Are NASCAR Cars Street Legal?

You may be wondering if NASCAR cars are street legal because the phrase ‘stock car’ appears in the acronym. Since stock cars come straight off the production line, NASCAR cars must be street legal, right? However, there is a lot to consider when asking if NASCAR cars are street legal. 

NASCAR cars are not street legal. In NASCAR’s formative period, drivers would drive their cars to the track, but they were strictly stock cars that came off of production lines. These days, NASCAR cars are built specifically for the race track and are not true stock cars. 

Below, we will discuss each passing generation of NASCAR cars and show why they are no longer true stock cars. Then, we will dive into why NASCAR cars are not street legal, if you can buy them, and whether you can modify these rides to become street legal. 

Does NASCAR Still Use Stock Cars?

NASCAR does still use stock cars as the models for their vehicles, but they have not been true stock cars since around 1966. The NASCAR cars used today are heavily modified versions of their street legal counterparts, and they don’t look or perform much like their road models at all.

NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. But if you looked up the term stock car, you may realize that it doesn’t quite add up to the types of cars NASCAR uses today. The word stock car is more symbolic than literal since NASCAR does not truly use stock cars. Instead, these cars are put together in a race shop, which differs from traditional stock cars. 

But this has not always been the case. In fact, Richard Petty once pointed to a moment where his dad, Lee, told him to buy a new car from a Plymouth dealer following a violent crash during the 1961 Daytona qualifying race. 

Generation 1

From 1948 until 1966, NASCAR was strictly stock, which justifies Lee Petty’s statements following his Daytona crash. The Generation 1 cars looked just like their road counterparts. Drivers and teams could not modify the body frames, and they even had doors. 

If these cars appeared on the street, no one would know they were race cars unless they had a number and sponsor on them. 

Generation 2

The Generation 2 car debuted in 1967. And their debut came following NASCAR’s deviation through their formative seasons from short tracks to intermediate ovals and superspeedways. 

One big feature that deviated from the strictly stock model is that 3 companies built chassis for the NASCAR teams. However, teams still could not modify the body frame, even if NASCAR let them make modifications to the chassis. 

Generation 3

In 1981, NASCAR unveiled its Generation 3 car. The car bodies still looked like their street legal equivalents, but you could now see obvious differences with their more streamlined appearance. 

You may have noticed that the Generation 3 car looked smaller than the previous two generations. And you are correct. NASCAR shrunk the wheelbase to just 110 inches. So as you can see, with deviating bodies and wheelbase components, these cars were even less stock. 

Generation 4

In 1993, the Generation 4 car debuted, and next to the car’s tail and bumpers, they looked nothing like their production counterparts. In NASCAR’s past, they used fiberglass bodies, but the Generation 4 car switched to steel because it made the cars lighter. 

Generation 5

Better known as the Car of Tomorrow, safety aspects were the most defining characteristic of the Generation 5 cars. Of course, this further kept them from resembling their road car counterparts, something that manufacturers did not take well to. 

They also featured a unique rear wing instead of a traditional spoiler. However, to improve downforce, NASCAR did away with the wings and returned to using the spoilers. One look at this car, and you can tell there was hardly anything stock about them

Generation 6

Because manufacturers wanted to return to the win on Sunday, sell on Monday approach, the Generation 6 car brought back some key aspects that allowed these cars to resemble their showroom equivalents

NASCAR added strict specs regarding the chassis, and they were far bulkier than their Generation 5 predecessors. They were also faster, requiring an improved aerodynamic package. 

Generation 7

Also called the Next Gen, these cars look almost identical to those seen at a local dealership and have taken on a sportier appearance. While they did not come off of an assembly line, they are still not truly stock cars, but they at least line up well next to them. 

Could You Drive A NASCAR Car On The Road?

You could not drive a NASCAR car on the road, as they are not street legal. NASCAR cars do not feature many of the necessary safety features that road cars do, including things like mirrors, headlights and airbags. So, modern NASCAR cars cannot be driven on the road.

