Thursday, October 18, 2012

Automobile Racing

Automobile Racing, sport in which drivers race specially designed automobiles over tracks or courses of differing lengths, designs, and constructions. The competition tests the skills of the drivers, the speed capabilities of the vehicles, and the endurance of both. Originally consisting of occasional challenges among wealthy individuals in the United States and continental Europe, automobile racing has evolved into an international year-round professional sport that is one of the most popular spectator attractions in the world.
There are three basic types of race courses in automobile racing: (1) the oval track, (2) the road course, and (3) the straight-line course. Oval tracks, which can be dirt, asphalt, or concrete, range in length from 0.16 to 2.5 mi (0.27 to 4 km). Some oval tracks, longer than 1 mi (1.6 km) and highly banked (angled toward the ground), are called superspeedways. Road courses have either of two forms: courses that are created by temporarily closing city streets, and courses specially designed to duplicate the twists and turns of country roads but used only for racing. Road courses of both types are generally 1.5 to 4 mi (2.4 to 6.4 km) long in the United States, sometimes longer in other countries. Straight-line courses consist of a simple strip of asphalt or concrete used for drag races between two vehicles. Straight-line courses are generally 0.25 mi (0.4 km) long, but they can be 0.125 mi (0.2 km) long as well.
There are five basic components of an automobile racing team: (1) the ownership, (2) the team manager, (3) the driver, (4) the support crew, and (5) the sponsors. The ownership of the car is in charge of the team but usually employs a manager to run operations on a day-to-day basis. The driver is always an independent contractor. Drivers usually compete in a variety of different cars for different owners throughout their careers. The support crew maintains the car before, during, and after races. The driver and support crew work together during races to handle needed repairs, tire changes, and fuel refills (done during brief service breaks known as pit stops). Finally, sponsors, usually corporations, provide money to the racing team in exchange for promotional ties. The most obvious examples of this relationship are company and product logos, which are commonly seen on the outside of vehicles during races.
Although there are many categories of automobile racing—and many types and levels of competition within each category—the major forms of the sport differ in the United States and abroad. In most parts of the world, the premier race series are those for Formula One (F1) vehicles and for sports cars. These competitions receive less attention in the United States, where the most important race series are those for Indianapolis (Indy) cars and for stock cars. Some drivers and teams move between American and overseas forms of racing, but this is uncommon.
The coordinating committee for automobile racing in the United States is the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), which serves as the U.S. representative on the Fédération International de l'Automobile (FIA; International Automobile Federation), the worldwide governing body of the sport. ACCUS coordinates activities between FIA and six major sanctioning bodies for automobile racing in the United States—addressing rules, regulations, automotive specifications, safety, and related matters. The eight organizational members of ACCUS are Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), Indy Racing League (IRL), Grand American Road Racing Association (GRAND-AM), Professional Sports Car Racing (PSC), the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), and the United States Auto Club (USAC).
In the late 19th century racing cars were motorized versions of horse-drawn carriages and wagons. These soon gave way to slightly more advanced vehicles as the conditions of roads improved. As the speeds of cars increased a need for more sophistication and specialization developed, and cars were designed expressly to be raced.
Racing cars now fall into two broad categories: open-wheeled vehicles and closed-wheeled vehicles. Open-wheeled vehicles refers to cars in which the wheels are not enclosed beneath fenders. These cars have open cockpits, although (according to type) there can be a roll bar or cage over the driver for protection in case of a crash. The cars are streamlined for speed and are single-seated, meaning that only one person can be in the vehicle. They come in varieties ranging from modest karts (small motorized vehicles) to extremely complex F1 and Indy cars. Closed-wheeled vehicles have an enclosed cockpit and so somewhat resemble standard street cars. These automobiles, sometimes called stock cars, are in reality racing vehicles with only the bodywork of a street car. Because they are purpose-built for racing, stock cars are not suited for driving on public streets.
