Race Fans Road Trip: Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Aerial view of downtown Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte, NC, Source | Erick Lee Hodge/Unsplash

There’s nothing quite like a road trip to Charlotte, NC, to get immersed in the world of NASCAR and racing. Right off the line, the majority of NASCAR race teams are based in the area. Then you have the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For race fans, the Queen City is hard to beat. So tune up the car and drive on down (within the legal speed limit, mind you) to check out these unforgettable experiences.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

NASA Firecracker Run at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Source | James Willamor/Wikimedia Commons

May is a popular time to visit the Charlotte Motor Speedway, thanks to spring weather and big races like the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend and the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star. Located in Concord, just north of the big city, Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly Lowe’s Motor Speedway) is a 1.5-mile quad-oval track. Race fans are ensured a great view from anywhere in the 89,000-seat stadium, thanks to a massive, nearly 16,000-square-foot HDTV. For a different kind of race experience, jaunt across the street to watch drivers tear it up at the four-lane zMax Dragway or get a taste of North Carolina red clay at the Dirt Track.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Classic NASCAR car

Source | Flickr

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, there’s more to see than famous cars like the Fabulous Hudson Hornet and Lee Petty’s Oldsmobile Super 88 (#42). You can retrace the history of NASCAR on a 64-foot-wide projection screen in the High Octane Theater. Then try out for the pit crew, and sit in the driver’s seat. With the Hall of Fame’s interactive, loud-as-life exhibits, visitors get a front-row seat to the best NASCAR has to offer.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

NASCAR Petty Driving Experience. Dodge Charger

Richard Petty Driving Experience, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Along with parachuting out of a plane and bungee jumping off a bridge, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is on the bucket list of every adrenaline junkie. Roar along the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a stock car at up to 160 mph. Just watching the in-car video is enough to make your palms sweat. Of course, this experience doesn’t come cheap. A little more than a hundred bucks will get you a shotgun ride in a stock car for three laps. If you want to take the wheel like a rookie, and race eight heart-pounding laps, it’ll cost you around $450. Bring friends and family to watch. And maybe a change of pants.

Race shops

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Richard Childress, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Some of the biggest names in NASCAR call the Charlotte area home, including Richard Petty Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. The racing shops feature a variety of tours, museums, showrooms, retail stores, and fan experiences. Visitors to Richard Childress Racing, based in aptly named Welcome, NC, can visit the RCR Cup and XFINITY shops. They can also tour a 47,000-square-foot museum housing nearly 50 race vehicles.

Childress Vineyards

two wine glasses

Childress Vineyards, Source | Courtesy Childress Vineyards

If you’ve been to a race during your visit to North Carolina, chances are you’ve gorged yourself on a foot-long hotdog and cheese fries, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if your ears are still ringing from the track and your palette needs cleansing from the grit and exhaust, then check out Childress Vineyards. Owned by NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the 72-acre vineyard and winery is located in Lexington, 10 minutes from RCR’s shop and museum. Tour the vineyard and taste a selection of the winery’s 30 award-winning varietals. Then settle back on the covered bistro patio with lunch and a glass of Cabernet, and toast to the checkered flag at the end of your trip.

Have you visited any of these Charlotte race venues? Tell us about your experience in the comments.


Heads up: You can win a VIP trip to the Coca-Cola 600 in May! Enter now for a chance to win:

  • Air travel and hotel for each grand prize winner and their guest
  • VIP access to track, hospitality suite, and paddock over race weekend
  • VIP access to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and a meet & greet with the band

The Awesome History of Pro-Touring

Pro-Touring Car

Source | Steve Ferrante/Flickr

Giant wheels, perfect stance, megawatt power, and excellent handling—all wrapped in timeless muscle beauty. Pro-Touring can be the ultimate expression of the muscle car, making 50-year-old rides relevant and competitive with modern exotics. Join us for a look at the tech and history behind it.

If this is your first time reading about it, Pro-Touring is a subculture of muscle-car enthusiasts that can be hard to define. It’s generally considered vintage American iron modified to accelerate, handle corners, and stop with the very best modern vehicles of any price point. Picture a classic Plymouth Roadrunner passing a Porsche 911 GT3 in a corner at Lime Rock, and that’s probably a Pro-Touring machine. Modifications must be extensive to get 50-year-old cars up to speed, and usually include engine swaps, forced induction, massively upgraded suspensions, large brakes, and even larger wheels.

