While driver safety has been a top priority in NASCAR since 2001, they must also account for driver skill. This means NASCAR must be selective about driving assists that compromise their drivers’ ability. NASCAR cars have safety features, and you may wonder whether traction control is one of them.
NASCAR cars do not have traction control since it provides a driving assist, and it could mean a driver would not be racing purely by skill. For this reason, NASCAR has also not used other driving assists, despite the possible safety benefits of these systems.
Below, we will explain what traction control is, how it is vital for road vehicles, and why NASCAR prohibits its use in sanctioned events. We will also touch on controversy that NASCAR dealt with regarding teams accused of sneaking traction control devices into cars.
Traction control is a safety feature that stops your wheels from spinning uncontrollably when they lose grip on the road. It detects if the wheels are moving faster than the car and slows them down to give you the best traction and control of your car. It is very useful when there is low grip.
Driving In Inclement Weather
Regardless of where you live, you may have had the unfortunate experience of driving through heavy rain or snow. And even if you are a cautious driver, odds are you may hit a slippery spot on the road, which could threaten to send your car into a tailspin.
Worse, you also need to account for other people. Not that they are not cautious drivers, but because we all individually respond to inclement weather differently. Some people look to pull over as fast as they can, others plunder on, and still some speed up and charge through the passing lane.
There are a lot of risks when driving through heavy rain, snow, and icy conditions. Further, winding roads can also cause vehicles to lose traction. Fortunately, vehicle technology has come a long way, and in the 21st century, most vehicles have life-saving safety features.
You may have ridden in a car that has airbags from different angles, driving assists that help prevent accidents or veering off the road, and anti-brake locking. These are all revelations for standard vehicles. But they are also meant to give you an advantage while driving.
One primary safety feature is traction control, and it limits the number of times your wheels can spin during poor conditions. This helps keep your car connected to the road and better keeps you in control of the vehicle during bad weather. You can turn traction control on and off as you please, but ideally,it is safer to leave on since it does not affect your car’s driving performance.
Traction control only activates when yaw sensors located in your tires sense that the tires are spinning faster than the car’s actual speed. So, if you were driving at 25 miles per hour in a snowstorm, but your tires are spinning as though you were driving 30 miles per hour, traction control kicks in. When it activates, you will feel your car jerk and you may also see a light on your dashboard.
NASCAR does not use traction control. NASCAR is a pure test of driver skill and any system that would assist them in controlling the car is not allowed. Though they endeavor to make the sport as safe as possible, they do not want to compromise the integrity of the sport by allowing driving aids.
NASCAR cars may look like the average street legal car in some respects, but you can take one look at these vehicles and realize that there are several distinct differences. Immediately, you will know the tires are different, and that a NASCAR car’s headlights and taillights are stickers, and not actual lights.
You may have also had the luxury of peeking inside a NASCAR car. If you took advantage of the experience, you would further notice that there are no speedometers or fuel gauges on the dashboard. There is no true air conditioning system other than a few hoses.
Each of NASCAR’s vehicles, whether Cup Series, Xfinity, or Truck, also have spoilers, manual transmission, no airbags, and special seatbelts. The differences in the car’s anatomy are vast in number.
In 2022, NASCAR debuted its Next Gen Car, and the new design contains vast improvements in downforce and aerodynamics. Two key components that help keep the car planted on the track’s surface.
Look closer at the Next Gen Cars and compare them to the Gen 6 rides. You will notice the new cars sit higher than the previous models. This is because air doesn’t trap itself under the cars like it did with the Gen-6 design or even the Car of Tomorrow (CoT).
The new cars also have five-speed, sequential transmission, plus eighteen-inch tires that lets them further resemble street legal Camaros, Camrys, and Mustangs.
The Next Gen Car does not use traction control. NASCAR is the ultimate test of a driver’s ability. And while lack of traction control may contradict NASCAR’s quest to become as safe as they possibly can, they cannot do so if it means providing unwanted driving assists.
One good example is restrictor plate racing. NASCAR mandated restrictor plates/tapered spacers to slow their cars on superspeedways. However, restrictor plates are not driving assists. They just keep a car from reaching its maximal speed, but they do not help drivers control the car.
