How are the American Nascar races arranged? Reporting from the track!
The viewer, accustomed to classic tracks, a Formula 1 fan or WTCC, at first glance NASCAR does not take seriously. “What could be easier - turn in one direction!” He says. This is a common misconception due to the fact that European viewers are extremely rare on oval tracks - there are only a few such tracks in Europe, and they most often stand idle. For example, the British Rockingham Motor Speedway was used in an oval configuration only in the early 2000s, when it accepted the races of the American Champcar series, and is now being operated in a different form; For European racing, only a small portion of the oval track is suitable.
The peculiarity of the oval track really is that you need to turn only in one direction - clockwise or against it. But in reality, this is not at all easier than constantly “shifting” the car from side to side. To move along the oval, peculiar settings are required - the suspension is made asymmetric, and there is a difference between the sides of the car, and between the front and rear axles. This is due to the fact that oval tracks have a slope of the roadway from the sides to the center. In Bristol, it reaches 30 ° in turns and up to 10 ° in straight lines; therefore, tilt compensation is required.
At the same time, the combination of forces (including centrifugal) constantly seeks to take the car to the outer radius, while the inner one is more beneficial for overtaking. This is the art - you need to not just “circle circles”, but constantly calculate the trajectory of the rivals so as not to give them loopholes for overtaking, and at the same time control the car: as soon as you loosen your hand on the steering wheel, it will take the car to the wall under the influence of centrifugal force . Thus, the complexity of moving along the oval is achieved not so much by the configuration of the route as by the density of the struggle - the rivals themselves become part of the track, natural obstacles to a much greater extent than, for example, in the same F1. Pelaton of 43 cars, “inscribed” in the 858-meter track - this is a very serious test, which not everyone can stand.
The first NASCAR race took the Bristol Motor Speedway on July 30, 1961 - it was won by Jack Smith at the Pontiac. Since then, the configuration of the stadium-track has changed only twice: until 1969 its length was half a mile (804 m), then the only race took place on the 848-meter track, and finally, the final track length began to be 858 m - the track is unchanged already more than forty years. Bristol is considered one of the most spectacular ovals of the championship, because from anywhere in the stands the whole track is visible - all four turns and two straight lines. Missing an event is decidedly impossible. And there are enough events.
NASCAR is not just one series, but a racing association that includes a range of different series, the pinnacle of which is the “senior” Sprint Cup championship. In the descending order are two junior championships - the Nationwide Series (less powerful cars of a similar configuration) and the Camping World Truck Series (pickups). In both junior series, there are pilots who are fighting for the title in each of the championships, as well as “guests” from the senior series. For example, Matt Kinset, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and other eminent Sprint Cup racers regularly appear in the junior series as well, and their level immediately becomes visible. Of the 33 races of the 2013 Nationwide Series, guests won 29! But they did not receive points for victories, since the NASCAR racer can officially act in only one series - and Austin Dillon became the champion, who did not win a single race. Here is such a strange system. In addition, there are six more different regional NASCAR championships.
The first days of the NASCAR race weekend — Thursday and Friday — are a warm-up time. On Thursday there were free races of the junior championship K & N Pro Series East (one of the regional), on Friday - free races of the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup, as well as the Sprint Cup qualification. The qualification format is similar to the format in Formula 1: it consists of two or three sessions, depending on the track, following which the weakest drop out and the strongest move to the next round to fight for the pole. According to the time shown, only the first 36 positions are placed. The remaining seven qualify automatically (they may not show any time at all) - by the sum of points earned by the team in previous races of the season. Interestingly, if for some reason one of the past champions of the series failed to qualify (in Bristol, for example, 45 pilots claimed 43 positions), then he has the right to declare his right to participate in the race “according to his past merits”, squeezing out starting someone who showed the best time but was not a champion. And so - six times a season. First you work for authority, and then authority works for you.
The oval track has a standard device, regardless of size and shape (since an “oval” is any track with a turn in one direction, the shape can even be triangular). The external, inclined part of the route - the so-called bend (or banking); the slope can vary from 2-3 ° to 35 °. The inner part of the track does not have a slope and is called apron - the apron is designed to leave the trajectory when entering and leaving the boxes, and in the event of an accident, a mangled car rolls down from a turn to apron, freeing the track.
Inside April, there is an infield (in-field, “internal field”) - there are team boxes, a pit lane, a podium and stages for performances and concerts. The infield area of the Bristol speedway is very small, so the team trailers are with incredible density. It is interesting that after the end of the Saturday Nationwide Series race, those teams that do not exhibit a car in the main championship, curl up and leave to free at least a little space for Sunday events, setting up stages and cafes. On Friday and Saturday, infield is a purely working, technical one.