Pro Street origins

Way back in the acid-washed jeans and Crystal Pepsi era, the popular trend for American muscle cars was Pro Street. Based on the NHRA Pro Stock class, the street cars mimicked the race-car look with giant hood scoops, flashy pastel exteriors, and “big ‘n’ little” drag tires. The results were sometimes all show and no go, as 1980s Pro Street was more about looks than speed. If someone did build a fast Pro Street car, it was usually too wild to be street legal and could not see action as a daily driver. As the decade ended, enthusiasts went looking for something different, as they wanted both performance and a legal and comfortable ride. Enter the road racers.

Pro-Touring Big Red Camaro on a track

Source | Big Red Camaro

Big Red steals the show

Classic road rallies like the La Carrera and Silver State Classic allowed builders the opportunity to test their mettle and their metal, with expensive European exotics taking home the trophies. That was until Dan and RJ Gottlieb stuffed a 540-inch Chevy V8 into a 1969 Camaro with a race-car suspension and created a legend.

The “Big Red” Camaro broke numerous records and was politely asked not to return. The Gottliebs had built something more than a race car for the street when they insisted the sheet-metal retain the factory look and the interior remain functional as stock. Window cranks and air conditioning? Big Red was reliable, brutally fast, with excellent handling, braking, and a reasonable ride quality. The Pro Touring style had been created.

Manufacturer performance

Enthusiasts think of the ’80s as a dark age of performance, but it’s really when auto manufacturers started to take a serious interest in handling and braking, as all-around performance started to matter more than just acceleration times. BMW wasn’t able to keep up with the pony cars in straight-line acceleration back then, but the popular E30 BMW 3 Series proved customers would line up for solid driving characteristics.

By the end of the ’90s the Corvette became the svelte C5, the fourth generation Camaro SS could pull .90g on the skidpad, and the SVT Cobra received a pony car first: independent rear suspension. The factory had pointed the way for Pro-Touring.

Pro-Touring today

Now you can build a classic any way you want, including for all-around performance. Want a six-speed manual in your ’67 Mustang or paddle shifters in your ’70 GTO? Both are available. There’s even aftermarket independent rear suspensions available as complete bolt-on kits, along with any number of big brakes, huge sway bars, and performance springs and shocks.

There’s no reason to leave your big-block classic in the garage for 90-percent of the year anymore. With the right equipment, that classic can handle the rigors of daily driving, weekend cruising, and the occasional track day, all in the same configuration. If you don’t want to go all out, Pro-Touring still shows how minor upgrades can be rewarding on your classic ride.

Tell us what you think of these auto trends. Leave your thoughts on Pro-Touring in the comments below.

Getting to Know John Force

John Force is a legendary NHRA racer, team owner of John Force Racing, and proud father of racers Courtney, Ashley, and Brittany, and father-in-law to Rob Hight. He started racing in 1978 and is still going strong—but did you know he almost quit the sport before winning 10 championships in a row?

We sat down with John to talk about his famed racing career, his successful team and family, and what he likes to do off the track.

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Interview with John “Brute” Force

1. What compelled you to start racing? And what keeps you going?

I played high school football as a quarterback, and I liked the camaraderie as a team. Drag racing allows me the opportunity to be with teams and race and hear the cheer of the crowd. My family has gotten involved in it, my daughters, my son-in-law—and maybe in the future my grandchildren. But I love it. I love the competition. I love the camaraderie. I love the cheer of the crowd when you win. Even the battle of defeat is a motivation for me to get up and fight harder. I’ve loved NHRA my whole life, and I’ve watched drag racing since I was in high school. That’s why I always say, “I’ll do it until I drop,” and I guess I will.

2. Sixteen-times NHRA champions! Any seasons that stand out—from overcoming obstacles or everything seeming to go right?

When you look at my career, there have always been crossroads. In my early days, when you run out of money and then you get a call to go and run a match, that just carries you. My crash in 2007—when I broke my arms and legs—was a setback where they thought I may not drive again. But I overcame that and came back and won the championship in 2010. That was big.

Losing financially is the biggest thing that can put you out of business, and I lost two great partners a couple of years ago. But Auto Club and Mac Tools always stood by me, and I was lucky enough to get Advance Auto Parts, PEAK, Monster Energy, and Chevrolet.

I’ve been really lucky to overcome those obstacles and get to do what I love to do. It’s a lot of work, but we’re getting it done.