Traction control does help drivers keep control of their cars. Therefore, you will not see a true test of a driver’s skill set if the organization implements traction control at their highest levels.
In many instances regarding the potential implementation of safety features or equipment in any sport, they come with debate. However, this was not why you saw intense scrutiny and debate regarding traction control in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Instead, the debate led many to wonder whether NASCAR teams were secretly inserting traction control systems into their vehicles. Not much different than a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher using a banned substance on their hands during a baseball game or a batter secretly using a corked bat.
Especially in 2002 and 2003, the rumor mill circulated that these secret insertions of traction control were becoming a big thing. Something NASCAR vehemently rejected, stating teams could not realistically sneak a traction control system into their cars without officials noticing.
However, this did not stop the rumors. Many theorized that drivers only needed to smuggle a computer chip into their car and place it in the ignition box before starting their engines. Fans also theorized about drivers inserting a wired system, but this would take more work to cover up.
Just one quick search online yields plenty of articles castigating NASCAR for supposedly not cracking down on traction control. These traction control devices were rumored to be small enough to be hidden in a shirt pocket and could easily be thrown out the car’s window to be disposed of.
Earlier, we talked about banned assistants like pine tar and corked bats being used in the MLB since it is easy to conceal. Or, although it has been illegal in the NFL since 1981, players could easily smuggle and use Stickum to gain an advantage in catching a pass.
Traction control would be NASCAR’s version of pine tar, corked bats, and Stickum. Just as the MLB and the NFL had to crack down on the aforementioned advantages, NASCAR had to do the same in the event drivers or teams were illegally smuggling and inserting devices onto cars.
Fans, the media, and even select teams pressured NASCAR to further address its traction control concerns. In response, NASCAR required the ignition to now be exposed on the dashboard.
Teams had to expose the wiring so NASCAR could ensure there were no traction devices. The move also stopped team members from potentially inserting any type of traction device either during a stop or in the garage.
It has neither been proven nor disproven as to whether NASCAR teams used traction control.Teams pointed to examples on videos of past races regarding potential use, noting how the wheels on some cars slowed without warning, or hesitation in the tachometers back when NASCAR used them.
Since then, debate on the topic has cooled. But it shows you that even a sport that utilizes rigorous inspections like NASCAR could still find themselves accused of allowing teams to get away with installing banned systems into their cars.
NASCAR have not used traction control in the past. It would take away from the skill of the driver and would detract from the experience for the fans. Although traction control would qualify as a safety feature, it provides far too many advantages to NASCAR drivers for it to be used.
NASCAR is always looking for new, innovative ways to augment their product. Since 1949, they introduced better vehicles, and in the 21st century, have become more mindful regarding safety and its carbon footprint.
However, NASCAR must also strive to deliver its best product. That product must fit the demands of its loyal fans year in and year out. One thing NASCAR has always prided itself on is sanctioning events where their drivers must show true skill.
NASCAR does not use any other assists, and it never has. The focus has always been on the ability of the drivers and anything that would detract from that has never been used in the sport. The best driver should win the races – not the car with the best driving assists.
If you ever played the old NASCAR video games like EA Sports’ NASCAR Thunder Series, you may recall that you could floor the throttle button at tracks with even the narrowest turns on the shortest tracks and never hit the SAFER barrier. You could also slingshot past opposing cars even if you raced on the highest difficulty. It was very easy to win the NASCAR Cup Championship in season mode.
Check out any internet forum of any NASCAR video game, and you will find that driving assists are a highly discussed topic. Many gamers ask if NASCAR uses any assists in real life and the answer is no. NASCAR does not use assists of any kind, nor have they ever allowed drivers to use them.
If you ever fantasized about becoming a NASCAR driver, know that you will need to learn how to drive with no ABS, traction control, or assists of any kind. It is a steep learning curve, but NASCAR drivers are the best in the world at what they do for a reason.
And just as other professional sports leagues ban anything from performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to on-field items that may give them an unfair competitive advantage, NASCAR bans driving assists to preserve the organization’s integrity.
NASCAR cars don’t use traction control. While it would make a great safety feature, it would also compromise NASCAR’s mission of allowing their drivers to compete against each other on skill alone. For this reason, NASCAR likely won’t use traction control or any other driver assist in the future.