Skip to Content

Auto Racing

Given the long-time love affair between Americans and automobiles, it is not surprising that Americans truly enjoy attending automobile races.

The United States has its own series of races for single-seat open-wheel racecars, similar to but not identical with the Formula-One racecars known on an international basis. The Indianapolis 500 mile race, held every Memorial Day at the end of May, is the premier event, and lends its name to both the cars (Indy Cars) and the governing body called the Indy Racing League. The immense Indianapolis Motor Speedway has the capacity for several hundred thousand spectators. Other races in the series may take place on oval tracks or road and street courses. The United States also hosts long-duration sports car races on the international circuit, prominent examples being the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, both in the state of Florida.

Stock car racing, however, is the most popular variety of auto racing in the United States. The sport originated in the American south during the era of prohibition of alcohol (1919-1933), during which “bootleggers,” producers or sellers of illegal alcohol, would modify and enhance their automobiles to allow them to outrace federal revenue agents and police. Competitive races were the inevitable result, and a spectator sport developed that would survive repeal of prohibition to give baseball, football, and basketball some healthy competition.

Today’s stock cars resemble normal production cars on the outside, but there the similarity ends. Under sponsorship from major corporations both in and out of the automobile industry, these brightly decorated cars undergo modifications to allow them to exceed speeds of 200 miles per hour and to survive the rigors of professional racing, usually on oval racetracks. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) acts as the major sanctioning body for the sport. The premier event for stock cars is the annual Daytona 500 mile race in Florida. Another major event, the Brickyard 400, occurs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Top stock car drivers rank as American sports celebrities and frequently appear on television commercials. The market for branded stock-car-related clothing and other items is strong.

Besides NASCAR, a number of smaller and regional associations arrange automobile and truck races of all sorts and sizes, including small local short track and dirt track races. Because of the wide reach of stock car racing down to even the smallest rural communities, the sport can boast the largest in-person attendance of any American sport, and is second only to football in television viewership.

The sport of drag racing originated in the United States, and takes place at hundreds of locations across the nation. Drag races involve quick action, lasting for just a few seconds, on straight tracks that are usually only a quarter mile long. From a standing start, the racers go all out in order to reach the finish line, often requiring a parachute to come to a safe stop. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) manages the most prominent drag races in both the United States and Canada. Hundreds of classes of drag racing cars exist, varying as to body shape, size, power, and other attributes. Fans pack the stands to view these events, ready to enjoy the screech of powerful engines, the smell of burning rubber, and the visual delight of the unusual vehicles. American drag races are true spectacles.

Next Section:Golf

Everyday Life: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.