What Matters More in a Race: The Car or the Driver?

December 11, 2018 @ 11:37 am
Car versus man

What Matters More in a Race: The Car or the Driver?

Imagine two drivers of about equal skill, head-to-head in a race. One drives an obsolete junker and the other drives a top-of-the-line car. Who is more likely to win? In another scenario, two drivers are given the exact same car: same power, aerodynamic body, and so on. One driver is a racing professional with numerous awards under their belt. The other is a rookie. Who is more likely to win?

Evolution of the car

Cars have evolved and will continue to evolve as the sport of racing goes on. Since NASCAR’s official founding in the late 1940s, NASCAR race cars remained pretty simple until the 60s. They had a stock frame and body, doors secured shut, and heavy-duty rear axles to prevent them from rolling during a race. Cars began to see modifications in frames, roll cages, wheelbase, and aerodynamic body style all the way up to the early 90s. In the early 2000s, NASCAR improved driver safety with the Head and Neck Support device (HANS). And in 2012, the NASCAR Green initiative made the switch to fuel injection, creating fewer emissions and more control of engine performance. 

As each new generation of racing car is released, it’s presumably better than the previous generation. With this logic, the newest and most improved cars will probably win against older cars. The car matters more in a race…right?

A driver’s skill and physical condition

The car matters, but a driver’s skill, physical condition and mental capacity for stress matters too. During a race, drivers have to deal with all sorts of intense physical factors. They experience G-forces from driving at 200-mile an hour speeds and extreme heat without air conditioning (NASCAR is headquartered in Florida, mind you) all while keeping a laser-like focus on driving. Drivers used to elevating their heart rate through physical activity probably cope better with the heart-pounding excitement of maneuvering around a race track. The tiniest mistake could result in a deadly crash, so they must be hyper-aware of their every move. Plus, as cars change with new technology, drivers must adapt their skills to handle them. 

You can’t win a race without a driver to handle the car. So the driver matters more in a race…right?

The final lap: it’s a tie

It’s a tough call to determine whether a race car or a skilled driver would win the race. Both are nearly equally important in the equation, but the driver has a bit of an edge. With advancements in technology and top-performing cars readily available to everyone, the playing field is fairly level when it comes to the car. Good drivers have to be able to manage a good car’s performance during a race, calling on their skills, experience, and mental and physical strength. 

A bad driver in a race car won’t necessarily win the race, while a great race car driver stuck with a junker car might not win the race, either.