NASCAR is an unusually conservative race. In particular, her three years ago in cars was not fuel injection, but a morally obsolete carburetor; Teams began to use telemetry only in 2013, and other teams are still guided in terms of technical problems by the sound of the engine and the words of the pilot. Devices inside the machine - mechanical, switch; there is a feeling that there is no electronics at all.
At the same time, the subtleties of the settings in NASCAR cars are absolutely incredible. The body varies from track to track, millimeter changes are calculated in the configuration of the bumper or some kind of minor ledge on the roof. The more clearly configured the car, the easier it is for the rider to do monotonous work, clearly maneuvering between overtaken rivals and passing the same turns. Some ovals can be completed entirely without ever using the brake (though only on an empty track, for example, during qualification).
Because of the tightness, the infild has a clear structure: the team trailers - the giant bonnet “Petersburgites” and “Maki” - are standing “noses” to each other. Inside, each trailer is divided into two parts horizontally. The lower one is slightly higher than human growth - here the team works, here is the kitchen, recreation area. The upper one, under the roof, is lower, the car itself and related equipment are transported there. Trailers have "elevators" for lifting cars. Between the trailers and the pit lane there is a rather wide area where onlookers walk, and here cars are repaired if necessary. Command bridges, generators, equipment cabinets are lined up along the pit lane zones along the edges of the infield. Unlike most European races, in NASCAR all equipment is quick-turn, transported. This is partly due to the parameters of the tracks, and partly to the calendar. The next race after Bristol is held in Fontana (California) - it's 3, 600 km! Trailers leave the speedway on Sunday evening, after the race, and on Thursday morning they should be on the next track - can you imagine what the density of work is?
On Saturday, Sprint Cup racers who do not take part in the junior series have a rest: they are waiting for only two sessions of free rides in the morning. But here, the Nationwide Series and K&N Pro Series East races are held sequentially (which no one really watches). In the race Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300 (Nationwide) was once again defeated by Kyle Busch, who did not count, - in general, the ability of NASCAR riders to spend three days sometimes is not just two, but three full-fledged races. But the main pandemonium in the boxes reigns not near the winner's car, but near the trailer of Danica Patrick - the only female pilot. Calling to vote for themselves in the competition “The most popular pilot of the race”, all riders conspiringly began their speeches with the phrase: “Of course, I understand that you will vote for Danica, but I also need votes ...” Danica is really popular regardless from the results, because - a girl. By the way, she drove the Sunday race weakly, finishing on the 18th and provoking an accident along the way.
On Sunday it started to rain. Unlike highways, riding on ovals in rain conditions is strictly prohibited. This is due to the fact that it is impossible to create rain tires for the oval: water flows down a sloping track from the track, leaving the grooves, the tires stop cooling and are destroyed very quickly. And accidents on tracks are much more terrible than on ordinary tracks. Usually, in the event of loss of control or a collision, the car takes to an external radius and hits the barrier. A skilled racer reduces the accident to "grinding" sideways (at least half of the cars after the race had worn or dented sides), but such a successful outcome is far from always possible. It throws the car away from the outer radius on the apron - this is the most dangerous, because at the moment the track crosses the car, another rider can drive at full speed, and then another one behind him, and because of the high traffic density, a blockage occurs. Therefore, with absolutely any, even the smallest incident, a safety car immediately leaves the track (95 out of 500 laps of the Bristol race passed under the safety car). In Bristol, one safety car drove out, for example, because of a plastic bag that had arrived on the highway.
At the scheduled time, the race did not start - it rained heavily. After about an hour and a half, he became quiet, and a set of machines to dry the track left on the oval. In Europe, this does not happen, even in F1 they honestly wait until the track dries naturally. First, four cars with "jet dryers" go along the outside of the track: they blow off excess water from the coating using directed streams of hot air (at the same time sweeping away garbage). Four pickup trucks with Air Titan drying systems are moving behind them - this is an innovation of the 2014 season, devices that direct directly to the concrete coating of the “blade” of compressed air, bringing the track to a perfectly dry state. If jet drying can be compared to a hairdryer, then Air Titan - with the famous Dyson Airblade dryers. Water thus partially evaporates, partially - goes on apron. The Air Titan is followed by the Crosswind vacuum cleaner developed by Elgin Sweeper - it moves along the apron, drawing in the water that has accumulated there. The procession is completed by two simple air vacuum cleaners for parking Tymco AirSweeper 210, and a safety car that monitors the condition of the track. In total, the procession occupies half of the track, and before the state of complete dryness, the vacuum cleaners must complete three circles. And now - everything is ready to start!