3. Did you always plan for your children to join the “family business?” How is it having them on the JFR team?

You never know what your children are going to do, but I knew when they were old enough to get a driver’s license. Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney all wanted to go to Frank Hawley’s Driving School. They wanted to drive Super Comp, and then they went to A/Fuel. They evolved into it, and now I’m really proud to be a part of it. I love having Brittany in Top Fuel with Monster Energy, Courtney in Funny Car with Advance Auto Parts, and me with PEAK. And Ashley raced with us, too. Racing with my kids, yeah, it’s a gut-ache for my wife Laurie and me, the fear of them getting hurt. But to watch them do something they love to do and then to see the win lights come on. I’m excited about it, and I’m ready for 2017.

4. What would you tell people who never heard of NHRA racing? What’s the best way to describe it?

It’s P.T. Barnum at 300 mph. I’ve seen the circus. It’s the Greatest Show on Earth, but so is drag racing. It’s 10,000 horsepower. It’s nitromethane and fire belching out the pipes.It’s the cheer of the crowd. Nighttime qualifying is unbelievable. It’s two people racing each other, which is different from running in a pack like NASCAR and IndyCar. It’s you against the driver in the other lane. Four times on race day, if you’re lucky.

“I really don’t have hobbies. I don’t golf: I’m terrible. I tried it once and drove the beer cart, so that was OK.”

5. What are your “off the track” hobbies?

When I was young and raising a family, and got off work after driving a truck, I took my race car to the track. Now, I go to the race track and work every day in the business I love. I really don’t have hobbies. I don’t golf: I’m terrible. I tried it once and drove the beer cart, so that was okay. I’ve got a car collection of Chevrolets, Corvettes, Harley-Davidsons, and different cars. But I don’t have time to drive those.

If I was going to claim a hobby, it would be this: Taking my grandkids to the movies and to the park and spending time at home with them.

You can follow the John Force Racing team by checking out their full racing schedule. If you want more Force Racing news, see our interview with Courtney Force and a tour of her dragster car.

Do you agree with John that drag racing is the “Greatest Show on Earth?” Let us know what you think.

Courtney Force Explains the Thrill of Driving a Funny Car

NHRA Funny Cars deliver some of the most exciting racing on earth, backed by extreme engineering, precision teamwork, and fearless drivers. Nothing quite matches the fury of two racers blistering the track at more than 300 miles per hour. We wanted to know more about these super powerful machines, so we talked to NHRA pro racer Courtney Force to get the details.

Source | CourtneyForce.com

How does it feel to drive a Funny Car? – It’s no joke

“You’re pretty much strapped to a rocket,” says Courtney Force, driver for John Force Racing and the winningest female NHRA Funny Car driver of all time. “It’s a 10,000-horsepower car, and we launch at four or five Gs off the starting line—and negative Gs when we pull the parachutes—so it’s an exhilarating ride.”

Exhilarating might be an understatement here. You might have wondered how much horsepower a Top Fuel Funny Car has, but the answer can only be approximated as there isn’t a dynamometer on earth that can survive measuring the exact power level. The roots-style supercharger forces air into the forged aluminum engine at a crushing 65 psi. Like a firehose, the fuel pump can push more than 100 gallons per minute. Each race consumes about 15 gallons, so Force’s Camaro burns roughly 60 gallons of nitromethane per mile. Tipping the scale at only 2,300 pounds, the 0 to 60 number looks like a typo, taking about 0.8 seconds. Force has completed the 1,000-foot track in 3.855 seconds, at a top speed of 331.45 miles per hour. All those stats sound extreme? They should, as this car is built with only the best parts.

“We build everything in-house at John Force Racing,” Force said. “That gives our teams a little bit of an advantage. We have a paint shop, a chassis shop, and the guys in our shop in Brownsburg, Ind., really do a phenomenal job with these cars.”

The winner is determined by far more just than stats on paper, and fans love how the drivers leave everything out on the track in a tire-smoking and earth-shaking display of power. In the stands, you can feel the engine vibrations in your chest even from hundreds of feet away. Force broke it down for us, describing how it feels to drive a Funny Car.

“Outside of the Funny Car, it’s very loud and powerful,” she says. “But when you’re in the cockpit of the car, I get into my zone, and it becomes surprisingly peaceful. My earplugs and radio are in, and I have a headsock and a helmet that kind of muffles the sound.” Force says the race is less peaceful, as no amount of insulation can muffle the ferocious power of the big V8.

“The closest thing I could think of would be trying to hold on to a bull for seven seconds—except we’ve got to do it in four. You can’t really compare it to a roller-coaster ride because of the Gs that we pull, but it’s definitely a rush and a lot of fun for a crazy, four-second ride.”

