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Why We Will NEVER See a NASCAR Race in Reverse

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What’s Happening?

Every NASCAR or motorsports fan has probably had this wandering thought while watching a race: “What if all of the cars turned around and ran the race track in the other direction?” This was an idea that a Formula One track floated during the pandemic, so it’s not completely unfounded. However, digging deeper into it, running a race track in reverse has both dangerous and inconvenient prospects, and NASCAR is better off not trying it.

  • Running a race in reverse seems quite simple in theory. Simply have the drivers drive the opposite direction. However, numerous complications arise once a race happens the other way.
  • As far as we can see, this has never been attempted in NASCAR history. There are multiple reasons for that, and we explore them here.
  • Fans don’t verbalize this idea very often, but it pops up occasionally. It’s usually told as a joke, for which there is a good reason.

Safety

Race tracks are designed to accommodate cars driving in a specific direction. This is most noticeable in the openings where safety vehicles come out of the track. The openings are angled in the direction that the drivers are racing in, making it physically impossible for a car to spin into them.

Look at this overhead image of Bristol below as an example. Notice the openings just beyond pit road in turns 1, 2, and 3.

This is done for two reasons. The most obvious one is to protect the safety vehicles. Once the cars race in the other direction, out-of-control race cars can easily enter those openings that were previously protected by cars going in the other direction.

Another reason is the safety of the drivers. NASCAR stock cars are designed to protect against hitting the broad side of the wall but not the blunt end. These crashes are extremely dangerous. One example of this was Mark Martin’s crash in Michigan in 2012, where the pit wall penetrated his car and ruptured the oil tank just a few feet behind the driver.

A non-NASCAR-related wreck also shows this principle with far more tragic results. A driving experience at Walt Disney World Speedway included driving on the race track clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, exposing the blunt ends of angled retaining walls down the backstretch. In 2015, the driver of an exotic supercar lost control, hitting the blunt end of a wall. The crash killed driving instructor Gary Terry.

NFJJ dove deeper into the story in the video below.

Now, NASCAR has worked to mitigate the risks of hitting the blunt ends of walls by putting things like tire packs and sand barrels at the end of pit walls, but, that doesn’t solve the issue of the exposed safety vehicles. The only way to make this work is to change how the walls are angled, which would be very expensive. This leads to the question of why NASCAR would even try this.

What Does NASCAR Gain?

The track is already there and perfectly functional racing in one direction. Why would NASCAR dedicate the extra time, money, and logistical headache of racing in the other direction?

The only tracks that might benefit from this are tracks with multiple yearly dates to spice up the show somewhat. In 2024, these tracks are Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Richmond, Talladega, Kansas, and Darlington. Only two of these tracks (Phoenix and Darlington) are not symmetrical.

Why does being symmetrical matter? If both turns on each end are exactly the same, then the track is going to race no differently than it does in the proper direction. The cars will behave exactly the same, but, they’ll be turning right.

Phoenix has different banking angles in each set of turns, and Darlington’s turns have different radii and banking. This means the approaches to each turn would be slightly different, but, it’s still largely the same track. Then, you factor in the major safety and cost concerns mentioned above, and it quickly becomes unworthy.

Driving the wrong way will always be reserved for test sessions or demolition derbys on NASCAR video games. However, the seemingly simple concept will always be an interesting thought experiment.

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Joshua Lipowski

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