NASCAR Pace Cars

In the case of an emergency on a track during a race, NASCAR drivers turn to the pace car, also known as a safety car, for help to guide the drivers during a caution period. There are just as many guidelines for safety cars as there are for race car drivers themselves.


Safety Car

The first safety car was put into use in 1973, but wasn’t fully integrated until the early 90s. They are typically silver Mercedes-Benz cars equipped with orange and green light bars on the roof. The green light signifies that a driver can pass the safety car, only if the car in the lead is not directly behind the safety car. This continues until the cars are in leading order behind the safety car.

Speed and Time

When the yellow flag is displayed, the safety car will come on to the track in front of the leader. Drivers are instructed to follow the safety car’s pace; they set the pace for the entirety of a caution period. The cars are driven by professionals who ensure that the racers’ cars are still in motion and do not overheat.

Caution Period

There are many instances where a safety car may be called. If the weather turns inclement or there is a debris hazard, the safety car will pull out of the pit after a yellow flag is displayed, signifying to drive with caution.

During the caution period, the orange lights will be on. When the orange lights turn off, it signals to the drivers that the safety car is going to pit at the end of that lap. Each driver must hold the caution period speed until he passes the first safety car line, and after that, the car may return to normal speed and normal racing procedures.

Drivers are permitted to make pit stops during the caution period, which may put drivers at an advantage by refueling while the other cars are driving at a reduced speed. Cars also use less fuel during caution periods, meaning when the race is resumed to full speed, drivers do not need to pit stop as often.

Disadvantages

Although the safety car is intended to guide other cars to safety, the safety car can actually experience accidents on the track. In 2014, a pace car caught fire and delayed the start of a race.

In 1971, 2008, 2009 and 2012, massive safety car crashes occurred due to miscommunication on the track or driver’s negligence and failure to follow the caution period protocol.

A safety car also allows the race cars to get very close together in proximity, which can be dangerous in certain settings, which can increase the competition among drivers.