What Does The Pace Car Do In NASCAR?

In every NASCAR race there is a pace car or safety car. Along with the race officials the pace car has ensured that NASCAR races are run smoothly and safely. It is often provided by the race track and until 2018 was driven by Brett Bodine a former NASCAR driver. The models and makes may have changed race to race but its role and function have not. We explore these in more detail below.

The NASCAR Pace car is utilized at NASCAR race tracks to control the speed of competitors during both the start of races and when the race is under caution. It is also used by drivers to gauge the revs needed to safely and legally enter and drive in the pitlane due to a lack of speedometers in NASCAR.

However despite its low speed and safety roles there have been incidents involving Pace cars through motor racing. We take a look at the NASCAR pace car roles and incidents here.

What is the Role Of The Pace Car in NASCAR?

The pace, or safety car in NASCAR has more than one important role. We take a look at these below:

  1. The pace car limits the speed at the start of the race as the cars drive in formation. The starting positions have already been determined during qualifying sessions early in the week or during the race weekend. As the drivers approach the start line the pace car will speed up and drop off the track, usually into pitlane just before the green flag is waved to start the race.

2.Lap placeholder. This is one is less easy to follow so bear with us. (a Hollywood version of this was in Days of Thunder hereOpens in a new tab. btw) which may explain this better than we do! However here we go:

  • With the NASCAR racesOpens in a new tab. being so long, and with pit stops happening all over then the lead cars invariably lap other cars during the race. Cars on the same lap are said to be on the lead lap.
  • When there is a yellow flag incident the pace car drives out to control the race and all cars will start to bunch up.
  • This is a good time to make a pit stop as less time will be lost under a caution lap than a green flag lap. However the pace car continues to go around the track, these laps count towards the race total.
  • The aim of every driver who tries this is to get out of the pits before the pace car completes the lap. This then puts them on the same lap they were on but with a clear track and fixed up / new tires car.
  • Planned correctly it will put them back in the pack following the pace car before green flag racing happens again.

3. The “Lucky Dog” “beneficiary or “free pass” rule. When the pace car goes on to the track the first car that is lapped is allowed to get back on to the lead lap. There is some controversy surrounding it as it doesn’t necessarily give the lap to the fastest or most deserving drivers. We are in the process of writing a longer article about it as the pace car only plays a minor role in this rule.

4. Sponsorship and promotional. In most NASCAR races the pace car is assigned by the track has been lots of different models of car. it is also a chance to have sponsorship displayed to the millions of viewers as, somewhat ironically, the pace car in an eventful race may be the one of the most seen cars in television coverage!

There is also the chance that you can spot a celebrity driving or at least being a passenger in a pace car at the start of the race. We linked to Days of Thunder above, well Tom Cruise returned to daytona in 2009 to drive the starting pace car there as well. Other celebrities who have taken the wheel in a NASCAROpens in a new tab. Race Pace car are below.

Celebrity Driver or PassengerRace and TrackYear
Sen. Bob DoleWinston Select Race – Charlotte Motor Speedway1996
Sammy Hagar ( musician) Supermarket 200 – Phoenix International Speedway2008
Tom CruiseDaytona 500 – Daytona International Speedway2009
Ron HowardBrickyard 400 Indianapolis International Speedway2012
Jay LenoBrickyard 400 – Indianapolis International Speedway2001

The Pace Car Role Most People Don’t Know About.

It may come as a surprise to learn that most race cars don’t have speedometers, this includes NASCAR cars. the way they can judge their speed, at least at lower levels is my matching the pace car speed and looking at the tachometer.

They can then check the RPMs they are using and use that to match when they enter the pit lane. If they go over they might get a warning or penalty for going to fast down the pit lane. This can’t be set at a number for the season as different tracks have different speed limits often dependant on the race track length.

So while they may speed up when racing is getting ready to start again, otherwise they travel at the pitlane, or designated pace car track speed to ensure drivers know their speed when they enter pitlane. (see track speeds below)

Do NASCAR Drivers pee during a race

When Was The First Pace Car?

As each track is responsible for the pace car it is very difficult to get accurate details of when they were first used, the models and the drivers. especially from the early years. However we do know that before NASCAR was even formed someone has the idea that a pace car would be a good idea.

In 1941, seven years before NASCAR was formed a Cadillac Convertible Coupe belonging to Raymond parks was used in at the Daytona beach and road course. Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte has a photo of a pace car at Darlington Speedway during the inaugural Southern 500 NASCAR race. The car chosen was a 1950 Buick Roadmaster Convertible, a perfect large car to control all those unruly NASCAR drivers behind it.

Convertibles were popular during the early years, but now with the speed of cars and the need to keep types warm and engines ready pace cars have, well picked up the pace somewhat.

What is The Model of Pace Car In NASCAR

NASCAR Pace cars are always changing depending on the race, the series, the year and the track. It is often an opportunity for manufacturers to showcase a new model. In fact this has been the case since NASCAR first began.

