Why Do NASCAR Cars Only Turn In One Direction?

Why Do NASCAR Cars Only Turn In One Direction

To many outside observers and NASCAR skeptics, the questions “why do they only turn left?” and “how is that even entertaining?” come up quite frequently in conversation. In fact, so commonplace is this discussion that some people have comically speculated if NASCAR race cars even possess the ability to turn in another direction. Of course, NASCAR cars function similar to your standard automobile, in that they can turn in either direction. However, a few questions still arise from NASCAR’s unique racing style: Why do they only turn left? Do any races feature tracks or speedways with multiple directions? How did NASCAR come to adopt this racing format?

The Oval

Interestingly, counterclockwise racing came about before NASCAR had even been founded. Such a racing style dates all the way back to the late 1800s, and mimicked the style of horse racing held in America at that time. Historians posit that NASCAR’s racing format follows in the traditions of early motor racing, and the racing style has even been considered an act of defiance against the British, as their horse races traditionally occurred in clockwise rotations. 

No matter the historical perspective, NASCAR’s format is by no means strange, and is in fact deeply rooted in the history of motorsports all together. In fact, NASCAR is simply one of many racing sports, and even sports in general, where racers speed around an oval shaped track. Indeed, even track events are competed within an oval, where athletes run counterclockwise.

Surprisingly, the tradition of running and racing counterclockwise in an ovular pattern may have scientific implications. It is believed that human bodies are more easily attuned to moving in counterclockwise motions, although the science mostly serves to possibly explain why track athletes move this way as opposed to serving to explain how NASCAR races are held this way. 

It may be more plausible that NASCAR’s racing format came about as a result of motorsport history, as well as through regulations made during NASCAR's inception. As a sport becomes regulated, certain absolutes and standards become a part of the sports identity, for the sake of consistency during the sport’s execution. In the case of NASCAR, officials of the sport decided on a racing format (in this case, counterclockwise racing on an ovular track) and stuck with it, as doing so early on would ensure consistency among NASCAR events.


A widely held belief among theorists who speculate why races are held counterclockwise (i.e. driver’s only turn left) involves the safety of the drivers. Because NASCAR race cars have the driver positioned on the left side of the car, a driver is less likely to suffer serious injury if they were to crash into the walls of the track. This is because the right side of the racecar, in theory, would absorb the initial brunt of the impact, assuming the impact occurs on that side of the car (which is most likely to be the case).

The same argument applies for driving sports in other countries and regions, as vehicles in England utilize a right side driver’s side. Their racing sports, as a result, are conducted (for the most part) in a clockwise direction, presumably for the same safety reasons.

It is clear that the choice to drive in one direction during NASCAR’s sporting events is an intentional one, perhaps informed by attitudes of ensuring driver safety. With the risk of serious injury being so high, it would seem imperative that NASCAR officials make format choices that align best with keeping their drivers safe.


So, is NASCAR’s racing format deserving of the bullying it seems to oftentimes endure, from both spectators and motor sports enthusiasts? It appears clear that the decision to host NASCAR events in one direction is one with great intentionality. The rich history of NASCAR, as well as that of motor sports in America, tell of how the sport was formatted this way as a means of expressing revolutionist ideologies, ones that went against the grain, and preferences of the British authority.

Likewise, humans seem wired to turn left. Track athletes run this way, so as to generate more power and better align with their bodies instinctual preferences. NASCAR, it could be said, uses this scientific speculation as well to inform the decision to have their drivers turn left. Additionally, NASCAR races, being the dangerous endeavors they are, will always benefit from policies that aim to keep their drivers safe. Drivers seated on the left side of the car, who race in a counterclockwise direction, indeed have far lesser chances of incurring serious injury if their car were to impact with a right-side-facing wall.

To fans, NASCAR races ignite a fiery adrenaline that is unmatched. The monotonous format of NASCAR does not seem to affect fans of the sport, as they continue to pack the stadiums on race day. To drivers, the choice of driving in one direction may seem like a safe option, as they of course wish to prevent themselves from risking serious injury. The NASCAR format, as it stands, seems like a reasonable racing style that suits both drivers and fans.


Do people enjoy the counterclockwise racing format of NASCAR?

While oftentimes NASCAR seems the butt of the joke when other motorsport fans compare their sports to NASCAR, there is little doubt that NASCAR fans enjoy the format of NASCAR. If no one enjoyed the format of NASCAR, then perhaps the sport would cease to exist. Fans would rarely, if at all, continue to pack stadiums to watch a sport that they found little to no enjoyment with. Of course, NASCAR fans are attracted to the sport for a variety of reasons, and the compact and exciting nature of the race format is only one of many reasons.

Do drivers get tired of turning in one direction during an entire race?

Gauging the opinions of all of NASCAR’s drivers seems like an impossible task. Studying the physical effects that the sport has on it’s drivers, however, may offer insight into their opinion. During a race, the constant left turns apply incredible stress through forces onto a driver’s body. However physically taxing this may be, though, drivers still race in NASCAR events, so it would appear that turning in one direction during a race is not a strong enough deterrent for the sports athletes.

Are all NASCAR races counterclockwise?

Simply put, not all NASCAR races are conducted in a counterclockwise fashion. In Australia, AUSCAR (the Australian NASCAR) events are held on oval tracks where drivers race clockwise. This, perhaps, is a result of safety measures, as drivers in Australia are seated in the right side of their cars. This way, if drivers were to impact a wall that is situated on the left side, there would be less risk of serious injury.