With technology ever-evolving, it’s easy to become enraptured by new products that employ them. Cars, in particular, are appreciated for their sleek designs, smart technology installed in them, and the horsepower behind their engines. Professional race cars are much different than the cars you can buy at a dealership, however, and not just because of where or how they’re driven. What makes the two types of cars so different from one another?
The basics of race car engines aren’t much different from that of a streetcar, but the specifics are another story. They’re much larger and more powerful than an ‘04 Honda you may see on the highway, and custom made as well. Race cars normally use V8 engines to achieve the power they need, enabling them to reach 800 or more horsepower regularly. Meanwhile, passenger vehicles run on 4-cylinder engines at most, which maxes out at around 200 horsepower; race cars, therefore, can reach up to four times the amount of horsepower that streetcars can.
In addition to that, the engine’s camshaft, which controls the valves, works differently as well. The camshaft regulates the amount of fuel/air mixture the engine can pull in and push out, which dictates the power the engine will have. In a race car, the camshaft stays open longer for increased airflow and peak engine performance, while a streetcar will be far less powerful and still remain within street-legal speeds.
While streetcars are designed to be durable and long-lasting with minimal maintenance, race cars are meant to be pushed to their limits over a short period of time and fixed or rebuilt for the next race. Weight distribution is the key to a race car’s success, as the car needs to be lightweight and aerodynamic to reach the speeds needed for racing. Therefore, the heaviest parts of the car will be toward the center of it with the driver, the roof and hood of the car are made of the lighter carbon fiber as opposed to steel, and the shape of the car is wind tunnel designed for the optimal use of downforce while driving.
Unlike streetcars, racing tires go through an incredible amount of stress at extreme levels. Between the temperature and speed of the car, tires used on race cars need to be specially-designed and NASCAR-approved before hitting the track. They’re wider, softer, and are bald rather than treaded to maximize the tire’s ability to grip the track. On tracks more than a mile long, an inner and outer tire is required—that way, if a tire deflates, the driver will still be able to bring the car to a complete, controlled stop.