Manufacturers that has supplied the car include:

  • Ford
  • Chevrolet
  • General motors
  • Toyota
  • Porsche
  • Plymouth
  • Dodge
  • Buick
  • Lamborghini

A couple of honorable mentions in pace car history:

Role of NASCAR PAce Car
  1. In 2020 the pace car for the start of the Daytona 500 was none other than The Beast! Opens in a new tab.The presidents Armored limousine.
  2. Although there is no mistaking the sounds and vibrations of NASCAR, there have been quieter versions of pace cars, if not racing cars. Ford Fusion Energi electric car as been used in the past as a pace car for NASCAR. How long till the NASCARs are electric too do you think?

How Fast Does A Pace Car Go In NASCAR?

The speed of a pace car is dependant on the track and the race being held. However we have a table below with the 2021 pace car speeds and how fast the pace car can go on each track. (from nascar.comOpens in a new tab.) We will update it when the 2022 figures come outp around the week or two before the season starts.

There might be some differences due to the Next gen nascarOpens in a new tab. also appearing but usually these speeds don’t change too much year to year.

2021 Race Tracks (alphabetical order)Pit Road SpeedCaution Vehicle Speed
Atlanta Motor Speedway4555
Bristol Motor Speedway3035
Bristol Motor Speedway – Dirt3035
Canadian Tire Motorsports Park4045
Charlotte Motor Speedway – Oval4555
Charlotte Motor Speedway – Road Course4045
Circuit of the Americas4050
Darlington Raceway4550
Daytona International Speedway5570
Daytona International Speedway – Road Course4550
Dover International Speedway3545
Elkhart Lake’s Road America4045
Homestead-Miami Speedway4555
Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Road Course4045
Kansas Speedway4555
Knoxville Speedway3030
Las Vegas Motor Speedway4555
Martinsville Speedway3035
Michigan International Speedway5565
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course3545
Nashville Superspeedway4555
New Hampshire Motor Speedway4550
Phoenix Raceway4550
Pocono Raceway5570
Richmond Raceway4045
Sonoma Raceway4045
Talladega Superspeedway5570
Texas Motor Speedway4555
Watkins Glen International4045
Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway4550
Table from Nascar.comOpens in a new tab.

Who Drives the NASCAR Pace Car

The current NASCAR Pace car driver is Jay Childress. Jay is an Assistant Director at NASCAR and currently drives the Pace Car in NASCAR races. Brett Bodine was the official pace car driver from 2004 to 2018 in NASCAR. Though celebrities may run parade laps the races definitely need a professional at the wheel.

Has a NASCAR Pace Car Ever Crashed?

Crashes invloving the pace car have happned, though despite the roughness of nASCAR racing they arre

  • Juan Pablo Montoya, who is also mentioned hereOpens in a new tab. for an unrelated diaper story, actually crashed into a drier truck when the 2012 Daytona 500 race was under a yellow flag. The crash caused it to catch on fire. It didn’t involve the pace car but can be classed as an incident while a pace car was on the track.
  • Kyle Busch rather controversially bumped a pace car in the 2021 New Hampshire Nascar Cup Series race. He had spun on the wet track and hit the wall. He drove from the crash and tailgated the pace car while the race was under caution, bumping it in the rear a few times, seemingly in frustration, before returning to the pits. He received no penalty afterwards. The video is hereOpens in a new tab. if you want to see for yourself.
  • During an ARCA series race in 1999 Joe Cooksey rear endedOpens in a new tab. a pace car at Daytona. Both drivers were unhurt.
  • NASCAR driver Brad Noffsinger did hit a pace car (video here)Opens in a new tab. It happened in 1988, when the car lost control and he hit the empty car which rolled back and unfortunately broke the ankle of a security guard. Luckily it was at relatively slow speed.

A pace car did catch fire, without the help of any NASCAR drivers at Daytona in 2014Opens in a new tab.. Brett Bodine pulled it over when smoke started to fill the car, and soon after the rear end burst into flames.

  • In Indy racing there has been more than one memorable pace car crash incident. At the flagship Indy 500 race in 1971 the pace car driven by Eldon Palmer crashedOpens in a new tab. into a stand occupied by photographers. The crash resulted in 29 injuries but fortunately no fatalities. Incident involving indycar pace cars seem to be more common than NASCAR!

What Is The Difference Between a Safety Car and a Pace Car?

Basically the difference between a pace car and a safety car is location. In the USA, NASCAR, Indy car etc. The car that controls the race at the start or in under a yellow flag is called the pace car, in Europe, Formula one etc it is called the safety car. Both perform near identical roles. There Is also the suggestion that the pace car becomes the safety car after the parade laps and the start of the race.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that the role of the pace car is important in NASCAR, and all motor racing. It protects the drivers from hazards on the track, allows for a break from flat out competition, lets drivers set revs for speeds, and brings welcome sponsorship into the sport.

As one fan mentioned it leads pretty often in NASCAR races! so we should at least know the name of the driver!

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