NASCAR racing need not be pure recreation if you appreciate engineering and informatics. There is great technological prowess behind success in NASCAR racing. It is not a simple matter of pushing machines and men to their limits. Providing spectators with enjoyment is serious business!
Drivers, cars, and teams have to come together to win races. No one cog of this wheel can function on its own. You must know that driver performances change when they switch teams, and the same applies to owners who contract new drivers and crew chiefs. What do all these people do? Why does one team outperform another on a consistent basis, even though the cars adhere to the same specifications?
NASCAR regulations are both a plus for spectators and a drag on owners at the same time. Engines and other critical race performance parameters have to be kept within strict limits for an event to qualify for NASCAR. You cannot use special engines or allow any advantage to the home team. This keeps the crowds coming in. All of America knows that NASCAR is fair. Only the best team can win! It is the rule of merit, and there are no exceptions. So what does an owner do to put a best foot forward?
Bring an engineer and a computer expert in to your pit. Drivers and old-timers may not like the intrusion at first, but they soon discover that these wizards can tell you a thing or two to make the difference between a win, a place, and ignominy! It starts with sensors. They place gizmos under the hood, on the tires, and next to suspension and transmission systems, which spy on everything that goes on. The results are in terms of masses of data which no human mind can digest in time for the next NASCAR event. So what you do is to hook the sensors to a computer and voila-you have new insights for crews and for the driver, which boost performance standards! Data acquisition is a relatively new technology on the NASCAR circuit, but it sure makes waves! Look out for the quality of engineering and computer support in a team and you will have a winner on your hands!
A lot of racecar enthusiasts consider NASCAR to be F1‘s less-fortunate cousin. So many differences in the design and maneuverability of the cars, the attitude of the races and drivers. But any NASCAR fan will tell you that the cars themselves demonstrate a rare form of workmanship that is fast disappearing from the auto-racing.
Just about every part a NASCAR car is made by hand. The bodies are built from flat sheet metal, the engines are assembled from a bare block and the frame is constructed from steel tubing.
The frame consists of a structure of round and square steel tubing of varying weights and thickness. The bulk of the structure surrounds the driver. This part of the frame – the roll cage – is made of the thickest tubing and is designed to stay together, protecting the driver during every turn and in every potential or realized accident or crash.
The front and rear sections of the frame, called the front clip and the rear clip, are built from thinner steel tubing so that they will crush when the car hits another car or a wall. In addition to being collapsible, the front clip is designed to push the engine out of the bottom of the car – rather than into the driver’s compartment – during an accident. And if you don’t think that’s a good thing to know when you’re spinning out of a curve than you just don’t know NASCAR.
When the frame comes into the shop, the firewall (the metal panel separating the engine compartment from the driver’s compartment) and floor panels are welded in, along with various mounting brackets for things like the engine, suspension, seat, fuel cell and body.
The shape of the car is mostly determined by NASCAR rules. These rules are determined by a set of 30 templates, each shaped to fit a different contour of the car. For instance, the biggest template fits over the center of the car from front to back.
After the pieces are shaped, they are welded to the car and to each other, using the templates to check their location. Not all of the cars are built to the same specifications. Some cars are dedicated short-track cars, and others are dedicated super-speedway cars. There are some major differences between the two types.
Since the speeds are lower on the short race tracks, getting an adequate volume of cooling air to the engine and brakes can be a challenge — especially since the engines and brakes generate more heat during short-track racing. Conversely, the body on a super-speedway car is mounted forward on the frame to reduce drag.
Simple in theory, but advanced in application – the success of NASCAR racing cars goes deeper than just under the hood. It lies in the frame and the body itself.