Formula One
Formula racing, or single-seat automobile racing in which car specifications are strictly regulated, is governed by FIA. Periodically, FIA sets technical regulations for building, maintaining, and racing many different classes of cars. The sophisticated vehicles used in Formula One (F1) racing are the most technologically advanced in racing. Their design causes air to flow over and under the car (aided by body features known as wings), creating a downward force that holds the car close to the ground even at high speeds. Designed for road racing, F1 cars can accelerate and brake quickly. FIA also regulates slower and less advanced single-seat cars competing in such categories as Formula Two (F2), Formula Three (F3), and the GP2 series, which was called Formula 3000 (F3000) prior to 2005.
For many years FIA had sole authority over F1 racing, but beginning in the early 1970s other governing bodies began to emerge. The Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA), based in London, England, led the challenge. FOCA is made up of the companies that manufacture the cars used in F1 racing. According to an agreement first drafted in 1982 between FIA and FOCA, the latter group controls the distribution of funds generated by F1 racing, making sure that each competing team has sufficient money to race in the next competition.
For much of automobile racing history there were no restrictions on technological development, so F1 cars became the most technologically advanced racing vehicles possible. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, FIA began slowing the introduction of new materials, systems, and electronics to F1. A principal reason for these restrictions was FIA's desire to limit the car operations controlled by computers. Even systems that are standard in many street cars, such as antilock brakes (a computerized system that decreases the chances of skidding while braking), are prohibited in F1 racing. Another factor is the desire to hold down the high costs of innovation that favor large, heavily financed racing teams over smaller, poorer ones. Despite these regulations, F1 cars are still considered to be the ultimate in single-seat racing car construction, and F1 races are often called the most glamorous automobile racing events in the world. Accomplished F1 drivers have included Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, and Damon Hill of the United Kingdom; Alain Prost of France; Michael Schumacher of Germany; Mika Hakkinen of Finland; Ayrton Senna of Brazil; and Dan Gurney and Italian-born Mario Andretti of the United States.
Grand Prix
The term Grand Prix (GP), which means “grand prize” and is commonly associated with F1 racing, was originally incorporated into the names of many auto races. But beginning in 1906 at Le Mans it came to refer to the principal F1 auto race in a given nation, except in the United States, where the term continues to be used less discriminately. After the end of World War I in 1918, when automobile racing blossomed internationally, a series of GP races in several nations became reserved for F1 competition, and an annual GP calendar was developed consisting of national races, such as the French Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix. An annual award called the World Championship of Drivers began in 1950, with the winner determined from F1 results each year. In 1958 an F1 Constructors' Championship competed with the World Manufacturers' Championship, a competition associated with sports-car racing (see below). These championships are based on race results but reward the companies that build the race cars, rather than the drivers.
Indy Car Racing
One reason F1 racing lacks the same popularity in America that it holds in the rest of the world is the presence of Indy car racing, a rival form of single-seat racing. Indy cars were developed after the establishment in 1911 of the Indianapolis 500, perhaps the world’s best-known automobile race and one of the most popular American sports events. The event is not just a single day of racing, but rather a three-week ritual of testing, practicing, and qualifying. Indy cars run not only at Indianapolis but also at a series of races around the United States and occasionally in other countries.
Modern Indy cars, sometimes known as championship cars, are similar to F1 automobiles: open-wheeled with open cockpits. For much of their history there were, however, several important differences. Indy cars were originally designed for counterclockwise racing at fairly constant speeds on oval tracks, while F1 cars were designed to turn in either direction equally well (for racing on road courses) at radically varying rates of speed. Indy cars had less efficient braking systems because they needed to slow and stop primarily to refuel and change tires in pit stops, while F1 cars ran on courses that required not only high speeds but also maximum braking efficiency in negotiating tight corners.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Indy car design grew more similar to F1 configurations when European drivers using cars influenced by F1 designs started enjoying success in Indy car racing. In the 1980s Indy cars began racing on both oval circuits and road courses. Because of these changes, Indy cars have become much more like their F1 counterparts.
