This has to be one of the oddest parts of NASCAR, in really any sport come to think of it. Sticker headlights on NASCAR cars. Why do NASCAR cars have fake headlights? Even a popular Disney race car character’s nickname is “stickers”, a play on his stickers as headlights.
NASCAR cars have fake headlights as there’s no reason to have real headlights in a NASCAR race. The track is always well lit even during night races. Decals are cheaper and lighter than headlights, they make the car look like a real stock car, and don’t shatter when bumped, keeping glass off the track.
It’s a more complicated answer than “they look good” or that someone had an idea and it stuck for no reason. The decals play a huge part in brand recognition and sponsorship, as well as cater to our preconceived notions of what a car should look like
Why NASCAR Cars Have Fake Headlights
Back in the beginning of NASCAR, the cars they raced were stock cars, meaning they were right off of the production line. A Ford would race a Chevy or a Dodge would race a Toyota.
The differences in cars were easily identifiable by the body shape, headlights, taillights, and engine. So a consumer could watch the races on Sunday and go and buy their favorite car on Monday. NASCAR stands for National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing and tradition dictates that the cars are stock off the production line, even if that is no longer the case.
Now NASCAR Cars Are All the Same Body, Meaning Fake Headlights.
Now that NASCAR cars aren’t “stock”, they all use the same type of body. It needs to be fair to all the drivers, therefore they have the same shape and are made from the material.
Brands still pay a lot of money for the space on NASCAR cars to advertise. The sticker headlights make this stock race car body look more like the vehicle they are supposed to be representing.
A Dodge headlight looks different than a Ford headlight. When a consumer sees the “Dodge” win the race, identifiable by the sticker headlights and brake lights along with the front grill art and the logos, they can still identify the vehicle when they go onto the sales floor to purchase.
Why Don’t NASCAR Cars Have Real Headlights?
There are a few reasons that NASCARs don’t just have regular headlights instead of stickers.
Glass on a NASCAR Track Is Bad
NASCAR cars are allowed to bump each other while they are driving. If a headlight was hit, that would mean glass all over the track. As any break in contact with the asphalt is disastrous, glass on the track could lead to disaster.
Tires rely on contact with the asphalt to maintain traction, as the tires used in NASCAR are almost bare. Driving over glass would mean a loss of traction, which is bad news for the driver and the car.
There’s no time in between laps to clean the track, so any glass from a small bump would have to stay there until a larger clean up post-crash. This is not a good use of time or resources.
Normal Headlights on a NASCAR Would Lead to Heavier Cars
Everything is important when it comes to winning a race, including the weight of a NASCAR car. When milliseconds decide a winner, even an extra quarter pound could be the difference between a victory lap or being second place. Stickers weigh less than headlights.
Even Night NASCAR Races are Well Lit
There’s no reason for a NASCAR car to have headlights in the first place. Most races take place in the daytime and there’s no race if it’s raining out.
There are a few night races, but those are lit up like a Christmas tree and headlights aren’t required to see. The track has to be well lit for the cameras and the spectators.
Could you imagine a race that wasn’t lit? All the spectators would see is headlights going around in an oval. Not a lot of fun for watching, and extremely dangerous for the drivers.
There’s really no reason to have a functioning headlight on a NASCAR car as there’s no reason to have a dark NASCAR race.
What’s the Point of Fake Headlights at all on NASCAR Cars?
There could be no stickers at all on the car, but then it would just look wrong. Kind of like a person without eyes. We are used to seeing all vehicles with headlights, so we have a predetermined and deeply ingrained bias towards something that doesn’t fit that mold.
Yes, they offer brand recognition, but stickers also make the cars racing in NASCAR seem normal. Without them, then we’d be staring at something that looked wrong for two hundred laps.
As it’s important for the human psyche to want to buy what we see, sticker headlights play an integral part in believing that these cars are actually stock and for a consumer to want to buy the brand.
As is true for most sports, sponsorships are crucial for the payout of salaries, the maintaining of equipment, and the overall financial health of NASCAR itself. Without brand recognition and sponsorships, NASCAR wouldn’t be nearly as popular today as it currently is.