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NASCAR For Dummies

NASCAR For Dummies

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by Mark Martin

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Now updated! Your authoritative guide to NASCAR — on and off the track

Want to have the supreme NASCAR experience? Whether you're new to this exciting sport or a longtime fan, this insider's guide covers everything you want to know in detail — from the anatomy of a stock car to the strategies used by top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.


Now updated! Your authoritative guide to NASCAR — on and off the track

Want to have the supreme NASCAR experience? Whether you're new to this exciting sport or a longtime fan, this insider's guide covers everything you want to know in detail — from the anatomy of a stock car to the strategies used by top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

  • What's new with NASCAR? — get the latest on the new racing rules, teams, drivers, car designs, and safety requirements
  • A crash course in stock-car racing — meet the teams and sponsors, understand the different NASCAR series, and find out how drivers get started in the racing business
  • Take a test drive — explore a stock car inside and out, learn the rules of the track, and work with the race team
  • Understand the driver's world — get inside a driver's head and see what happens before, during, and after a race
  • Keep track of NASCAR events — from the stands or the comfort of home, follow the sport and get the most out of each race

Open the book and find:

  • Top driver Mark Martin's personal insights into the sport
  • The lowdown on each NASCAR track
  • Why drivers are true athletes
  • Explanations of NASCAR lingo
  • How to win a race (it's more than just driving fast!)
  • What happens during a pit stop
  • How to fit in with a NASCAR crowd
  • Ten can't-miss races of the year
  • NASCAR statistics, race car numbers, and milestones

Product Details

Publication date:
For Dummies Series
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Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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Read an Excerpt

NASCAR For Dummies

By Mark Martin

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-7681-X

Chapter One

NASCAR Racing: The Best Sport Around

In This Chapter

* Getting the lowdown on NASCAR past and present

* Scooping the best drivers

* Looking into racing techniques

* Following NASCAR races

* Going big time with sponsors and television

Most people don't know what it's like to dunk a basketball or hit a 100- mph fastball 500 feet for a home run, but almost everyone knows how to drive a car - and that familiarity is the appeal of NASCAR and stock-car racing. Whether they admit it or not, lots of people speed down the highway and daydream about winning the Daytona 500. That daydreamer could be a 17-year-old high school student who just got a driver's license, a 35-year-old orthodontist, or a 70-year-old retired teacher. Driving is nearly universal.

NASCAR's allure has grown in recent years because of its tremendous television exposure; the drivers' accessibility to their fans; and close, competitive racing. In 2003, nearly 7 million fans went to see the NASCAR Cup Series races, which is quadruple the attendance in 1980. And more than 280 million viewers tuned into NASCAR Cup Series events on television in 2003, making NASCAR one of the most popular sports to watch on TV, second only to the NFL.

Here are a few more stats that show how NASCAR has grown from an originally Southern-based sport to a truly national phenomenon:

  • #1 sport in brandloyalty of fans
  • #2 rated sport on television
  • Over $2 billion in licensed sales
  • 75 million fans

    If you're one of the sport's new fans, this chapter gives you NASCAR in a nutshell, including enough details about its history, cars, drivers, teams, races, and statistics to make you sound like a veteran. If you're an old hand, you can brush up on what's new, as the sport is constantly evolving.

    From Back Roads to the Big Time

    A few decades ago, stock-car races weren't the professionally run events that they are now, even though many organizations - including the United Stock Car Racing Association, the Stock Car Auto Racing Society, and the National Championship Stock Car Circuit - sanctioned races. The schedule wasn't organized; instead, random races were held here and there, sprinkled throughout the southeastern United States wherever tracks were available (some were well-built, but most were pretty shoddy). Drivers didn't race in each event, so fans had no idea which of their favorites would show up until they got to the track. Worse, some race promoters were less than honest, running off with the ticket receipts and race purses, never to be seen again.