There are currently two sanctioning bodies that administer Indy Car racing. Under various names, the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) organization has been the main group for Indy cars through the years. A second group, the Indy Racing League (IRL), was created by the organizers of the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 using different car specifications. This move effectively split the sport, with the IRL attracting one group of drivers for its races, including the famous Indy 500, and CART offering a different series of races. The groups have made progress toward common automobile specifications so drivers can compete on both circuits. Famed Indy car drivers include Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw, Johnny Rutherford, Louis Meyer, A. J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Al Unser, Jr.
Stock Car Racing
Although stock cars race in several countries, the class is most associated with the United States because of the powerful public presence of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the sport's governing body. Stock car racing was once associated primarily with the southern United States, but now enjoys a national audience. Stock cars were similar to conventional cars when this type of racing began, just prior to World War II (1939-1945). But since NASCAR was founded in the late 1940s there has been a trend away from street cars. Despite relatively normal outward appearances, today’s stock cars are pure racing machines that can reach speeds of up to 200 mph (322 km/h). Originally run on beaches and dirt tracks, NASCAR races are now held on paved ovals and, in major events, on high-banked superspeedways. The major stock car racing events are the Daytona 500, run in Daytona Beach, Florida, and the Coca-Cola 600, in Charlotte, North Carolina. NASCAR’s marquee racing series is the Nextel Cup (formerly the Winston Cup).
Stock car racing’s fan base grew rapidly in the 1990s. One factor is that stock car drivers are generally more accessible to fans than F1 or sports car drivers. In addition, stock car drivers and their cars—familiar names such as Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, and Pontiac—usually receive better American media coverage than other forms of racing. While some of the most successful stock car drivers retired in the 1990s, such as Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, younger drivers, such as Jeff Gordon, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kevin Harvick have replaced them as stars of the sport. Stock car racing below the NASCAR level is a thriving sport in the United States, bolstered by a well-established fan base. These stock cars run on many of the same tracks that are used for other racing series.
Sports Car Racing
Like stock cars, some sports cars appear to be street cars, commonly carrying manufacturer names such as Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari, and Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW). But, as in stock car racing, the resemblance ends with appearance. Sports cars are racing machines specially built to run at high speeds over long distances. Operating under strict FIA regulations for their construction, sports cars race in many classes in Europe, the United States, and in other countries. The most prestigious seasonal title is the World Manufacturers' Championship. The Canadian-American Challenge series—established in 1966 for the FIA's Unlimited Group 7 sports cars, among the fastest automobiles in the world—was a major racing series in North America until it was discontinued in 1984. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) runs other series. American sports car racing is generally a slower and less sophisticated form of racing than European sports car racing. However, it is also less costly; the organizers, owners, drivers, and teams are more attuned to the marketing requirements of the manufacturers, who are trying to sell cars, tires, and other components through racing publicity.
Drag Racing
Drag racing is a form of specialized automotive competition that is most popular in the United States, although it is also run on a limited basis in England, Canada, and Australia. In a drag race, two cars begin side by side from a standing start, aiming to finish the straight-line course—called the drag strip and usually 0.25-mi (0.4-km) long—in as fast a time and as high a speed as possible. Such cars, known as drag racers, take many forms. Some have engines behind the driver and parachute-assisted braking. Speeds accelerate and decelerate rapidly, and are calculated in both miles per hour and miles per second.
Drag racing owes its origin to hot rods, cars specially modified for improved acceleration and speed, which were first built in southern California in the late 1930s and tested on the American salt flats. Drag racing was formalized in 1937 with the creation of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), an organization of automobile enthusiasts who experimented with and raced their cars in the California desert. World War II (1939-1945) interrupted development of the sport, but after 1945 it blossomed, helped by the U.S. Air Force, which saw drag racing as a way to identify young men who could serve in the mechanical and flight crews of the Strategic Air Command. The first paved strips for drag racing, in fact, were runways at air bases and airports. The first formal drag strip was opened in Goleta, California, in 1948. The sport spread rapidly, and today there are hundreds of drag-strip facilities at which more than 5,000 events are run annually. Numerous organizations oversee American drag racing, the most important of which is the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).
