Ah, the age-old question asked both sarcastically and seriously by non-fans of NASCAR. Can NASCAR cars even turn both ways? Yes, most NASCAR races only have left turns, but there’s a reason for it that actually makes sense.
NASCAR cars CAN turn right. They are functioning vehicles and can turn left and right. Most NASCAR races only turn left to give the drivers a better view of the field in front of them. It allows for greater acceleration during the apex of a turn due to weight distribution on the car, as well as better visibility during the turn. Left turns are also embedded in the history of auto racing and NASCAR.
Yes, it may look like NASCAR cars only turn left, but that’s not the case. Keep reading for the science behind why most races have left turns, which races have right turns and what would happen if a NASCAR turned right.
Can NASCAR Cars Turn Right?
There are a ton of reasons why NASCAR tracks are mostly left turns. No one really knows the real answer on why left-hand turning has caught on and stuck, but there’s a few reasons that contribute to the practice:
- In America, the drivers are on the left side of the road. The long turns are to the left in NASCAR races because it allows a driver on the left side of the car to see the major apex of the turn. This means that they can see the turn better when travelling at high speeds. Drivers travel approximately one football field (97 yards) every second. Any advantage in vision in a turn is important. Without the increase of vision, drivers would have to slow down on the turns.
- An American car has more weight on the left side, as that’s where the driver sits. This means that, when turning left, more speed can be used in the turn because the car is trying to lean to the outside (right) and the weight of the body in the driver’s seat corrects this. Drivers have to be below 200 lbs as a requirement. They are weighed pre raced and weights are added to the driver’s seat so that each car in the race has an exactly 200 lb driver.
- NASCARs don’t have outside mirrors. They have a rear-view mirror in the car, and they have a small mirror on the inside of the roll bar on the driver’s side. When racing, a spotter is used to know where all the cars are behind the driver. They would have to add the mirrors to the other side in order to change directions on the track.
- There are plenty of NASCAR tracks that have right turns (called road races). These are street races and they have right turns. These include:
- Watkins Glen (Watkins Glen, New York) : 5 right turns
- Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada) : 6 right turns
- Mid-Ohio (Lexington, Ohio) : 8 right turns
- Road America (Plymouth, Wisconsin) : 8 right turns
- Sonoma Raceway (Sonoma, California): 7 right turns
- Horse races in Britain are clockwise, so only right turns. Car racing has its roots in horse races. When America defeated the British, rumor is that they started racing horses left (counterclockwise) as a middle finger to the British. This can’t be corroborated but is a common story among NASCAR fans. The defiance at the British makes for a good story, even if that is no longer the case. It does make an argument for how traditional NASCAR actually is and how they like to keep their history of stock cars being raced during prohibition on dirt tracks.
What Would Happen if NASCAR Races Only Had Right Turns?
This is a loaded question. If you put the driver on the right side and turned right, nothing different would happen. The cars would race in a circle, except for clockwise. This is what would happen if European’s started NASCAR (and if they wanted their races to be as fast a possible). But, if you kept the driver on the left side and only turned right around a NASCAR track, the drivers would run out of track.
What does ‘running out of track’ mean? It means that the drivers have to take a right turn wider than a left turn, and they have to do it at slower speeds. The right turn pulls the car to the left, and the force is intensified by the extra weight on the left-hand side. This widens the turn, so much so that it would decrease the number of cars that can make the turn at a time. The cars on the outside would be run into the wall, so the race would run out of track for the drivers.
Are There More Wrecks in the NASCAR Tracks that have Right Turns?
There is no statistical data that indicates the tracks with right turns cause more wrecks. Daytona has the most wrecks per race each year, and this is due to the distance of the race, the number of racecars allowed, and the fact that it’s a track that requires a restrictor plate (in fact, restrictor plates are common on the two tracks with the highest amount of crashes: Daytona and Talladega).
The reduction of speed causes the cars to be more bunched up, increasing the amount of multi-car wrecks and big crashes. A multi-car wreck is more dangerous than a single-car wreck, as there’s more force involved and more moving parts.
This has NOTHING to do with turning right, and everything to do with the rules of the track, including draft rules and bumping. NASCAR drivers let up a little on right hand turns and are prepared for them in the race. They have a strategy going into the right-turns of road tracks, and know their lines going through. This still decreases the overall speed of the race but doesn’t increase the amount of crashes.
Why Doesn’t NASCAR Have Races that only have Right Turns or Race in Figure Eights?
Tradition and speed. No one wants to decrease the overall speed of motorcar racing. The whole purpose is to see how fast we can go on four wheels. And to see if anyone else can beat us. That’s the point. That’s why kids race on bikes, why there’s foot races, why we have raced in every aspect of our development. Fast. We want to go fast.
What’s the point of implementing a right turn race to go slower? This is the case for figure-eight races as well. They’d be slower than all left turns. There’s no point to add it, as it would be more boring than all left turns at slower speeds.
Traditionally, races are run to the left because of horse racing in America and where the driver is seated. They were run counterclockwise in America, causing stock car races to be run counterclockwise as well.
There are tracks with right turns, but the driver’s need to slow down to make the turn. Races have always been run to the left, and they’re faster. Tradition and speed, the lifeblood of NASCAR racing.