    Bill France, Sr., a tall, dynamic stock-car driver and race promoter, thought this was an unprofessional way to run a sport and was determined to set a standard for drivers and track owners. He decided to devote his energy to establishing one preeminent stock-car racing sanctioning body - NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) - that would oversee different series. A racing series, such as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, is similar to a baseball league, featuring a group of drivers who compete in a set number of events and follow rules determined by the sanctioning body. At the end of the season, the sanctioning body in charge of making the rules, running the events, and making sure competitors follow the rules, crowns a series champion. That's exactly what France, also known as "Big Bill," created with his brainchild - NASCAR. In the beginning, France had several goals:

  • Racetracks that were safe for the drivers, and track owners who repaired their facilities between races. If a car crashed into or through a guard rail, it would have to be repaired by the track owner before the next race.
  • Rules that wouldn't change from week to week or race to race. Before NASCAR was organized, different tracks had different rules, which drove drivers to distraction. Some even had quirky on-track rules, made up the morning of a race by a promoter seeking to make things more exciting. Because of these inconsistencies, drivers didn't know what to expect when they showed up at a racetrack. These days, rules still occasionally change but are often studied for a period of months before being implemented.
  • A set schedule allowing the same drivers to compete against one another each week. This way, a single national champion recognized by all could be crowned at the end of the year.
  • A uniform point system to calculate which driver performed the best throughout the season. Drivers would earn points according to how they finished in a race, with the winner receiving the most points and the last-place driver getting the least. With a points system like that, the series could crown a definitive champion instead of having many "national champions" crowned at different tracks or in different, smaller series. Having just one national champion made winning the title something special.
  • An insurance and benevolent fund: This was meant to give the drivers something to fall back on in case they got hurt or couldn't compete due to injuries.

    France's goals were realized and today NASCAR sanctions several racing series. The top one is the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, and I spend most of the book talking about this series. I give you a quick rundown on the NASCAR Busch Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and several NASCAR touring series in Chapter 3.

    What Is Stock Car Racing?

    When different people think of auto racing, the same image of a race car doesn't necessarily pop into their heads. That's because many different types of race cars and hundreds of racing series, or racing leagues, exist throughout the world.

    NASCAR stock cars are unique in that they look very much like what a suburbanite drives. But looks can be deceiving. Almost nothing is "stock" when it comes to NASCAR vehicles, whether they run in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series, or NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. In addition to bodies (or chassis) reinforced with roll bars, multi-part driver restraint systems, and an escape hatch through the roof, NASCAR vehicles are among the fastest - and safest - on earth.

    Three brands of cars compete in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series - the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Ford Taurus, and the Dodge Intrepid. The manufacturers of these brands of cars see the sport as a great marketing tool, hence the saying, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."


    Here's a quick rundown on the other types of racing vehicles (Figure 1-1 shows you some of the differences):

  • Open-wheel: The cars that run in the Indianapolis 500, perhaps the most famous race in the world, are open-wheel cars. They're agile, lightweight racing cars with an open cockpit. Open-wheel cars also have no fenders, so they can't bump and bang as stock cars do or they would crash. The three different leagues that use open-wheel cars are Formula One: The world's best-known open-wheel series. Indy Racing League (IRL): Which competes exclusively on oval tracks in the United States and features the Indy 500 on its yearly schedule. The IRL plans to add road courses in the near future. Champ Cars (formerly CART): This series races in various countries but mostly the United States on road courses and ovals.
  • Dragsters: Speedsters that race a short distance in a short period of time. They race in pairs on a straight, flat quarter-mile strip of asphalt or concrete. The fastest ones can go from 0 to 100 mph in less than one second, topping out at speeds in excess of 320 mph. The premier dragsters are called Top Fuel cars, which are specialized cars that look more like rocket ships than anything else. They have long, tapered noses with two small front tires. The driver sits in an open cockpit about ten feet behind the wheels, with the engine behind him or her. Other dragsters are a little less exotic: Funny cars are highly modified, jazzed-up stock cars, while Street Stock cars look like passenger cars.
  • Sports cars: Most are production (sports) cars with highly specialized engines, but the fastest are open-cockpit cars that sit close to the ground (like Ferraris). The cars are prototypes, which means they are built specifically for racing and aren't sold to the public.