There are two kinds of rallying. One is the international professional rally, which is a FIA-sanctioned test of endurance and speed over great distances and in more challenging conditions than those provided by a closed course. Some argue that the first automobile competitions in the 1890s were more rallies than races. Professional international rallyists now use what essentially are pure racing cars, and rallies are held in deserts and other rough terrain in many places, including Africa and Australia. Perhaps the most famous traditional rally is the Monte Carlo, which began in 1911, the same year as the Indianapolis 500. Each year this race begins in different European cities, with the vehicles converging on Monte Carlo, Monaco. Though some track racers have also been rallyists, most drivers specialize in this form of racing and are not well known to the public, despite their skills.
Rallying in the United States mainly consists of time-speed-distance (TSD) competitions. TSD rallies involve amateur drivers using tuned production (not special) cars to negotiate streets and country roads while adhering to strict time schedules and routes. Contestants are expected to reach a series of checkpoints at specified times while maintaining a certain average speed set by the race's organizers. There are penalties for arriving too early or too late. Competitors must follow a specific route, often over obscure roads, so the driver needs a navigator and odometers and stopwatches are necessary equipment. American rallying has been popular since the mid-20th century, with events taking place throughout the country. SCCA is the major sanctioning body in American rallying.
Off-Road Racing
Off-road racing blossomed first in California in the 1960s. As the name implies, in off-road racing there are no formal courses, only rudimentary trails. The financial requirements of providing logistic support for the race car result in well-financed teams dominating the main events in off-road racing, such as the Baja 500 and the Mexican 1000, both run on the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. While old cars and vehicles cobbled together from automobile and motorcycle components were once the standard in this sport, the vehicles have evolved into carefully designed, extremely expensive cars capable of surviving competition in the harsh desert conditions. Limited commercialization has taken place in the sport because of the difficulty of charging admission to such events and because of the heavy demands off-road racing makes on drivers and machines. A recreational sport and industry has grown out of off-road racing, however, chiefly involving dune buggies and off-road vehicles.
Other Forms of American Racing
There are many other forms of automobile racing in the United States that are regional, less expensive, and often less regulated than the major types. These forms of racing have traditionally provided a training ground for drivers, mechanics, and promoters.
Dirt-track racing is one of these forms. Early American oval track racing began mainly on county-owned, half-mile dirt tracks originally intended for horse racing and other attractions. The front-engine, open-wheeled cars used in dirt-track racing also competed at Indianapolis and other paved courses into the early 1950s. The sport has diminished in recent years, although it is still popular in some states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, and California.
Front-engine sprint cars, which race mostly on clay tracks, were once smaller versions of Indy cars before Indy cars adopted rear-engine construction. While the sport still attracts many fans, it is no longer a training ground for Indy car aspirants, who now turn to rear-engine vehicles for training.
Midget-car racing is another form that played an important role in the overall popularization of automobile racing. Midget cars—scaled down front-engine, open-wheeled vehicles that trace their racing history to 1933—do not need a formal track on which to run. Races can be staged either outdoors—for example, at baseball parks—or indoors—on any large concrete or dirt floor. Midget-car racing's popularity peaked in the 1940s, but it nevertheless created generations of ardent followers. The Thanksgiving Day tradition of midget-car racing on the West Coast dates to the early 1930s.
Smaller versions of automobile racing also include motorized karts, quarter midgets (sometimes raced by children), and three-quarter midgets. Pick-up truck racing on longer paved speedways has also found limited public acceptance in recent years.
