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What are some of the things NASCAR fans say they love most about the sport? The thrills, spills, high speeds and sheer dangers of the sport are clearly a big attraction, but so too for many is the huge roaring sound of those mighty engines as the vehicles storm around the circuit chasing victory and glory.
NASCAR Races and NASCAR Engines can reach up to 130 Decibels of noise volume if you are close to the track or from Pit Lane. While loud it is not the loudest of motor sports with both drag racing and F1 producing more noise at 150 and 130-145 decibels respectively. This is about the same volume as a chainsaw.
It all sounds fantastic, but doesn’t it also sound incredibly noisy? The question of noise has long plagued the sport of NASCAR, both from a community and a public health perspective. How loud are NASCAR vehicles? How loud is it for spectators at the races? What about the pit crews? These are questions that we will try to answer in this article
Research done over the years has shown that the noise levels at NASCAR races in America are as much as 900 times higher than what’s generally accepted as safe in most occupational spaces. It has also shown that these noise levels can and do cause hearing loss, tinnitus and other related problems both for those working at the races and those who are just there to spectate.
In terms of decibels, a NASCAR blasting at full throttle in the pit area can output up to 130 dB. On the track, the sounds heard by spectators reach up to 100-dB. If you’re wondering whether or not that’s really loud, 130-dB is about the same as a chainsaw going at full blast, and 100-dB is about the same as a lawnmower.
But we live through these sounds going on around us regularly, don’t we? What’s the big deal? and do you need ear protection
That’s about the same noise level as you’d expect to find on a busy city street with traffic. However, as that sound level goes up, the length of time one can withstand also decreases exponentially.
For instance, while we can withstand 90-dB for up to 8 hours, we can only withstand 115-dB (somewhere between NASCARs on the track and in the pit area) for up to 15 minutes before our ears start to suffer damage.
The chief reason that NASCAR vehicles and races become so loud is that the stock cars involved do not have mufflers. When you combine that with the fact that these cars throttle up to 200-mph, and traverse tracks in races of up to 600 miles in length. At the Coca-Cola 600, that’s 400 laps around a 1.5-mile track. Pushing cars of that kind of power for that long and at those speeds is bound to generate huge amounts of noise.
Despite what some NASCAR detractors might say, however, the decision to omit mufflers from the cars’ specification is not a move to make them louder and the sport more attractive to noise-hungry fans. The reason these cars don’t have mufflers is because a muffler would slow down the airflow from the engine, which ultimately means slower combustion, less power, and then yes, a less exciting race.
When the object of the race is speed, excitement and competition, mufflers bring nothing to the table; quite the opposite, in fact.
NASCAR may be very loud with pit noise levels reaching 130 dB, but it’s drag racing that retains the crown of the noisiest motorsport, with noise levels reaching a (literally) deafening 150 dB. Here are some other examples of how loud motorsports can get:
|Loudness in Decibels
|130 Decibels (dB)
|150 Decibels (dB)
|130 -145 Decibels (dB)
|130 Decibels (dB)
|99-109 Decibels (close to the track) 96 to 104 150 ft away
|115 Decibels (dB)
- Drag Racing – 150-dB
- Formula 1 – 130-145 dB, depending on the engine
- IndyCar – 130-dB, about the same as NASCAR
- Rally – 99-109 dB within 20-ft of the track, and about 96.5-104 dB at 150-ft from track
- MotoGP – 115-dB
There have been calls over the years for NASCAR to reduce their noise levels and make the cars quieter. In episode 164 of his “Dirty Mo Podcast,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said that NASCAR was thinking about trying to reduce the cars’ sound level to under 100-dB, possibly down to 90-dB.
There are those who object on the grounds that lowering the sound will inevitably lead to a less-exciting sport since there is a definite correlation between sound (created by factors like engine power) and speed, and then again between speed and excitement.
Arguments for the reduction include the obvious benefits to people’s health in reducing the risk of hearing damage, but also allowing spectators the ability to talk to each other more easily in the stands.
A reduction of 10-dB would make the driver’s environment about 104-dB, which is equivalent to most sirens, or someone shouting close to your ear. In the spectator stands, it would become about 86-dB at the lowest level, the equivalent of a busy restaurant. It should also be noted, however, that a reduction of 10-dB actually means cutting the sound intensity down by about 10-fold.
Decibels are a slightly unusual unit of measurement, and are non-linear. Increasing sound intensity by 10-dB actually increases the intensity by 10 times, and if by 20-dB then 100 times. It’s not like simply turning the volume down on a dial.
To wrap up, let’s talk about the kind of protection that is needed for NASCAR spectators, drivers and workers. We’ve actually done a previous blog on the subject of ear protection, so you can learn more there about the specifics of which products protect ears best during a NASCAR race.
Tom Gideon was the Safety Coordinator at NASCAR from 2016 to 2020, and before that served as Senior Director for Safety and R&D from 2009 to 2016. Back in 2016, it was revealed that Gideon used both foam ear plugs and a headset for protection, and was able to not only protect his ears effectively, but could still hear through the headset just fine.
He does point out, however, that the noise levels at races are still less than those people pump into their ears via their own music earbuds on a daily basis. Since the spectators are facing less of a noise factor than those in the pits, it is generally accepted that foam ear plugs are sufficient to protect you against the protracted noise levels of long races like the 500- and 600-mile races NASCAR is known for.
So while there is no doubt NASCAR is noisily, 130 decibels or the equivalent of a chainsaw going off in your ears for 3 to 4 hours. It is why the drivers, the pit crews, the journalists, the safety crews all wear ear protection.
The Noise are as part of the day as the sights and smells of the racetrack and even with NASCAR stating it will look at ways of reducing the noise if they can, it may also reduce the experience as well.
We have article advising on ear protection for NASCAR races which you can access here, in the body of the website and below