    The Racing Team

    One of the best aspects of NASCAR is that its drivers are regular people - that is, until they get to the race track. As is the case with all competitive athletes, NASCAR drivers have their own personalities, which are often magnified when they get behind the wheel. The legendary Richard Petty, whose 200-victory record will probably never be topped (he raced up to 60 times a season) is one of the nicest guys in the garage area, always stopping to sign autographs while flashing his signature smile. But Petty didn't win seven NASCAR Cup championships by being the series' sweetheart during a race; he bumped and banged with the best of them.

    Drivers like Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon prefer their on-track performance to talking, while the colorful Rusty Wallace has never been asked a question that he answered in less than 300 words. These days, the prototypical driver more closely resembles multiple NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and up-and-coming star Jimmie Johnson, who keep their tempers to themselves and remain composed in virtually any situation.

    During a time when many athletes are out of touch with the fans who pay their bills, NASCAR drivers are seen by many of their supporters as the guy next door. And they are definitely the most accessible of highly hyped superstars. Although some are naturally friendlier and others are more reserved, many retain an innate humbleness, which comes from remembering the early days of their careers when they built and worked on their own cars. They also recognize that without fans, NASCAR wouldn't exist. Although in this modern era drivers are pulled in many directions, from testing their vehicles to making appearances on behalf of their sponsors, they remain fairly accessible. NASCAR drivers still sign autographs and make appearances at malls in the cities in which they race. (For more information on drivers' schedules and their fan clubs, see Chapter 15.)

    NASCAR drivers are also known as family men, who bring their wives and children to many races - thanks to modern, comfortable motor homes replacing the need to stay in hotels. Many attend church services on the morning of a race and are very aware they are role models to kids and teens watching their every move. When people talk about the NASCAR family, they don't mean just the competitors. NASCAR fans tend to "adopt" a certain driver to root for, and he becomes a member of their extended family.

    Although NASCAR's drivers are front and center when it comes to recognition and attention, they wouldn't be in the racing business were it not for the hundreds of people who run the sport, create the teams, work on the crews, sponsor cars and races, and bring the action to the nation via television, radio, and newspapers.

    At the top of any individual race team is the owner, who pays the bills and calls the shots. Team owners also spend a vast amount of time searching for and pleasing sponsors, who spend millions of dollars for the right to put the name of their company across a car's hood. The team owner gets a great deal of help from his general manager and crew chief, who are in charge of everything from hiring employees to setting the testing schedule to being responsible for a car's performance on any given Sunday. Teams employ a large number of specialists who work at the race shop doing everything from painting the driver's cars to answering the telephone.

    During the last ten years, it has become common practice for an owner to field more than one team, which is obviously more expensive but gives him or her more chances to share information between teams and have more opportunities to visit victory lane. (For more on team ownership, see Chapter 6.)

    Winning a Race Takes Strategy

    NASCAR racing is about much more than making rules and driving fast. In fact, becoming successful in NASCAR entails much more than the ability to wheel a race car at high speeds. By the time a race starts, a driver and his crew have put in many hours of work building and tweaking the vehicles so that they handle well for that particular track, whether an oval track, a road course, or a superspeedway. Once at the track, drivers hit the pavement for practice laps, trying to coax the most speed they can out of their cars in order to both qualify and race well. A qualifying lap determines where a driver will start a race; the one who is fastest over one lap gets to start from the front pole position and the second-fastest driver starts next to him on the outside pole.