Land Speed Record Cars
The quest for the ultimate speed on land has a rich history as an automotive pursuit. This quest began before the advent of paved roads, on December 18, 1898, at Achères, France. A French count, Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, claimed the title of fastest driver in a car, reaching a then-frightening speed of 39.24 mph (63.15 km/h). In April 1899 Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy ran an electric car at 65.79 mph (105.88 km/h). In 1904, 100 mph (161 km/h) was exceeded for the first time, when French driver Louis Rigolly drove 103.55 mph (166.65 km/h) at Oostende, Belgium. The land speed record (LSR) moved steadily upward, and beginning in 1910 LSRs were standardized as the average speed of two mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) runs over the same distance from opposite directions within a time limit (to account for wind).
By 1947 the record was 394.20 mph (634.40 km/h), set by English driver John Cobb at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Up to this point, LSRs were set using vehicles with highly developed wheel-driven, piston-type automobile or airplane engines. Subsequently, with the acceptance of gas-turbine, pure jet, and rocket engines, the LSR machine forever changed, with records falling faster and by greater margins than ever. In 1963 American driver Craig Breedlove demolished Cobb's 16-year-old record at Bonneville, using a three-wheeled, jet-propelled car to achieve a speed of 407.45 mph (655.73 km/h). In the next two years a succession of LSR challenges were run, culminating in 1965 when Breedlove drove 600.60 mph (966.60 km/h) at Bonneville.
That record stood until American driver Gary Gabelich averaged 630.39 mph (1014.51 km/h) at Bonneville in 1970, probably the last LSR attempt to be run there because of course deterioration. Gabelich's record stood until 1983, when British driver Richard Noble raised the LSR mark to 633.47 mph (1019.47 km/h) at Black Rock Desert, Nevada. In 1997 British driver Andy Green drove 763.035 mph (1227.986 km/h), or 341.107 m/sec (1119.117 ft/sec), at Black Rock Desert. Green's run was the first official record faster than the speed of sound (332 m/sec, or 1,088 ft/sec).
The first automobile competition took place in 1894. This event was not a race but a 90-mi (145-km) reliability run (to test the vehicle's performance and durability) from Paris to Rouen, France. In 1895 an endurance race was run from Paris to Bordeaux and back—a distance of 732 mi (1,178 km). France continued to lead in development of both cars and motor sports, with a series of one-day speed races on existing roads beginning in 1897. The world's first closed-circuit race was in 1900 at Melun, outside Paris, on temporarily closed roads spanning 45 mi (72 km). The first formal closed-circuit race venue was the 53-mi (85-km) Circuit des Ardennes, opened in 1902 in Ardennes, Belgium. City-to-city racing effectively ended in 1903 after several accidents at what was then a high speed of 65 mph (105 km/h). In 1907 the first European track race was held at the Brooklands Motor Course, near Weybridge, England. However, road racing continued to be more popular than closed-track racing in Europe.
Auto racing in the United States began similarly. The first race was a reliability demonstration from Chicago to Waukegan, Illinois, and back—a distance of 92 mi (148 km)—in November 1895. A more formal reliability race the same month, a roundtrip from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois, was won with an average speed of 5.1 mph (8.2 km/h). True American road racing began in 1904 with the Vanderbilt Cup races, contested over a 28-mi (45-km) course in Long Island, New York. These races continued until 1916. Other major road races were organized in Savannah, Georgia, beginning in 1908, and in Elgin, Illinois, in 1910.
Although Americans participated in and became important sponsors of early road races both in the United States and in Europe, U.S. enthusiasts favored closed-circuit racing almost from the outset. The benefits included better spectator safety, improved course management, and the ability to charge admission. The horse racing tracks that served as the earliest closed-course automobile-racing sites in the United States gradually yielded to specialized dirt tracks, followed by paved ovals. The first American oval-track race occurred at the Rhode Island State Fairgrounds in Cranston in 1896, with a winning average speed of 26.8 mph (43.1 km/h). A major milestone for U.S. racing was the opening of the 2.5-mi (4-km) brick-surfaced Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana in 1909.
