Auto racing is the sport of navigating a car through a course in the fastest time. The cars in this competition are built with the primary purpose of increasing power and speed, and as such the drivers in these races must be both skilled and experienced to handle the rigors of the sport. Several different types of automobile racing exist, organized according to the kind of car used, engine size, race course, and speed or endurance objectives. The first automobile races were town-to-town events run on local streets and highways, but as cars became more advanced, the sport evolved into the myriad of auto racing competitions we see today.
The most prestigious form of auto racing is Formula One, which features a series of races held around the globe. Formula One cars have been clocked at speeds of up to 240 miles per hour, but actual race speeds are often significantly lower due to the demands of the courses they race on. With annual team budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and races held on specialized circuits and temporary street courses, Formula 1 is considered by many to be the pinnacle of auto racing.
In the beginning, the sport of auto racing was nothing more than a way for early automobile manufacturers to show off the capabilities of their new machines. Among the first automobile races was a contest held on Thanksgiving Day in 1895, when Charles Duryea ran his closed-car prototype over a snowy, muddy track at Daytona Beach. The success of this contest encouraged other automobile manufacturers to get into the game, and entry fees from consumer-product companies quickly fueled a burgeoning national scene.
While most of these wooden-track speedways failed to make it through World War I, auto racing grew even more popular as automobiles continued to evolve, and the physics that allowed them to achieve much higher speeds came into play. Eventually, cars were built specifically for racing, and these race cars had to be very lightweight in order to generate enough acceleration to overcome the massive forces that oppose them on curves.
As a result, tires are one of the most important parts of an automobile racer’s vehicle. The lateral force that must be overcome when a race car enters a curve causes it to shift sideways, and this imposes a huge stress on the tires. The tires must be able to deform and absorb these stresses, while still providing adequate gripping of the road to maintain control.
As the speed of vehicles increased, rules were developed to regulate them and to protect the safety of the drivers. This led to the formation of a number of governing bodies that set the rules for each race type. In the United States, Bill France created NASCAR in 1948 with sprints for closed cars at his paved Daytona Beach superspeedway. These races required that the cars keep their stock appearance, and only minor engine and chassis modifications were permitted, but this boosted popularity of the sport so rapidly that a saying soon emerged among Detroit auto manufacturers: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Mass market novels such as Hot Rod served to glamorize the sport, as well, with covers featuring teenage enthusiasms and idealized teenage views of fairness, and the resulting set of rules is still in use to this day.