The street car

The Chevrolet Camaro SS that you can buy from a dealer is a little different. The direct injected 6.2L V8 generates 455 hp and 455 lb-ft. Solid numbers, but we’re already losing this race. A supercharger isn’t available on the SS model, and the street car weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds heavier than the race car, at 3,685 pounds. The fuel pump can push 66 gallons per hour (not minute), and the SS earns an estimated 25 MPG highway, so at least the street car wins that contest.

We’re comparing apples and oranges here: Zero to 60 in four seconds flat is impressive for the price, but it won’t keep up with Force’s car. The quarter mile passes in 12.3 seconds at 116 mph, also an impressive feat but way slower than a Top Fuel Funny Car. Still, Force says the Camaro SS is a fun ride.

“I was driving a Camaro SS as my everyday car,” she says. “I got to do to a project with a COPO Camaro, so I’ve worked a lot with Chevy.” Force says that—surprisingly—she had never done a burnout or raced a street car on the track until the COPO promotional event, and the Camaro was a lot of fun.

“Having the Camaro SS as an everyday car is perfect for someone like me who loves racing and likes a sportier car on the road.”

Experience the speed

No one’s going to be driving a Funny Car as a daily driver. Still, there are parts available to help you feel a little more like Courtney does on race day, from superchargers to performance exhaust systems. Maybe get started with an aftermarket air intake or short throw shifter. Whether you have a Chevy Silverado or a Honda Accord, there’s parts and knowledge out there that can show you how to increase horsepower for nearly any vehicle.

If you’d rather leave speed to the pros, check out an NHRA event this year and catch some Funny Car racing. See if there’s going to be a race near you, or follow Force on her official page, Facebook, or Twitter.

“We’re really excited here at John Force Racing,” Force says. “Especially for my team since we’ve teamed up with Advance Auto Parts for our Funny Car for 2017. We’ve got the same team as I had last year, and if we can continue to roll over what we had going on with our team and our car, I think 2017 is going to be our best year yet.”

Are you an NHRA fan? Let us know in the comments. 

Racing for the Total Newb

Do you want to go racing, but only lack the race car and professional license? That’s okay! While NASCAR won’t allow you on-track just yet, there are plenty of ways for the total beginner to get out there and hit the redline, safely and affordably. If it’s time to put away your racing video games for the real thing, head to one of these local events to get your adrenaline fix.

Drag Racing

Source | Andy Jensen

Drag racing

By far the most affordable way to transform your daily driver into a race car is to visit your local drag strip. Quarter mile and eighth-mile tracks are scattered across the country, and most will have a “test and tune” session every week or two. Wait for the green light, gas it, and get to the finish as quickly as possible. The first one down the track wins, then make adjustments to tire pressure or suspension settings, and head out for another, faster pass. An entire evening of racing can run as little as $15, with zero additional equipment needed if your car is safe and not incredibly quick. Still in high school and driving mom’s 1989 Ford Escort? That’s okay, just bring your license and insurance, and you’re all set to go racing.

Autocross

If straight line racing isn’t your thing, look into autocross. Typically taking place in closed parking lots, the “track” is an improvised course that can be unique and challenging every single time, unlike most other race formats. The goal is to finish as quickly as possible, but getting there requires a smart and smooth driver rather than a high horsepower mega-dollar car. If you aren’t a member, you’ll have to pay the slightly higher entry fee of roughly $50, but that’s still a great deal for hours of fun and a learning experience. You’ll need a helmet. You can borrow a loaner from the track, but good helmets that meet safety standards are also affordable.

Autocross

Source | Andy Jensen

Track day

Track days take place on America’s various road courses, and will have different rules according to the club running the event. In general, you’re looking at high speeds on technical tracks with elevation changes, hairpins, and off-camber turns. High Performance Driving Events are high-speed learning experiences. While they aren’t technically races, HPDE is a great way to go all out on a road course. Track Night is another friendly event for the total beginner, and you can opt for instruction here too.

Chump Car

“Real racing. Real tracks. Real cheap cars.” You’ve seen Laguna Seca and Daytona on TV, now it’s time to race on them in total beaters. Chump Car turns junk into race cars in a throwback to when private teams were able to go out and win a weekend race. This will cost a bit, as your race car will need a cage and other safety equipment, but it can be done for just a few grand, which is a bargain to field a car in an endurance race series. 24 Hours of LeMons similarly flogs cheap beaters, but with even more flair.

