Nothing beats the moment when the NASCAR engine start is announced and the roar of 40 cars starting their 750HP engines. As the race commences, it is difficult not to be affected by the electric atmosphere of 100,000 fans screaming encouragement to their favorite NASCAR team while the massive cars reach some of the highest speeds in motorsport.
All within a coliseum type environment, its almost unique to the sport of NASCAR, but with so many other motor sports using road races to open up to a wider fan base we answer the question, why doesn’t NASCAR race on real roads?
NASCAR doesn’t race on real roads because this type of racing is very different from the format that started when they ran the second official race in 1949. The logistics challenges to race on real roads would be significant and may require a new car to be created.
Since NASCAR ran its first Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949, at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina, NASCAR has favored oval raceways over any type. Although diehard fans have resisted moving to road tracks and street racing in general, now may be the time to consider the change.
The Reasons Why NASCAR Doesn’t Race On Real Roads
Until recently, NASCAR didn’t race on real roads because the existing format worked. There was no reason to break from the structure and style of a racing series that has worked well since 1949.
With the decline in popularity and viewership NASCAR has been forced to look at ways to increase audiences and widen its fan base. In more recent seasons there have been an increasing number of road-type circuits being included in the schedule.
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- Circuit of the Americas.
- Watkins Glen.
- The Charlotte Roval.
- Road America.
Previously NASCAR has also raced at Riverside, Topeka, Mexico City, and Montreal.
Despite this development, there is still no scheduling of real street circuits similar to Formula 1 (Monaco, Singapore, Melbourne, Montreal, and Sochi) and IndyCar (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Watkins Glen, Toronto).
Have NASCAR Ever Raced On Real Roads?
In 1986 NASCAR, wanting to increase its footprint in North America, started developing a Left/Right car. As unlikely as this name sounds, it represented NASCAR’s attempt to create a series within a series to race on circuits that were different from Ovals.
The reason that motivated the development of an entirely new car was that the current weight of a NASCAR was too high to allow for maneuvering at high speeds through a circuit that included multiple 90 degrees left and right turns through a city center.
To reduce the car’s profile and weight, the organizers looked at testing the Ford Mustang, the Pontiac Sunbird, and the Chevrolet Cavalier with the intention that the same 600HP V8s would be used to power them.
A Pontiac Sunbird was developed and refined over the next year, and although it showed promise in testing, NASCAR never implemented the project.
Why Should NASCAR Starting racing on Street Circuits?
While there is no question that there are some logistical challenges to holding a NASCAR race on real roads, it still offers the series a chance to improve the audience size.
While NASCAR is suffering from a decline in audience numbers, F1 is growing annually. It is partly due to the accessibility that racing on two different types of circuits enables.
The massive approval that F1 has received for including a Las Vegas Street race into its 2023 program should motivate NASCAR to consider a similar format.
Racing on street circuits makes it easier for residents to get involved and feel part of the action.
A street course race would also result in exciting racing, including bumping and banging and tempers flaring.
The characteristics of racing on real roads would include.
- High speed runs down a straight.
- Hard braking and the need to turn sharply at 90 degrees.
- Roads that are much narrower than the current circuits would make overtaking more challenging.
- Less slipstreaming.
- fans all around the circuit
- Instantly recognisable landmarks for Television audiences.
Although the current vehicles are not designed for this type of racing, it would be interesting to find out what changes would ultimately be required to prepare the existing fleet of NASCAR to race around the streets of a town.
It may look strange to see monster NASCAR’s racing around city streets and may have the following effects on the race itself.
- It would be challenging to overtake
- Because of the acceleration to high speeds on the straights and braking for the corners, it would almost definitely be the slowest NASCAR circuit.
- The weight of the NASCARs would make hard braking and the need to turn sharply at 90 degrees challenging, and would probably need a redesigned suspension and steering system.
Opening the series up to more diverse and exciting circuits would create a broader fan base and improve the general acceptance of the viewing public. It may also bring in the international viewership and appeal that F1 ha clearly attracted.
What Has Happened To NASCAR Attendance And Viewership?
Between 2014 and 2019, attendance at NASCAR events dropped by over 50% in the five years.
There were several reasons for this sad state of affairs.
The Increasing Price Of Fuel
When fans travel significant distances to get to a racetrack, they would rather stay at home and watch the event on the many streaming services available due to the constantly increasing gas price.
A race on real roads in a city will significantly reduce this problem.
The Fan Base Is Getting Older
Over 53% of NASCAR fans are over 50, and the events have not successfully attracted a younger base of enthusiasts.
Staging street races on real roads will increase NASCAR’s reach and make it more accessible for a new, younger base of fans to get involved.
The Cost Of A Hotel Stay Is Increasing
For the same reason that the gas prices are a problem, the accommodation cost is too if a fan needs to stay overnight.
Once again, holding the event as a street circuit reduces this barrier.
The NASCAR Safety Initiatives
It sounds wrong to say that the audience size has reduced because the cars are safer, but sadly, research has shown this to be the case.
Moving the races to a city will undoubtedly increase the number of incidents, but hopefully, a slower speed will not increase the number of injuries.
Introducing NASCAR races on real roads is an exciting proposition that the sporting body should consider. No decision ever needs to be cast in iron, and if street races are introduced which do not realize the hoped-for gains in audience size, you move on and return to a more traditional recipe.
However, if it does work, it places NASCAR on a new footing setting it up for future success.