When summer strikes and the clear June days dawn, you often see sports cars all over the road. These hot rods are louder and faster than your average street car, and they often carry slick paint schemes. You may even own one if you are a car enthusiast. But, each of these cars feature safety components that make them street legal. 

However, you will not see a true NASCAR car on the road, even if you may see the occasional NASCAR paint scheme gracing a sports car. But if you look into the interior, you will realize quickly that they are not used NASCAR cars. Instead, they are just imitations. 

While owning a NASCAR car may win you a few friends, you cannot drive them on the road. The primary reason is that street-legal cars must conform to a number of safety features not present in NASCAR cars. 

Back when NASCAR cars were strictly stock, you could drive them on the street since they came straight off of the production line. There were even accounts of drivers driving their cars to an upcoming event. Something you don’t see in the sport today. 

Why Are NASCAR Cars Illegal?

While NASCAR cars lack the safety components of traditional road cars, you might be confused as to why they are illegal. Given all the safety features in the Next Gen cars, you may think the Department of Transportation (DOT) would be okay with you taking a NASCAR car onto the highway. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The primary reason behind this is that the DOT’s regulations are strict. One major component that makes NASCAR cars illegal on the street is that they don’t have doors, which makes them hard to enter and exit for some people. 

They also don’t have headlights or brake lights. Instead, these lights are actually decals that you stick onto the cars. The lack of headlights and brake lights alone makes these cars illegal to take onto the highway. 

Windows Are Not Real Glass

NASCAR cars also don’t have actual glass on the windows for obvious reasons. This is so, during a crash, glass doesn’t shatter all over the track, which results not only in a major cleanup but would be a safety hazard on a NASCAR track as glass can puncture tires. 

Instead, NASCAR cars use Lexan. And while it does not protect in the same way glass does, it also does not shatter. 

Interior Components

NASCAR cars also do not have mufflers. The reason behind this is that mufflers may slow the exhaustive process. Without mufflers, though, NASCAR cars are much louder than street cars. 

There are also no speedometers on the dashboard, gas gauges, or even tachometers, really. And while you can legally get away without having an air conditioning unit in your car, you couldn’t get away without it in a NASCAR car, since the interior can reach over 140 degrees. 

Can You Buy A NASCAR Car?

You can buy NASCAR cars, usually from various auction sites online. Many of the NASCAR cars you can find from collectors are race-ready, and some are even race used, but many are show cars. However, NASCAR cars are expensive to buy, with prices ranging from $30,000 to $100,000+.

Can You Modify A NASCAR Car To Become Street Legal?

Just because a NASCAR car in its purest fashion is not street legal, it does not mean that you can’t modify them to become street legal. But it’s going to take some money. So, if you don’t have a hobby and you have the finances, perhaps modifying a NASCAR car to fit road regulations is for you. 

To forewarn you, modifying a NASCAR car is not for the faint-hearted. Not only will you need to pour money into the endeavor, but it would also take most waking hours when you are not working. Fortunately, NASCAR cars are not built on production lines, but inside a race shop. 

Make It Street Legal

So, if you have a garage, you can take the car apart, and make necessary installations like speedometers and headlights. You must also make sure it drives on something other than Sunoco E15 racing fuel, and you should buy grooved tires for it. 

You would also need to modify the gearing because NASCAR’s lowest gears are designed to reach 60 miles per hour. So you can only imagine how fast they go when you shift into a higher gear. 

Make sure you install doors on it, and it would also be smart to insert a passenger seat on the other side. Since the cars get so hot, you also need to figure out how to put an air conditioning unit inside, plus approved seat belts, and boom, you have yourself a street-legal NASCAR car. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR cars are not street legal, but you can modify them to be with a lot of work, effort, and money. The reason NASCAR cars are not street legal is they do not feature the same safety aspects as production cars. They are designed specifically for racing and are not true stock cars.