Race school

If you don’t care about trophies and just want to go fast, look into the various forms of race schools. Xtreme Xperience gives classroom instruction, followed by laps in an exotic supercar with a pro race driver giving tips on how to go faster in every section of track. Step up to a real race car for just $200 with Driving101. Real NASCAR race cars and pit crews provide an extra touch of realism as you pretend to be Kevin Harvick at 170 mph. Last, if you really want to learn to drive fast, sign up for a class at Bondurant Race School. You’ll learn advanced techniques in Vipers, Hellcats, and open wheel racers.

Good advice for all race formats is to have a car in good working condition. If you feel the need to spend money on upgraded parts, start with the best tires and brakes you can afford. Finally, remember to relax and just have fun your first time out. Next time, focus on trying to set a new personal best time, but the point is to get out there and get started.

Have any advice for first-timers? Let’s hear it.

Your Guide to Street-Legal Rally Racing

Off-road rally race

Source/David Brodbeck/Flickr

Rally racing looks like a blast, but the costs often seem prohibitive to drivers with a casual interest. What many don’t realize is there’s a rally for everyone, from affordable local charity drives to national competitive events. They can be a great way to test your driving chops, put your car through its paces, and have some fun! Here’s a guide to (legally) experiencing competition from the driver’s seat.

Local rallies

Your local rally is a timed event covering a predetermined course. Rather than racing competitors to the finish, the rally marshal has already run the course and determined what the speed and finishing time should be. Competitors travel the course at legal speeds, using their driving and navigational skills to get as close to the official time as possible. The closest driver wins the rally, with competitors sometimes separated by seconds.

This type of rally is a time/speed/distance event. Think of it as an easy drive to a new destination, except you don’t know where it is and you have to be on time. Other rallies are set up as mobile scavenger hunts, where each point along the route requires searching for objects. Others require you to solve clues in order to figure out where to go. You should have a solid working knowledge of the area you’re in before tackling those rallies.

Regardless of the variations, this is all you need to compete:

  • A street-legal vehicle
  • A licensed driver (you!)
  • A co-driver/navigator
  • Solid teamwork

A stopwatch and GPS are likely needed to win but not required for participation. The low entrance fees—usually around $25—are often donated to a local charity or cause, so you can think of your driving time as doing a good deed. Of course, donating more than the entrance fee is always appreciated.

National events

OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car

If you need more speed on your drive, check out one of the national rally events. Endurance rallies like the new Baja 4000 are proving popular with the off-road crowd. It even has a Spirit category for “highly unsuitable vehicles,” where they encourage mutant cars, lemons, and ice cream trucks.

The street and track enthusiasts have more options, though, as Hot Rod magazine’s Power Tour cuts through different regions of the United States every year. There’s also the Ultimate Street Car Association, which hits up tracks around the country. While there are no scavenger hunts, the behind-the-wheel competition can be intense.

The Power Tour event is an annual nationwide search for the ultimate street-legal vehicle. Rather than demanding maxed-out race cars with plates, USCA rules state that competing vehicles must be better in every way, not just acceleration. “Reach the highest performance on the track, contain features that allow it to be driven daily, achieve high-quality fit and finish, and involve the use of innovative and cutting edge ideas and parts.” Air conditioning and emissions equipment are mandatory here, and comfy seats and Wi-Fi earn bonus points.

Events vary but include judging in a car-show format, examining design and engineering, an autocross course, a road race, and a start-stop event testing grip and braking. USCA vehicles must be able to complete a road rally at legal speeds, up to 100 miles in length. Like your local rally, this isn’t a race, but it is still worth points in two days full of competition and speed.

A road rally is a great way to get out there and enjoy your ride while supporting a cause, or for an exciting weekend at a race track.

Have you ever competed in a rally ? Share your experience and tips for winning in the comments.

2016 Patrick Long Pro-Am Kart Race: Making a Difference for All Children’s Hospital

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For the fifth year in a row, professional drivers and weekend racers gathered the day after the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with one goal, to raise money for All Children’s Hospital, a pediatric hospital located in St. Petersburg, Florida that specializes in providing pediatric care for those with challenging medical problems.

On Sunday, March 20th, seven pro drivers joined a team of countless donors and volunteers on the Andersen RacePark track for a 1.5-hour endurance race, on go-karts. The event presents a rare opportunity for fans to team up with and meet some of their favorite professional drivers.

Will Reilly, event committee member, is an enthusiastic advocate of the Kart Race mission, stating, “After visiting All Children’s Hospital a few times for the planning meetings and seeing where the money was going; I knew it was going to be worth it to be part of this event.”

