What Are The Kinds of Auto Racing?
Auto racing has been popular since the creation of the automobile. Humans have always been fascinated with speed, from the ancient Olympic Games and foot and chariot races to the advent of horse racing to the creation of the first auto races.
There are several different kinds of auto racing, and the major formats include:
- Open-Wheel Racing
- Stock Car Racing
- Sports Car Racing
- Drag Racing
- Kart Racing
- Rally Racing
Below we outline each racing format, including the kind of car in each race, how long each race is, distinguishing characteristics of each kind of racing, and where you can find coverage and races of each format. Let’s take a closer look!
Open-wheel racing is a type of auto racing where the wheels are uncovered outside the car’s body. Open-wheel cars are also characterized by having their engines in the back of the car. The two most recognizable open-wheel racing series are Formula 1 and IndyCar, which also happen to be two of the world’s most popular racing series.
Open-wheel races take place worldwide, and tracks are not uniform (unlike NASCAR, where almost every race track is an oval). F1 cars clock in with an average racing speed of 120 mph, though they can reach over 200 mph.
Open-wheel racing is a particularly intense form of racing. Budgets for teams surpass hundreds of millions of dollars, racers are national heroes (like the late Ayrton Senna), and rivalries run deep. Formula 1 is popular in Europe and South America, while IndyCar has a massive U.S. following.
Stock Car Racing
Stock Car Racing is a highly popular form of auto racing in North America, with NASCAR being the iconic and dominant force in the stock car racing industry. Races are almost exclusively held on oval race tracks, like the Daytona or Talladega superspeedways. Auto racing in the United States may as well be synonymous with NASCAR and stock racing.
Cars are characterized by their normal (or “stock”) appearances, but make no mistake, they can go very fast. The race cars used in stock car racing are, in fact, purpose-built race cars able to travel at speeds over 200 mph.
While NASCAR is the most obvious example of stock racing, smaller amateur races happen all over the United States.
Sports Car Racing
Sports car racing differs from open-wheel and stock racing because the cars are always derived from production-level cars. There are two kinds of sports cars: one called “Grand Tourers” (GT for short), two-seat vehicles built by companies like Porsche, Ford, or Ferrari; and Prototype Cars, which can be one-seated and look sleeker than the average GT.
Famous races include the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the most famous series is the FIA World Endurance Championships. Sports Car races are often very long (like Le Mans) and feature teams of multiple drivers per car who switch off throughout the race.
Everyone has seen the videos of ostentatious race cars blasting off the starting line and driving for less than half a mile at super-fast speeds. Everyone’s seen the parachutes eject from the back of the car as it crosses the finish line in an effort to slow down. That’s drag racing.
Cars can vary widely in design, with hundreds of classifications in the sport. Drag racing has so many formats that almost any car can find its way to a drag race.
Driven in head-to-head races, cars start next to each other and proceed along parallel and straight tracks a quarter mile in length. In big tournaments, races are run elimination-style. Drag races are all about acceleration, seeing who can reach top speed in the least amount of time.
Kart racing is often the entry point for many of the world’s best racers, from NASCAR stars like Jeff Gordon to Formula 1 legends like Ayrton Senna. Racers drive in small, 100-pound open-wheel karts made with only a small tube chassis and an engine. Despite their diminutive appearance, karts perform exceptionally well and are therefore a great and exciting vehicle for races.
Kart Racing is perhaps the cheapest way to get into auto racing, making it a vital part of auto racing’s growth worldwide. The WKA (World Karting Association) organizes races across the globe and is the sport’s biggest organizing body.
Rally racing is basically a timed relay, performed with teams taking staggered starts. Drivers take off at different intervals along the track, and teams “rally” back and forth along the course and across multiple stages in an attempt to get the shortest elapsed time. It’s a time trial against the clock and other teams.
Cars are typically production-model cars built or redesigned with modifications to improve racing performance. Races are driven either on closed-road courses or off-road courses. Rally racing is most popular in Europe but has been growing in the United States and the rest of the Americas.
What’s the most popular kind of racing in the United States and in Europe?
While NASCAR dominates the American racing scene, Formula 1 is most popular in Europe. F1 Grand Prix routinely draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, averaging almost 200,000 each weekend. F1 racing in Europe (and South America) is a highly popular sport, rivaled internationally by only a handful of sports.
What’s the difference between IndyCar and Formula 1?
Both IndyCar and Formula 1 are massive open-wheel racing circuits with big followings and ravenous fans. However, there are some key differences. For instance, while innovation and brand competition have always been a big part of Formula 1 racing (with teams like McLaren and Ferrari fighting to make an ever-faster car), IndyCar focuses more on driver skill with every car using the same chassis. This also means that teams spend much more in Formula 1 racing compared to IndyCar, where budgets can seem minuscule in comparison.
In addition, IndyCar caters to an almost exclusively American market, while Formula 1 is big in Europe, South America, and parts of the Mediterranean.
Why do so many famous racers start with Kart Racing?
In short, many famous race car drivers start with kart racing because it is cheap and accessible. Kart racing is also much safer, making it appealing for young children and amateurs. Basically every Formula 1 racer starts with karting. Ayrton Senna famously got his start racing along the kart circuits in Brazil as a little kid. Not to mention that NASCAR drivers like Jeff Gordon often get started racing Quarter-Midgets, kart-like automobiles that run on short ovals.
What is the most famous Sports Car Race in the World?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s most recognizable sports car race. Taking place in LeMans, France, teams drive non-stop for 24 hours, testing not just a car’s speed but its ability to hold up to extended periods of driving.
In endurance races like Le Mans, multiple drivers switch off over the course of the day and attempt to advance as much distance as possible. In Le Mans, that means almost 5,000 kilometers!