Monday, March 26, 2012

NASCAR or Formula One – That is the Question!

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea if this is even a big debate or not. But if the blokes of Top Gear, from a recent episode, are to be believed, then this is certainly worth a good tempered discussion.

It does have all the elements that should contribute to a good debate. The common man versus the upper class, American vs European (mostly) or even rugged vs sophisticated. This is NASCAR vs Formula One.

F1 at Silverstone/NASCAR at Daytona
(Click to Enlarge)
NASCAR is one the most popular forms of "Stock Car" racing. This means all the cars you see there are production cars which have been customized for racing. But the customization isn't rocket-technology. Most cars are devoid of much technology and the influence of computers. There is a roll cage for safety, a spoiler and a bumper for some down-force and two strips of metal on the roof to induce drag in the event of a roll-over. It's man with machine in it's most primal form.

Formula One on the other hand is racing with cars made for racing and racing only. They are closer to a Eurofighter jet on technology and aerodynamics than to what we would generally call a car. Everything from fuel consumption rates to tyre pressures are sensed and monitored via computers. Even the steering wheel would seem as if out of a NASA laboratory. It's a display of extreme engineering for sport.

So now that we know the cars, what is it that these cars are capable of doing?

Your average Formula One car will give you a top speed of around 370 kmph. It goes from 0 - 100 kmph in 2.2 seconds. The top speed of a NASCAR vehicle is about 360 kmph and 0 - 100 in about 2.6 seconds (according to some sources but this is not a commonly available figure as NASCAR car's don't generally stop.)

A NASCAR race is fairly straight forward. 500 miles of gasoline powered action on an oval track which is about 2.5 miles long. So that translates into 200 laps of going round and round. Now while that might sound boring, this is how the entertainment is supplied. Firstly, there are around 40 cars in a race. Secondly, no braking and crazy speeds mean racing is literally bumper to bumper. Collisions and crashes are fairly mainstream. And thirdly, the races are more unpredictable than the performances of Chelsea FC.

A Formula One race on the other hand is far more complicated. The circuits firstly have turns in both directions. So the drivers need to actually do several practice sessions just to commit the track to their memory. Next, there are several strategies to decide upon. What tyre to start with, how much fuel to begin with, should we have a lighter car and take an extra pit stop and what not. Finally, all this boils down to which driver can make the best use of what he has been provided with to produce the best result.

So what do all these point at?

You get to see "all" the action in NASCAR. The circuit being oval, you can see each point on it from wherever you are on the stands. Further, the event itself is far more interactive with its fans, who have a chance to get a ride on these cars. In fact, NASCAR is one of the largest spectator sports in the US.
In comparison, given the nature of the track, you get to see action only once in about every minute in a Formula One race. You need television coverage to see the race from all the points. And unless you have seats in a stand with pit lane visibility, you aren't going to get much variety in your entertainment either. Also, unlike NASCAR, there no way apart from TV coverage that you can keep track of who is at which position even though the grid hardly goes through much turmoil during a race.

But Formula One races are global. They have fans and audience across several countries and the races are broadcast to almost every nation in the world. NASCAR is by it's very essence, an American pursuit. And finally (and this I think is one of the strongest points in favor of Formula One), an F1 car is, absolutely unanimously, SEXY. It's curvy and sleek and has a sweeter sound to it than any other machine in the world.

NASCAR is more spectator friendly. You will certainly get more entertainment here than in a Formula One race. But the introduction of DRS and KERS technologies have seen a rise in the number of over-takings than ever making Formula One much more friendlier to watch than before.

If unpredictability and the sound of metal on metal is your preference, then NASCAR is where you should be headed. If you are a person of sophisticated qualities with an eye for the finest, then Formula One it is for you, but only on TV.

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