When you see a NASCAR driver sitting in their car, it seems as though they are almost right up against the wheel. Though there is a reason that they are sitting so close, many are left wondering why it is positioned that way and whether NASCAR steering wheels are removable.
NASCAR steering wheels are removable and act as a safety feature in the driver’s tightly enclosed cockpit. The position of the wheel keeps the driver immobile in the event of a crash. Since a driver is buckled in at many different points, they are at little risk to contact the wheel.
Below, we will look closer at why NASCAR steering wheels are removable. We will also discuss the safety components inside a driver’s compartment, and whether a steering wheel has ever come off during an event. We will finish by revealing who supplies NASCAR’s steering wheels.
Why Are NASCAR Steering Wheels Removable?
NASCAR steering wheels are removable because it is safer for the driver. The driver’s compartment in the car is very tight with little room to move. Therefore, the wheel must be removable to provide the driver enough space to get in and out of the vehicle easily.
NASCAR Next Gen cars may more closely resemble their street legal counterparts, but there are still several stark differences. These cars boast NASCAR-specific engines, no air conditioning, no speedometers, fuel gauges, or even tachometers. Their tires are different and so are their downforce and aerodynamics components.
Despite the closer resemblance, you will never find a NASCAR car inside the display window of your local car dealership. With so many major differences in components between a NASCAR car and production line cars, perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is that the steering wheels in NASCAR cars are removable.
The Driver’s Compartment
When you look in the driver compartment of a NASCAR car, whether it be a Next Gen design or a previous generation, you immediately notice that they are much tighter than the average road vehicle. This is because, for NASCAR, safety is everything.They found that the more they can lock a driver into their compartment, the safer they are.
Therefore, it would be impossible for a driver to climb into and out of their car if the steering wheel remained in a fixed position. This means NASCAR needed to find ways to make room for the driver while they enter and exit the vehicle, which explains their removable steering wheels.
Other Safety Components
The tight compartment is one of many safety components of the car. Others include the seat belts, HANS device, and helmet buckles. These features, in addition to the steering wheel’s location, practically keep the driver immobile throughout the race. These features are responsible for keeping the driver safe as there are no airbags in NASCAR cars.
You may find the driver’s position closer to the steering wheel contradictory, as you have probably been told to sit as far back from the wheel as possible when you drive. While this may be true, seat belts, helmet buckles, and HANS device prevent the driver from hitting the wheel if they wreck.
The Steering Wheel Coming Off During An Event
In 2016, Jimmie Johnson’s steering wheel detached itself during a qualifying event at Phoenix International Raceway. While this is rare, it is always a scary moment when something like this occurs to a driver. This may occur because many drivers pull on the wheel when they are driving full speed during green flag laps, whether those laps occur during a race, practice, or qualifying.
The wheels lock into place, but if a driver or their team fails to ensure they are properly locked in, they can come off. Johnson had a similar situation occur at Watkins Glen. The incident led Johnson to crash into the SAFER barrier. He stressed that the safety components of the driver’s tight compartment coupled with softer walls made the incident a minor one.
Who Is To Blame?
When you watch drivers climb into their cars, they attach the steering wheel while the crew helps the driver lock it into place. In Johnson’s situation, he took the ultimate blame, although his crew was quick to blame themselves as well. This leaves many wondering if there should be blame assigned in incidents such as that one.
Overall, safety is a multi-way avenue, with Johnson believing that drivers are ultimately responsible for their safety when they climb into the car and strap themselves into place. Assuming NASCAR and their respective teams held up their end of the deal.
Who Supplies NASCAR Steering Wheels?
There is no one single supplier of NASCAR steering wheels, making them truly unique. The Nashville Superspeedway provided a list of equipment providers and components for all NASCAR cars, and there were no exclusive suppliers of steering wheels for the Cup Series.
For example, if you were looking for who supplies the tires, you will find Goodyear in the opposite section. For the wheels, BBS of America Incorporated. You will even find exclusive providers for components like fuel cell bladder, wheel nuts, and bell housing.
However, steering wheels are entirely different. Despite the lack of specification, there are two major companies that stand out: Max Papis Innovations and MOMO. Prominent NASCAR drivers have placed their trust in both companies, among others. These providers also have taken their brands beyond NASCAR and supply racers at every level on the stock, sprint, and open-wheel car pyramid.
Max Papis Innovations
NASCAR teams used to use steering wheels made in different factories worldwide. Teams grew concerned when the wheels didn’t always match. They had varying weights and were made with different materials. This led NASCAR, Formula 1, IndyCar, and Champ Car driver Max Papis to conduct research on the issues.
Papis discovered that these companies were manufacturing the wheels at different factories, which explained the differing products. Initially, Papis lobbied the steering wheel providers that their quality needed to increase, but they were unwilling to meet his and NASCAR’s demand.
This led Papis to launch Max Papis Innovations, where the company would manufacture and distribute steering wheels that supplied NASCAR’s demand. Papis conducted thorough research in his endeavor, and he secured the finest materials and design methods for his wheels.
Papis and his team also construct each steering wheel in the same factory, which helps guarantee the sound quality while also ensuring that the steering wheels do not deviate from one another aesthetically, unless NASCAR teams specifically request otherwise.
Papis’ passion for supplying the best steering wheels in the business started during his racing career. He grew knowledgeable on the subject, so when he decided to change the game in the steering wheel industry, it was an easy choice to start the Mooresville, North Carolina-based MPI in 2009.
Papis and his team also conduct thorough research to ensure that they manufacture the highest-quality steering wheels. Not only do they provide NASCAR teams with wheels, but they also design wheels for POWRI Racing, which sanctions sprint, midget, and microcar events. Drivers from NASCAR to sprint cars further praise MPI, citing the wheels’ lightweight, comfort, durability, and safety features.
MOMO Automotive Accessories
For over a half-century, MOMO made its mark in Formula 1 before entering NASCAR in 2007. The manufacturer has had an amazing track record in NASCAR, never experiencing a steering wheel failure. Many drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., tried different brands and when his steering wheel broke before a 2014 event at Dover, he reverted to familiarity, which included the MOMO brand name.
MOMO offers NASCAR teams a variety of steering wheel sizes, ranging between 14 and 16 in/35 and 41 cm, which they base on the driver’s preference. They also offer different sized wheels that drivers can order based on the current weekend’s racing venue.
One good example is road courses, whose many turns and varying banking degrees require different reaction times. This has enticed drivers to use smaller wheels. However, they can also opt for larger wheels for faster tracks with more consistent banking degrees and faster straightaways.
History Of MOMO Auto Accessories
Founded in 1964 by legendary Italian auto racer, Gianpiero Moretti, MOMO Auto Accessories believed that grip came before everything else in the industry. It is one reason that the top Formula 1 and NASCAR drivers have preferred them for auto accessories.
Initially limited to Formula 1, the 1970s allowed the company to increase its product offerings as they started producing light alloy wheels for road cars. This led them to supply wheels for Ferrari before the 1980s saw MOMO expand into even more brands.
In 1995, Moretti sold MOMO to Breed Technologies while still retaining his chairmanship. At the turn of the 21st century, Carlyle Management Group acquired Breed, before they eventually merged the two companies and others to launch Key Safety Systems.
However, a group of investors bought MOMO and returned it to its Italian roots,complete with a new logo design that contained elements featuring the flag of Italy. It was around this time that they decided to enter the NASCAR realm.
NASCAR steering wheels are removable because the driver’s compartment is built to be tight for safety purposes. Although the driver will operate their NASCAR car close to the wheel, their multiple seatbelts, buckles, and HANS device keep them from hitting the wheel in an accident.