Many racecars in various motorsports run manual transmissions. While some, like Formula 1, use semi-automatic gearboxes, NASCAR has stuck with a manual transmission, albeit now a sequential manual. This can leave many fans wondering if NASCAR cars have a clutch.
NASCAR cars do have a clutch. NASCAR cars feature a manual transmission, and they contain a clutch located at the left-hand side of the brake. NASCAR drivers rarely utilize the clutch, however, because of the presence of a dog clutch and their engagement in rev-matching.
In the article below, we will explore why NASCAR cars have a clutch in the first place, since drivers can shift gears through other means. We will also explore what rev-matching is and, despite its difficulty to master, why the technique is safer to use than engaging the clutch pedal.
NASCAR cars have a manual transmission. This means drivers need to choose the time to shift gears. For contrast, an automatic transmission will shift without help from the driver. Many consumer cars today are automatic, but NASCAR drivers need the flexibility of a manual transmission.
If you know anything about cars, you probably heard the terms manual and automatic transmissions. Depending on your preferences, you may opt for one over the other. If you prefer complete control, you would opt for manual. But if you like focusing only on driving, you’re better for auto.
Learning manual transmission for passenger vehicles is a tough endeavor, especially if you drive in a hilly area. But NASCAR drivers often race on closed ovals instead of road courses. As a result, they aren’t shifting gears as often as you think since they rarely worry about hills or turns that require downshifting.
With automatic transmission, your street-legal car switches gears depending on whether you are speeding up, slowing down, or ascending or descending hills. Automatic transmissions use a torque converter, meaning you don’t need to worry about changing gears.
Manual transmissions have a clutch pedal you must press before shifting gears. Shifting to the right gear essentially matches the speed of the engine to the speed of the car. However, if you switch to the improper gear, you can cause significant damage to your vehicle. Therefore, many people prefer automatic transmission, forgoing control for lesser risk of damaging their transmission.
While some drivers may welcome a transition to automatic in the future, many people believe manual transmission will always reign supreme in NASCAR. Professional drivers want full control of their ride, which is something automatic transmission does not offer.
NASCAR drivers can race at higher speeds with a manual transmission. It’s also more fuel-efficient and it’s cheaper to implement. The only real advantage automatic transmission has over manual transmission is the fact it does not require a learning curve.
Since NASCAR introduced the Next-Gen design in 2022 that still contained manual transmission, it shows that they have no immediate plans to switch to automatic. Until the drivers wish otherwise, expect manual transmission to stay.
The only real differences you may see when NASCAR introduces new car designs are potential changes to the transmission’s layout. For example, the Next-Gen Car introduced a five-speed transmission, and they may in the future opt for a six-speed or revert to a four-speed, based on driver feedback.
Every generation of NASCAR car has had a clutch pedal. However, the type of manual transmission has varied. Before the Next-Gen Car, NASCAR cars had 4-speed transmissions. And starting in 2022 with the advent of the Next-Gen, they switched to a 5-speed sequential transmission.
When you look at street-legal vehicles, you will find the clutch pedal located to the left of the brake. The same holds true whether you are looking at a car, truck, or van − the clutch is typically located in the same spot.
NASCAR cars are a different breed. They have larger fuel cells and engines. They run on different tires, and they hold fuel you cannot buy at your local gas station. And although they have a manual transmission, you may wonder whether NASCAR cars use something besides a clutch to change gears.
In 2022, they unveiled the Next-Gen car. And while its gear shifter is different from the traditional H-pattern look of the past, it’s still a three-pedal vehicle, complete with a clutch, something that NASCAR did not talk about much when they unveiled the Next-Gen Car.
The clutch on a NASCAR is to the left of the brake pedal. Like its predecessors in the Gen-6, Car of Tomorrow, Gen-4, and beyond, you will find the clutch pedal in its familiar spot. It’s necessary for drivers to engage the clutch pedal when shifting into first gear, but they don’t use it much.
When NASCAR unveiled the Next-Gen Car, they focused on the car’s latest features, especially the safety upgrades over the Gen-6 plus the various technological advancements like the rear-view cameras. But since the clutch isn’t a big deal to NASCAR drivers, they never mentioned it when they talked about the latest gearbox.
