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Why Does NASCAR Go Counterclockwise?

You may wonder why NASCAR goes counterclockwise at seemingly every oval track race, making perpetual left turns for the event’s duration. There are a few reasons behind NASCAR’s decision to race counterclockwise on most tracks.

NASCAR races go counterclockwise because it is safer for drivers. With the driver’s side positioned on the left of all NASCAR cars, racing counterclockwise provides more space between the driver and the SAFER Barrier. However, NASCAR will make the occasional right turn at road courses.

Below, we will discuss the two prevailing reasons NASCAR races go counterclockwise at oval tracks. We will also discuss the growing popularity of road course racing, and how an influx of road courses is leading to more right turns in the sport.

Why Do NASCAR Races Go Counterclockwise?

NASCAR races go counterclockwise because it is tradition to race with left turns and it is safer for drivers to race counterclockwise. The sport follows the horse racing tradition of always turning left. As for safety, turning left leaves more space between the driver and the SAFER barrier.

When you watch a NASCAR race, you probably noticed the cars usually only drive counterclockwise. They never turn right under any circumstance when they race on ovals. Some fans may not notice or take this into account, instead focusing on the high-speed action. However, others are curious as to why the cars are always turning left.

Reason A: Tradition

The first reason that NASCAR cars drive counterclockwise is because American motorsports followed that of horse racing. In America, horse races have always involved left turns, unlike their British counterparts, which turn right. The same holds true to this day. During horse racing season, tune in to the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont.You will notice the horses are always turning left.

When 1896 rolled around, the Narragansett Trotting Park held what most historians believe to be the first automobile race to take place on the oval. Since the horses ran counterclockwise at the track, so did the cars. The tradition has not changed in the past 125-plus years.

Reason B: Safety

NASCAR has always taken steps to keep its drivers safe to the best of their ability. By mandating that oval races run counterclockwise, it keeps the passenger’s side of the car nearest to the SAFER Barrier and the driver’s side nearest to the apron and infield.

In the event of an accident, this helps augment driver safety since the passenger side of the car has a higher probability of contacting the SAFER Barrier. However, this does not always prevent drivers from hitting the wall from the driver’s side.

Many NASCAR deaths have occurred when the driver spun and ended up hitting the wall on the driver’s side. Other fatalities involved head-on collisions with the wall, like Clifford Allison’s death in a 1992 practice session at Michigan. Jerry Nadeau’s career ended in a crash during a practice session at Richmond when he lost control of his car and slid into the wall on the driver’s side.

Are All NASCAR Oval Tracks Counterclockwise?

All NASCAR oval tracks are counterclockwise. Though it is possible, it is extremely unlikely that NASCAR would hold a clockwise race, especially on an oval track. If this were to occur, NASCAR would need to mandate that driver’s sides be switched to the right side of the car for safety reasons.

Clockwise On Ovals Is Possible

While the likelihood of NASCAR ever holding a clockwise race remains slim, it is something we can’t just discard. Go back 20 years and ask yourself if NASCAR would ever race on dirt again – you probably wouldn’t have thought so!

Despite everyone’s doubts, in the 2020s,NASCAR is racing on more road courses than before and there are even talks of potential street races. However, for NASCAR to hold an event where the drivers turn right at an oval, one major adjustment must occur. For safety reasons, NASCAR would need to mandate its teams to flip the driver’s side to the right-hand side of the car.

This might be easy in theory but it’s not in practice. If you live in a country that routinely sees its driver’s side on the left, it might require a learning curve if you needed to switch to driving in a car with its driver’s side on the right. This would require a lot of effort and practice for drivers, and the cars would need to be redesigned as well.

Drivers Would Need Practice

NASCAR drivers are among the best in the world at what they do. However, they aren’t used to driving cars with the driver’s side on the right and they definitely aren’t used to turning right on an oval track. They would need extra practice reps to master driving clockwise with their cockpit on the opposite side of the car before NASCAR could even consider adding a clockwise race to the schedule.

Do NASCAR Cars Only Turn Left?

NASCAR cars do not only turn left, as they can turn right as well. However, we have not seen many clockwise races until recently. NASCAR occasionally races clockwise on their road courses, which we have seen more of in the 2020s. With that said, there is potential for more clockwise races to come.

At one time, NASCAR ran its races almost exclusively on short to intermediate ovals, with Daytona and Talladega operating as outliers. Today, NASCAR continues to refer to the two tracks as its only superspeedways, but they also race on two-mile ovals like Michigan and the Auto Club Speedway. These larger tracks allowed NASCAR to expand its product, even if they were still your traditional ovals.

In 1994, NASCAR began holding events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400, another large oval, this one rectangular. The move to larger tracks even then showed NASCAR’s willingness to evolve and improve their product.

Then NASCAR Turned Right

NASCAR also raced on a few road courses throughout its existence, with several running clockwise. Occasionally, they raced at Watkins Glen International, which became part of its regular touring schedule starting in 1986. They also raced at Riverside International Raceway until 1988. Since 1989, NASCAR has raced at Sonoma Raceway.

For a long time, NASCAR only held road course races at Sonoma (between 70 and 112 laps) and Watkins Glen (90 laps). Therefore, while NASCAR held events with right turns, spectators only saw between 160 and 202 laps per season involving them.

However, since 2021, the NASCAR Cup Series started racing at several road courses, including Road America, the Daytona Road Course, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the Charlotte Roval, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.

Six Or More Road Course Events

In 2021 and 2022, NASCAR scheduled seven and six road course events, respectively. All seven of the above events occurred in 2021 (eight if you count the preseason race at Daytona), and six in 2022, with NASCAR nixing the Daytona Road Course to make room for the Auto Club race.

Many of these road courses run clockwise, such as Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Road America, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. The Charlotte Roval and COTA continue to run in a clockwise motion. NASCAR is turning right more than ever in the 2020s.With rumblings of a potential street race, you might just see more right turns in the sport’s future.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR goes counterclockwise because it is a long-lasting tradition, and it is safer for the drivers. However, NASCAR will sometimes race clockwise on their road courses. As the road races become more popular, it is likely we could see more clockwise racing to come.