Race Day: A Well-Oiled Machine

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Donations came in all forms, from cash to entry fees. A silent auction of donations from the pro drivers and collectibles contributed by local dealerships and race teams were combined with a live auction. Items up for bid ranged from peculiar to heart-warming: race shoes worn by pro drivers in historic Petit Le Mans races, the skinny front tires from the famed DeltaWing racing car, and framed paintings done by patients of All Children’s Hospital.

On the track, the competitive spirit was in full swing. Most of the teams started their pro drivers first while the karts were cool and running quickly. Then, in the blink of an eye, the driver changes began, in true endurance race fashion. The karts alternated amongst the teams as they cycled through the drivers. In turn, no advantages could be introduced. Each driver had to participate a fair amount, meaning amateur entrants and pros alike had to pull their own weight to secure a win.

A Thrilling Finish

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The fifth year of racing brought seasoned drivers with experience and strategy to the race, along with plenty of memorable moments. There were some healthy jousts at the start. Patrick Long jumped in for a driver that couldn’t make it and Jordan Taylor (who started the race for his team) qualified first. He cycled back through the driver changes and helped his team keep first place for the win.

Andersen RacePark, Patrick Long, the volunteers, drivers and donors raised $60,000 to benefit All Children’s Hospital.

The Future Ahead

“Aside from the fun and excitement from the event, it’s really the kids that keep me coming back year after year,” said Reilly.

Reilly’s right. Besides creating a fun, adrenaline-satisfying atmosphere, the event created a positive impact on the families whom will benefit from the funds raised.

We’ve been before and will return again. This event shows what these great drivers and people are truly capable of – making a lasting impact on their community.

To make your own contribution to the charity, visit their site.

Surviving the Rolex

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Surviving the Rolex 24 at Daytona

Enjoying a race on any normal day is an easy task. Scorching heat, pouring rain or similar environmental inconveniences won’t prevent you from enjoying the race. After all, you want to be there. When it’s over in a few hours, you’ll just head home or head out for a bite to eat while traffic dies down. But what happens when the race is more than just a few hours? How about considerably more … such as 24 hours.

Endurance races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona are notorious for being unpredictable. That’s part of their mystique and part of how they’ve earned their place at the top of motorsports totem pole.

Today we’re sharing our top tips for making the most of Rolex, which this year (2016) runs Jan 30 – 31. Common sense helps, except this race is anything but common.

Ponchos. Bring them.

Rain seems to be an every-other-year occurrence, perfectly timed to catch everyone off-guard. Nothing says, “Let’s do this!” like starting off the race drenched to the core. You have 24 hours of racing ahead, and in the lottery that is Florida weather patterns, the potential for wet weather mishaps is real.

Water. Drink it.

While you are busy keeping dry, remember to hydrate. Start well before you get to the track. A $6 concession stand water isn’t fun for anyone, but neither is passing out. There’s a theme here – water can both make and break your Rolex 24 experience, so be prepared.

Sharpies. Leave your mark.

You could use Sharpies for autographs, if you are into that sort of thing. But at Daytona, Sharpies serve another purpose. Use your Sharpie to sign the track, not a hero card. About two hours before the race, find out when and where you need to be to get out for the fan grid walk. See the cars up close, meet the drivers, get some pictures and then go see those high bankings for yourself. And don’t forget to sign the start/finish line.

An old-school battery-powered radio.

Two creature comforts are scarce when you are trackside in Daytona – power and cellular signal. More than 50,000 people will show up to this race, which can overwhelm nearby cell towers. This can make communicating with friends difficult and accessing the IMSA live stream nearly impossible.

However, there is still an old-school AM station you can use to get a more complete picture of the race. If you are parking in the infield (a very popular and highly sought after ticket) just be careful not to drain your car’s battery. Getting roadside service inside the track from an external source can leave you waiting for hours.

Sunscreen. And a good hat.

Lots of people forget that just because it’s nice outside doesn’t mean that the sun can’t get you. A solid sunburn from Saturday makes Sunday morning miserable.

Cash.

While the vendors try their best to take plastic, there’s nothing like going without lunch because no one can get cell service on their wireless card readers. We’ve also seen a few well-placed dollars buy VIP seats on top of enterprising fans’ Winnebagos.

Family and friends.

Bring your friends, family and kids. It’s time to make some memories. 24 hours of racing is best enjoyed with entertaining people by your side. No one believes you when there’s no backup for a crazy race story, so you better have someone along to corroborate those tales. Keep in mind that race cars are LOUD so ear protection for the family is a good idea as well.

Maximize your smiles per hour at this year’s Rolex 24 by getting out there and exploring. We gave you our tips for getting ready, but it’s up to you to explore the new views Daytona built this year. Don’t dwell on the loss of the Party Porch, take the chance to get up high in the stands and find a new view for you.

