NASCAR cars normally go forwards, rather than backwards, and usually at very high speeds. They’re also only (normally) ever going forwards when they’re in the pits. So, it’s understandable to wonder whether NASCAR cars have reverse.
NASCAR cars do have reverse gears and they have always had reverse gears since the first races in 1948. However, their transmission has changed in the past, from the 3-speed in the Gen One to the 4-speed from Gen Two until Gen Six, until now with 2022’s Next Gen’s 5-speed sequential.
Below, we will discuss a brief history regarding NASCAR transmissions and how they have changed. We will then answer in detail whether NASCAR cars have reverse gears, and we will also outline the situations in which they are needed. We’ll even reveal how fast they can go in reverse.
Overview Of NASCAR Transmissions
NASCAR transmissions have changed drastically in recent years. Gone is the four-speed manual transmission that the sanctioning body had used for generations, between the Second Generation that debuted in 1967 to Generation Six, the latter of which raced its final season in 2021.
This H-pattern transmission comprised four forward speeds plus a reverse gear. And while the Generation One cars predominantly had a three-speed transmission, the four-speed transmission that NASCAR adopted in 1967 stemmed from that of Ford in the 1950s. So, in other words, the transmission from 1967 to 2021 came in large part from production cars that existed during the Gen One era.
One unique characteristic regarding these manual transmissions is that they eventually did not require the driver to use the clutch to change gears. This phenomenon further required the installation of floating gears with no synchronizers, allowing NASCAR drivers to shift gears by means of rev-matching. The only time a driver did need to use the clutch came when they shifted into first gear or reverse.
Generation One’s Transmission
These were true stock cars that came straight from the production line, so there were slight differences in the transmissions since little standardization existed. In fact, many of these cars used automatic transmissions. But as the 1950s wore on, manual transmission became more popular and eventually, it won out over automatic. NASCAR cars are still manual to this day.
Unlike future generations, these cars just had a three-speed transmission, giving it a rather simple layout. But like its successors, Generation One cars had a reverse. But the three-speed transmission changed in 1967 with the advent of the Generation Two car.
Transmission From 1967 To 2021
If there is one thing that you must understand about NASCAR, it’s that the sanctioning body has, for most of its existence, been resistant to change. From 1967 until 2021, we saw the Generation Two car (1967 to 1980), Generation Three (1981 to 1991), Generation Four (1992 to 2006 and part-time in 2007), Generation Five (2007 to 2012), and Generation Six (2013 to 2021).
The transmissions in these generations never changed significantly despite the fact that they went through five different generations. While you can make distinct differences in the bodies and frames between each generation, the H-shaped four-speed transmissions were a common fixture.
1950s-style Fords influenced the making of these transmissions, even as the 21st century came around. While this could be a relief for drivers when it came to driving the newer models like the Generation Three, Generation Four, and beyond, many pundits have stated the old H-shaped transmissions kept NASCAR in what they dubbed the Dark Ages, something the Next Gen car remedied.
The Next Gen Car’s Transmission
In 2022, NASCAR introduced a plethora of changes when they rolled out the Next Gen car, and the transmission system received a special overhaul. The gearbox is now a five-speed sequential one comprising five forward speeds instead of four. To shift up, drivers pull the gear lever toward them and to shift down, they push the lever away.
Like the old cars, you will still find a clutch pedal. But many drivers, as in the past, continue to use rev-matching when they do shift up or down. Besides the presence of the clutch pedal, its inclusion did not generate too much attention thanks to the addition of a completely redone transaxle transmission that they moved to become part of the rear axle.
This layout, which comprises a rear transaxle paired with a forward engine, adds more balance to the car’s drivetrain weight. This makes it better resemble what you would see on the Chevy Corvette’s previous three generations. The transmission contains two half-shafts, as opposed to the solid rear axle of the past. They also float on the rear suspension.
With this new transmission, the cars now have a full rear underwing. An aerodynamic innovation, this reportedly gives the car 1,000 more pounds (454 kg) of downforce. Because of this feature and the new transmission itself, the cars, when you look at them closely, ride higher off the track surface.
Can NASCAR Next Gen Cars Reverse?
NASCAR Next Can cars can reverse via their floor-mounted gear shifters. Drivers engage reverse by pulling the lever upward. The reverse gear has always been a part of NASCAR, even since the Generation One era. Drivers may need to use reverse gear to get out of tricky situations.
For example, if a driver misses their pit stall and they did not have reverse gear, the crew would have to find a way to push the car back into the stall, and that would take far more time as opposed to the driver simply putting the car in reverse.
Reverse Not Exclusive To NASCAR
IndyCar, F1, and all major racing leagues have a reverse gear. This is often because the sanctioning body mandates the inclusion of such a gear to be used in specific situations. In short, the presence of a reverse gear in NASCAR and other racing series is one of those components drivers would rather not need to use, but they can be race savers when they do need to use them.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR transmissions haven’t changed a lot in the 70+ years of the sport’s history
• However, the cars have always featured a reverse gear
• NASCAR drivers use the Next Gen car’s reverse gear by pulling the lever upwards
When Do NASCAR Drivers Need To Reverse?
NASCAR drivers most commonly need to reverse they drive through their pit stall. Teams also need to unload the car from their hauler. For this reason, not necessarily the driver, but whoever is handling the car, must shift it into reverse to allow the unloading process to commence.
In rare cases, NASCAR drivers may need to reverse during a caution if they are caught up in a wreck. If they are caught up in an incident but can make it to pit lane, they may use the reverse gear to back up before they shift into first and make the slow drive into the pits. This is only likely if the car shifting into reverse cannot move forward because a stalled car is blocking it.
How Fast Can NASCAR Cars Go In Reverse?
A NASCAR car can likely go between 30-50 mph in reverse, but it’s unlikely we’d ever find out the true number. This is because the cars are not designed to go fast in reverse, and there are roof flaps that open up if the car is going too fast in the wrong direction to keep it planted on the ground.
Therefore, since putting a car into a reverse is a rare thing and knowing what we know happens when these cars do end up going backwards too quickly, it is safe to say that NASCAR cars cannot go very fast when in reverse.
Further, if you watch videos of NASCAR drivers driving their cars in reverse, such as Brandon Brown when he crossed the start/finish line going backwards in an Xfinity Series race, they are doing so relatively slowly and in a very uncontrollable manner. When Brown crossed the finish line, his car was going substantially slower than those passing and approaching him (and not in a straight line).
NASCAR cars do have reverse and the reverse gear has always been a key fixture on the cars. It is rare to see the cars utilize the reverse gear, and when they do it is most likely because they missed their pit boxes or are reversing away from a wreck. The cars do not travel fast while in reverse.