and 1960s, but something you just expect to be there. It’d be madness to consider a car without it now. In this sense, power steering helps maintain NASCAR’s “stock” image.
Even when drivers are racing around the deceptively simple oval racetracks, it’s clear for anyone to see that they are constantly having to make adjustments to their steering in order to stay in control. Without power steering, this is made much harder and it’s even harder to justify that level of physical demand over 500 or more miles!
Power steering makes it practical and feasible for drivers to endure these kinds of races, keep them exciting (see below), and allow for genuinely fun and dynamic motorsport to be maintained across the flagship 500- and 600-mile races of the season.
One of the reasons NASCAR’s millions-strong army of fans is so into this sport is for the wheel-to-wheel racing that they see in every event. They can’t get enough of this excitement, and power steering actually helps to make it more likely. Knowing that they are armed with the convenience of power steering, drivers are better able to maneuver with precision to avoid accidents.
If they didn’t have that tool, then drivers may not be so willing to go quite so “wheel-to-wheel” as they otherwise would. In this sense, far from making it duller or less exciting, power steering actually has quite the opposite effect. Drivers who feel more confident and in control will be more willing to take chances and attempt more daring moves.
Even with power steering, NASCAR is still among the most challenging motorsports in the world. It’s physically and mentally demanding, and even with new technology it only takes a moment of distraction; a split-second of lateness in a reaction for things to go seriously wrong.
Therefore, safety has been the real guiding principle in introducing power steering to the sport, and is the underlying reason behind some of the other points mentioned above, particularly those relating to driving difficulty.
Do drivers and fans really want to make the sport more dangerous? Has there not been enough death on the NASCAR track to make people think that actually there needs to be some measure of change?
Before 1981, NASCAR drivers did just fine without power steering, didn’t they? They were harder-working drivers like the IndyCar drivers were back then, Wasn’t all of that better, and a stronger testament to their real skill? For some fans, this is all one needs to know about power steering and NASCAR, and the sport would be better off without it.
The main motivation behind bringing power steering into the sport of NASCAR isn’t to diminish the driver’s skill or to make excuses for people to say that the sport is less demanding than in the past. The main reason — as with many innovations and changes to the sport — is to promote safety, as we have explained in the many reasons given above.
Not all motorsports make use of power steering. IndyCar, for example, does not use it. The sport of IndyCar is seen as a more physically intensive form of driving and that is all part of the overall skill. This level of physicality isn’t one of the core requirements in other motorsports. However their cars do not weight 3400 pounds either.
Other prominent motorsports, however, such as Formula 1, do use it. The power steering on a Formula 1 car helps the drivers navigate their extremely slim and aerodynamic cars around the twists and turns of a Formula 1 track at break-neck speeds. Drivers experience G-forces up to 2 Gs on those turns, and they need every steering advantage they can get to make it safely around.
So as we highlighted above, NASCAR has used Power steering since 1981, and shows no sign of removing it from the cars. It is primarily from a safety point that it was introduced, but it has actually introduced closer and more exciting racing as well.
Stock cars are just that, stock and although there is always resistance to new features being introduced to the cars, this is not the 50s and if these cars are going to be stock then these new features should at the very least be looked at in how they can improve NASCAR racing moving forward.