    When the race starts, the objective is to move to the front (if you started in the back) and hold onto the lead if you started up front. The most successful drivers are well-schooled in the art of passing the competition, either by having that day's fastest car or by hooking up with their rivals in a draft, as two or three cars end-to-end can push one another past a car stuck out on its own. (For more information on drafting and race strategy, turn to Chapter 9.) A good pit crew that can change four tires and fill two cans of gas in less than 14 seconds is also crucial to having a winning car. The first car off pit road, especially near the end of the race, often is the one that makes the hard left into victory lane.


    Winning has become increasingly difficult as the sport has become more popular and more drivers enter races. That makes winning more special than it used to be. Don't get me wrong, it was special when I won my first NASCAR Cup race in 1989, but today, there isn't as much disparity in equipment between first- and last-place teams. This is fine with me because it makes winning more satisfying.

    Heading Out to the Track

    Watching a NASCAR race is a total-body experience: the earth-shattering sound of a 790 horsepower engine roaring when a driver flips the ignition switch, the sight of 43 colorful cars flying around a track fender-to-fender as the grandstands shake, and the gritty smell of burned rubber mixed with gasoline. If watching races on television from your living room isn't enough of a rush for you, it's time to head out to the track. Here are several great races you may want to check out yourself (see Chapter 14 for more info on going to races):

  • The Daytona 500: NASCAR's annual Super Bowl, which is held in February and signals the start of the season. Teams spend several weeks at Daytona International Speedway getting ready for the year's most hotly-contested event. Even past series champions say they don't consider their resumes complete unless they have won the Daytona 500.
  • The Brickyard 400: Long the hallowed ground of the Indy 500 (open-wheel) race, NASCAR has had no trouble packing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stands with more than 300,000 spectators each August. Jeff Gordon is the event's master, having won four Brickyard 400s since NASCAR's inaugural race there in 1994.

  • Talladega Superspeedway events: Both races at NASCAR's longest track (2.66 miles) are hot tickets. Even with the introduction of carburetor restrictor plates, which have kept average speeds under 180 mph, fans can't get enough of the high-speed action. (For more on restrictor plates, see Chapter 13.) Many races end with last-lap surprises at this Alabama track.

  • Bristol Motor Speedway events: This short half-mile track brings out the beast in every driver, with close-quarters racing sending many drivers to the garage area long before a winner is declared. The bumping and banging is the bane of many teams, who spend weeks afterwards smoothing out the dings and dents in the car's superstructure.


    Excerpted from NASCAR For Dummies by Mark Martin Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • Meet the Author

    Mark Martin has finished in the top ten of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings every year since 1989.

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    NASCAR for Dummies 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a great book for NASCAR fans just like me.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is great for people new to NASCAR or any long time fan. Mark Martin gives you all the info you want in an easy to understand format. I have been a #6 fan as well as NASCAR in general for many years now, and I still learned many things from this book. It includes guides to every track on the NASCAR schedule as well as money disbursment among teams.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is really cool!I read it from cover to cover!I think this is the most specific guideabout NaSCAR
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I've been a NASCAR fan for three years and attended more than a few races. This book has everything from the technical details of the cars (enough to know what they're talking about, but nothing so technical that you have to work hard to understand) to what you should know if you're going to a race (starts with get there early to where to what to watch for at specific tracks to how to get lodging and what to look for when buying a scanner). This book gives you background that will deepen your enjoyment of the races, whether you watch them in person, on TV or listen on the radio. There's one interesting typo about the driver of the 3 car. Too bad for Terry Labonte that it wasn't true last year in Bristol!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Mark Martin writes a great guidebook to NASCAR. There are great racetrack stories and lots of behind-the-scenes info. If you've ever heard Mark in an interview, you can clearly hear him in his written words! A great guide for ALL NASCAR followers!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    An informative and easy to read book. I have discussed some of the details of this book with longtime NASCAR fans, and there are things in this book that even they did not know. If you are new to this exciting sport don't miss the opportunity to learn a lot in a hurry.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    From what you already know to the little unknowns, Mark Martin gives these AWESOME facts and INCREDIBLE information. A must read for any NASCAR fan!!