Short and long high-speed, banked courses—fashioned primarily from wood—also enjoyed great acceptance in the United States. The first high-banked board speedway opened in Playa del Rey, California, in 1910. More than 20 similar tracks of 0.5 to 2 mi (0.8 to 3.2 km) each were built across the country between 1915 and 1926. The popularity of board-track racing peaked in 1926, and in 1930 the last major race of this kind was held at Altoona, Pennsylvania. Because wood deteriorated and splintered, such tracks were notoriously difficult to maintain.
The major historical importance of board racing came in the technological innovations that it fostered. Cars that raced the boards were specially designed rather than adaptations of production cars that had been the norm before the rise of board tracks. These cars were equipped with balloon tires (inflated by air as opposed to being made of solid rubber), four-wheel brakes, four-wheel drive, and superchargers (devices to improve the power output of engines). Board racers also streamlined car bodies to increase speeds and added tetraethyl lead to gasoline for enhanced performance. Thus, the open-wheeled car designed expressly for racing is a descendant of the board-track car.
Racing was interrupted by World War II, but the sport experienced a revival with the reopening of the Indianapolis Speedway in 1946. In 1948 Watkins Glen staged its first road race and the first drag strip opened. In the 1950s sports car racing became popular, especially in Europe, while in the early 1960s stock car racing attracted increasing interest in the United States. As automobile racing grew the sport also became more specialized. At one time, the American Automobile Association Contest Board ran most racing in the United States, but by the mid-1950s each of the four forms of the sport—championship car racing, stock car racing, drag racing, and road racing—had its own sanctioning organization. Later, the sport became even more segmented.
The sport boomed in the 1980s and 1990s with an increase in television coverage, which brought both new fans and increased revenues. The most popular drivers became household names, including those with multiple family members achieving success (names such as Earnhardt, Petty, Unser, and Andretti). NASCAR, in particular, was able to capitalize on the growing fan base. Indy car racing has failed to grow as much, largely because of a 1996 split into two rival series run by different organizations, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Indy Racing League (IRL). This division has forced some of the top drivers out of the Indianapolis 500, weakening the sport’s single biggest drawing card and most historic event. Some drivers and teams have also defected from Indy car racing to the NASCAR circuit.
One of the most important issues in auto racing is spectator and driver safety. The sport has always been dangerous, with every innovation to increase speed also ratcheting up the level of danger. Unfortunately, although some safety measures—such as fire control and better helmets—have been developed in response to accidents, the innovations did not stem the tide of deaths. One study done in 2001 estimated that, at all levels of the sport, there were more than 250 racing-related deaths in the United States since 1990. In particular, the deaths of several high-profile drivers—Ayrton Senna in 1994, Adam Petty in 2000, and Dale Earnhardt in 2001—highlighted the need for mandatory head restraints and other safety controls, and the governing bodies of the sport began to act. Spectators who are killed when parts of cars fly into the grandstands also remain a concern for the sport.
Another problem in automobile racing both in the United States and internationally is the immense cost of competing. Driver salaries have skyrocketed and the cost of building a car capable of winning is often enormous, sometimes into the millions of dollars. To win a racing series, such as the Indy car championship or the Winston Cup, requires a fortune for salaries, construction, engine rental and maintenance, and other related costs. Modern racing teams require large corporate sponsorships along with lucrative television deals to have a chance to win. These sources of revenue can suddenly dry up if the overall economy sours or other problems develop, such as the governmental restrictions on tobacco advertising that have hurt the sport financially in recent years.
Another concern is the rapid rate of technological change in automobile racing. Early in the sport's development the race cars changed gradually, often with years intervening between significant innovations. Over time, however, it became increasingly common for competitors to actively seek technological superiority. This can be very costly, as research, technical staff, and implementing change itself (requiring the physical construction of new cars or components) add a great deal to the cost of running a race car. If a team does not keep up with the cutting-edge technology, however, it may be sacrificing a chance for victory. Such challenges will continue to be part of automobile racing in the years ahead.

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