Look for our reporting from this year’s event, and check out our coverage of last year’s Rolex 24.

 

Editor’s note: Whether you drive a race car or only dream about it, visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection for your ride.

All About Karting Vehicles (some call them go karts!)

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Today’s go karts are anything but greasy kids stuff. Read on to discover what makes these these mechanically impressive machines tick.

Some people love go kart racing – simply called “karting” by the true blue fans – because of the competition. Others love it for the family atmosphere at events. Still others love it because of the vehicles themselves – and, if you’re a DIYer, you’ll probably want to know just how these racing machines are constructed.

Recreational participants sometimes construct their own vehicles, while competitive racers must purchase factory-made ones. It’s all about safety. Racers on big tracks reach speeds of up to 152 miles per hour in professional-grade karts that typically weigh 165 to 175 pounds (75 to 79 kilograms).

Here’s more…

Engines

“The TaG division,” says John Ferris, president of the World Karting Association, “is the most popular. TaG stands for ‘touch and go’ and its vehicles have an electric start, like a car, while the other divisions need an external starter, like Indy cars. TaG vehicles have water-cooled engines, while the rest have air-cooled ones.”

Typically, backyard / amusement park karts are powered by 4-stroke engines or electric motors, while racing karts use small 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. “All classes of racing,” John says, “allow the owner to work on the engine – or to hire someone else to do so – by putting in new pistons or rings and the like. Some classes allow for rebuilding of engines that include modifications to make the kart go faster.”

The sport has evolved over the years and here is just one way in which that’s true. “Classes that allow modifications used to be the most popular,” John explains. “In these open classes, you could modify however you wanted – at least within certain limits. Local Saturday tracks, sometimes called outlaw tracks, still have those classes, but there is no tinkering in the big races. Those races are like NASCAR with strict specifications for engines.”

When people do modify engines, they typically take a factory built one and bring the specs up to the limits, perhaps by raising ports – or by lowering ports. “You can’t add extra ports,” John cautions, “because you need to use stock engines.”

More specifically:

  • 4-stroke engines are typically air-cooled, with about 5 to 20 HP. Manufacturers include Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, Kohler, Robin and Honda.
  • More powerful 4-stroke engines are manufactured by Yamaha, TKM, Biland and Aixro (Wankel), offering up 15 to 48 HP.
  • 2-stroke engines are built by WTP, Comer, IAME (Parilla, Komet), TM, Vortex, Titan, REFO, TKM, PRD, Yamaha and Rotax, ranging from about 8 HP for a single-cylinder 60 cc unit to more than 90 HP for a twin 250 cc.
  • The most popular classes use TaG 125 cc units, which are electronically limited to 16,000 RPM.

Suspension

Karts do not come with any sort of suspension system. In fact, shock absorbers and springs are banned from the vehicles, according to John. “Instead,” he says, “the frame of the vehicle itself serves as suspension. A kart’s chrome tubing creates spring and flex, allowing the vehicle to spring and come back.”

Chassis

Although the chassis needs to be flexible enough to serve as suspension, as mentioned above, it must also be stiff enough not to break. In general, a stiffer chassis is preferable for dry conditions, while a more flexible chassis is preferable in wet and/or other poor traction conditions.

To find which chassis – and accompanying engine – is appropriate for World Karting Association events, see the chart at the bottom of this page.

Transmission

Because karts do not have a differential, the chassis is designed so that the inside rear tire lifts off the ground when cornering. “Karts are intentionally designed this way for speed,” John says, “so the inside tire doesn’t slow you down when you race. You may not notice as the tire lifts when you corner, but it does.”

Tires

Tires and wheels are significantly smaller than on a typical car, with Bridgestone, Dunlop and Maxxis making tires, along with kart-specific manufacturers such as MG, MOJO and Vega. Just like with cars, there are different types of tires for varying weather conditions. On a dry track, slicks are appropriate. Slicks range from very soft compositions that provide maximum grip to much harder ones that are longer lasting but provide less grip.

Rain tires are used in wet weather, and are also known as “wets.” These are narrower tires than slicks and are not permitted in all racing classes. John points out that many organizations specify how soft your tires are allowed to be.

MiscellaneousGo Kart

More sophisticated karts contain monitoring systems that keep track of RPM, lap timing, number of laps, best lap, cooling system temperature, exhaust gas temperature, g-force (lateral and longitudinal acceleration), throttle position, steering wheel position, brake pressure and more.