At this time, in the press center, the race organizers are already chanting into the microphone the classic phrase: “Gentlemen, start the engines!” And - the start. The start on the ovals is done not from a place, but under a safety car. More precisely, under two. The Pelaton is divided into two parts (22 and 21 cars, respectively), and two safety cars take them to the track in turn. After a couple of laps, the second safety car goes into the pits, the pelaton merges into one “caterpillar”. Then the second safety car leaves - and the race has started!
An oval race is a very meditative sight. If there are no excesses, and the safety car does not collect the pelaton after itself, the cars disperse along the track: you can defocus your vision and look at the uniform running of colored dots in a circle. The first laps appear after 10-12 laps, and after 100 laps it is completely impossible to understand who is leading by the position on the track - everything is mixed up. Convenient bulletin boards in the stands and in the center of the infield help. But there is another technique for viewing races on ovals - it is used by sophisticated fans. They choose a rider (usually the one they root for) and monitor him and the group around him. You can select several groups on the track, navigate in their position relative to each other and distribute your attention between them. Oddly enough, this works. Gradually, you take into account more and more groups - and after a couple of minutes the situation on the track seems clear, like a chess position. Everywhere their tricks!
There are quite a few accidents: someone is pushing someone, someone is losing the car on its own - followed by touching the side, lapping, turning. There are explosions of engines with spectacular tearing of hoods, there are fires of rubber, but rarely enough. When a safety car leaves the track, riders massively rush to the pit stops. During a pit stop, the car is refueled using a manual cylinder, and the amount of fuel is calculated “by eye”: the cylinder is weighed before refueling and after that it becomes known how much was filled. A skilled refueling tank can calculate the amount of fuel almost up to a gram. The wheels often change only on one side - the outer one, where there is more wear, sometimes all four wheels change, but in any case, in turn, and not simultaneously, as in F1.
On the 120th lap, the race was interrupted by red flags, because the rain started again. For four hours they were waiting for a restart - during this time the pilots were constantly talking with fans, joking, giving autographs. Matt Kinset, the 2003 champion, was showing a car to some children. All this is an obligatory part of NASCAR: openness, communication, obligatory friendliness to fans. It comes to the fact that fans during the race hang out on the pit lane, interfering with the mechanics, and sometimes unscrew the nuts from the wheels. Поэтому ждущие своей очереди колеса накрыты картонными дисками — для защиты от поклонников-клептоманов.
По причине задержки с началом событий и 3, 5-часового перерыва из-за нового дождя окончание гонки пришлось на темное время суток. Это очередная особенность овалов — если вода им мешает, то темнота — нет. Ввиду небольшой площади большинство овалов оборудованы мощной системой прожекторов, освещающих трассу от первого до последнего метра. Кроме того, ночью почти все элементы спидвея взрываются россыпью разноцветных огней: даже таблички с номерами боксов при заезде на пит-лейн оформлены в традиционном американском стиле с неоновой подсветкой.
Клетчатый флаг. Гонка закончена. Все машины заезжают на пит-лейн, кроме победителя, Карла Эдвардса на Ford. Эдвардс паркуется на стартовой прямой, спиной выбирается через окно (дверей в болидах нет) и, резко оттолкнувшись, делает обратное сальто, идеально приземляясь на ноги. Публика ликует: это коронный трюк Эдвардса в случае победы в гонке. Ему сбрасывают клетчатый флаг, он садится в машину, разворачивается и проезжает круг почета по часовой стрелке — против движения, чтобы быть ближе к публике.
Гонки, организуемые NASCAR, — это в первую очередь зрелищное, безумно красивое и интересное шоу. Гонщики, которые постоянно общаются со зрителями, фотографируются и дают автографы; мощные, ревущие машины; эффектные вылеты и аварии — все это придает гонкам сток-каров особый колорит, практически не встречающийся в европейских гонках. Обычно гонки интереснее смотреть по телевизору, чем «вживую», но с NASCAR ситуация прямо противоположная. Show must go on — лозунг, заданный бессмертным Меркьюри, работает и тут. И даже с клетчатым флагом ничего не заканчивается, потому что всего через неделю — новая гонка.Статья «Nascar изнутри» опубликована в журнале «Популярная механика» (№5, Май 2014).