The Daytona 500 turns 60 this year (though that’s just the official race. Long before there was a raceway, there was racing in Daytona of course – on the beach).
That’s a lot of racing and a lot of history, so we could easily give you 60 Facts About The Race. We could probably even give you 500 Facts! But less is more, they say – so here’s a little something for each decade at Daytona. (If you’re wondering, by the way, NASCAR is just a bit older than Daytona. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was founded in 1948, in Daytona Beach.)
- The original race cars were actually just cars. The same car you drove during the week to work, you could drive on the beach to race. And while now, it’s hard to think of something that hits 200 miles per hour as “just a car” – in the fundamentals, it still is. There’s a lot more power under the hood, but it’s coming from the same basic internal combustion engine. And inside, Daytona drivers are turning the steering wheel, working the gas and the brake, shifting gears – just like we do (ok, maybe not shifting gears so much anymore).
- Where the rubber meets the road? Race cars ride on four radial tires (made by Goodyear), just like the rest of us – although not everything is the same as your ride. You can’t inflate these tires at your local gas station’s air pump – because they aren’t filled with air. Stock cars roll on nitrogen (tire pressure is more constant with nitrogen, especially important in the heat of 200 mph).
- And NASCAR tires don’t have any tread. Not because they’re worn out; it’s intentional. A smooth surface means more tire touching the road (which makes for better traction). It’s also why they don’t race in the rain (no tread also makes for sliding around on wet pavement).
(And, did you know you can buy a used race tire? Check eBay after the race.)
- You could actually fill your tank with the same gas the race cars are using (if you could find it): unleaded, 98 octane. But for most of us, that extra octane (what we see at the pump runs from 87 to 93 octane) probably wouldn’t make any difference in our driving. But if you happened to see that race car gas as it was going into your tank – you might be surprised. It’s green.
- And you might already be using the same oil as those race cars. The biggest difference between NASCAR and your car is how much of that oil you use. For most of us, an oil change means about 5 quarts. At Daytona, your oil change would be a little more work, because a race car takes 16 quarts. But the oil itself is made by Mobil, and you can find Mobil 1™ at the auto parts store down the street.
- Here’s something that’s quite different though. Race cars don’t have a door, not anymore (they did, of course, back when you were driving your own everyday car. And that, by the way, is why they are called “stock cars”. The original race cars were the same cars in stock at your local Ford or Chevy dealer). That’s why you see drivers climb in and out the “window”. And that’s “window”, because there’s no actual window – just a safety netting across the opening. And there’s no actual door for safety – no doors mean a stronger car body.
And if you’re watching the Great American Race this year, you probably know the green flag means go – the red flag means stop – and the yellow flag is caution. But if you see a black flag, somebody’s in trouble. That is for a particular driver who’s done something wrong (like speeding through the pits, or driving too slowly on the track). And a black flag with a white cross is for a driver who ignores the black flag; that one means your race isn’t being scored anymore. Hopefully there won’t be any of those.