DIY

If you’re interested in building your own kart for recreational karting, Popular Mechanics offers advice. This article shares how you can build your own kart for $689.15 in just one day, offering sites that provide the materials and resources that you’ll need. Remember that, if you’re interested in more serious racing, homemade karts are not permitted.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has the tools and accessories for most moving vehicles–at great savings and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Photos courtesy of World Karting Association.

 

 

Formula Drift 2015: rocking the Orlando race

Formula Drift  car picture

A new track, a new city . . . with the same tough challenges. Formula DRIFT has hit tracks from Long Beach to Fuji, year after year bringing head to head battles to loyal fans – and now the famous race descends on Orlando. Advance was there—check out our exclusive coverage and photos.

Formula Drift photo

On June 5th and 6th, the Sunshine State welcomed a noisy, fire-breathing visitor. Formula DRIFT, the prominent stateside series, took to Orlando Speedworld (OSW) bringing out drivers – ranging from amateurs to top tier pros – to the oval circus for a long weekend of racing madness. Fans and drivers alike called it reminiscent of New Jersey tracks back in Formula DRIFT’s heritage days.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Pro and Pro 2 series competitors brought in crazy attendance numbers to the classic small town oval (with a figure eight cross to boot!) and Mother Nature attended in full force, as well, bringing rain in swaths along with sweltering temperatures for every single second of the day.

Formula Drift car race photo

Pro series drivers battled it out on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s main event. And, when the local hero Pat Goodin suffered mechanical troubles, the veteran stepped down to leave the playing field WIDE open.

Saturday morning dawns

The track felt empty but, in the paddock, teams were alive and well, getting their drift missiles ready for the Top 32 bracket competition just hours away.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Come on . . . picture the scene . . .

OSW offers one way on and one way off the track. Drivers pull onto the track and straight onto the burnout bank as the last two hooligans exit through the single lane chute back into the hot pit area. After a few tears up and down the burnout bank, drivers stage on the back half of the oval waiting for the all clear.

Formula Drift 55 race picture

On green, the lead driver launches through his chicane and down the back straight, the following car tight on the rear right, waiting for the lead to dive into the corner at “Initiation Point.” With a flick, both cars put the hammer down and power the entire corner keeping as close to the wall and as close to each other as they possibly can.

Formula Drift 49 race photo

The more fluidity, the more points, the more pizazz . . . the greater the score.

This first corner is on the high bank, making the drivers’ next move a teeth-clenching drop from the bank to the figure eight crossover. Both drivers smack the front air dams as they come off the bank slowly, preparing to flip from right-angled to left-angled slides.

Formula Drift 44 photo

If the harsh transition from high bank to flat oval wasn’t enough of an obstacle, drivers were thrown over a jump as they finish the transition and try to initiate the second sweeping oval turn. Mustangs and Matias alike caught the slightest air coming sideways over this bump, unloading and loading the car suspensions right as drivers tried to slam the power on to get proper speed for the upcoming left-hand sweeper.

Formula Drift 15 photo

The final corner crosses back past the burnout bank and the starting grid, but stays low on the flat section. After holding the slide for the entire top of the figure eight, the cars bolt through the finish line, billowing that gorgeous white smoke, letting the audience know that those tires have been thoroughly disciplined.

Mother Nature ups the ante

Weather conditions transformed this track into a low-lying above-ground swamp for a few hours every day, with Pro and Pro 2 racers alike seeing plenty of rain during battle. Saturday night, the classic Florida evening showers greeted fans with a welcomed cool down, but also with an unwelcomed torrential downpour.

Formula Drift 45

Racers pushed on through the storm, though, and conditions really tested the drivers’ abilities – and it’s always awesome to see who succeeds when the going gets tough. Everyone sets up for dry weather and, when the weather changes, it’s equally a handicap for each of the drivers. A lack of smoke was disheartening for spectators, but the massive rooster tails were enthralling to watch as the cars barreled through the flooded infield.

Formula Drift 16 photo

The bottom line; drivers with true grit garner their experience and determination to make a spectacular full pull happen.

Results

• Scion had a killer weekend and nears a manufacturer championship as FR-S drivers Ryan Tuerck and Kenshiro Gushi take 1st and 3rd, respectively.

• While Chris Forsberg, 2nd place, beat out Gushi, all Tuerck had to do to secure the win over Forsberg and his 370z was complete a full pull unopposed. Forsberg suffered mechanical issues, though, and Tuerck walked away with his first round win since 2009.

Formula Drift 55 photo

Here is the full 2015 Formula DRIFT race schedule.