Everything in NASCAR today is done in the interest of safety. If drivers had to continually press a clutch pedal to shift gears, it could cause issues, especially at tracks where drivers must shift gears to brake into and accelerate out of turns.
If you have ever driven a manual transmission vehicle or if you find yourself behind one, you may notice that they sometimes jerk awkwardly when shifting gears if the driver doesn’t match the revs well. This wouldn’t be an ideal situation at any track when the caution or green flag waves, necessitating a shift in gears. That’s why NASCAR drivers employ another method of shifting gears.
NASCAR drivers can change gears without the clutch pedal because the cars are built with a straight-cut transmission. This allows drivers to forgo the use of the clutch pedal and shift directly to the gear they need. There are also other ways to shift a NASCAR car without using the clutch.
While NASCAR drivers rarely need to worry about engaging the clutch, it takes a special learning curve to shift gears without the clutch pedal. The technique is safer, but to perfect it, novice drivers must constantly practice this special type of manual shifting.
One alternative to using the clutch pedal is rev-matching. To shift gears, drivers match the car’s speed to the engine’s revolutions per minute (RPM). This is a challenging technique to master because there are no RPM gauges in a NASCAR car and the drivers must learn to do it by feel.
Drivers must learn the exact speed the car needs to travel at before they shift into another gear. If they mistime this and fail to match the speed to the RPM, they risk damage to the transmission. For drivers running a good race, one misjudgment can cost them the event.
To learn when to shift gears at the correct speed, drivers must rely on the feel of the car to accurately engage in rev-matching. Having a good sense of hearing helps, too, since the engine revs when they push the throttle on the straightaway and softens while slowing during a caution flag or to turn into pit road.
Since rev-matching is so difficult to learn, NASCAR also permits the dog clutch transmission. These also allow drivers to quickly shift gears without engaging the clutch. Dog clutches, like rev-matching, allow for a smooth transition from one gear to another.
They also don’t generate as much heat, since dog clutches don’t rely on friction. This makes dog clutches more cost-effective to use than similar clutches with identical torque capacities. However, more shock is involved when using a dog clutch, and they don’t fare well at ultra-high speeds.
For NASCAR drivers, a dog clutch is good to use in some situations. But even if a driver decides to use it, they should still master rev-matching to race at a maximum efficiency on tracks that require more shifting, like road courses.
On many oval tracks, NASCAR drivers run at speeds consistent enough that they rarely need to shift. Although it may seem like tedious work to constantly shift gears for 400 miles, shifting gears is not as common as you may think. On a road course, however, drivers shift often.
Road courses force NASCAR drivers to shift gears constantly. With drastically different turning degrees that involve both left and right turns, it’s impossible to run an entire race at a consistent speed on a road course. Drivers also shift gears between green and yellow flags and during pit stops, regardless of which track they are racing.
While it rarely happens, NASCAR drivers sometimes need to use the reverse gear. You may see them drive past their pit stall, which forces them to stop and shift into reverse. This is not an ideal situation, since shifting to reverse and backing up will cost a driver precious seconds.
Clutches and manual transmissions have been an integral part of NASCAR since the sport’s birth in the 1940s. While the use and location of the clutch has not changed, the need to shift gears has, since NASCAR no longer races almost exclusively on short tracks that often called for constant downshifting into the turns.
NASCAR’s old four-speed transmissions were based on the old Ford models that were popular in the 1950s, and they stuck with the four-speed until the advent of the Next-Gen Car. These four-speed transmissions were easy to use and as NASCAR evolved and raced at larger ovals, drivers didn’t need to focus on using the clutch since they often remained in one gear.
Today, the clutch is still present in NASCAR cars, but shifting has given way to newer techniques. NASCAR is always bent on advancing its technology, and the clutch has slowly phased out for dog shifting and rev-matching.
NASCAR cars have a clutch, but drivers rarely use it. Instead, they rely on their instincts to use the rev-matching technique. Although NASCAR cars have a manual transmission, their relatively constant race speeds mean drivers don’t have to change gears too often in a race.