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What Sets a NASCAR Stock Car Apart from the Car in Your Driveway?

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The stock car is the essence of NASCAR. It is said to have gotten its start in the Prohibition Era—born out of the need for secret distilleries to deliver moonshine quickly to their customers.

Bootleggers used cars that looked “stock” to avoid unwanted attention but were modified to outrun cops during a pursuit. These vehicles also featured heavy-duty shocks and springs to ensure the safety of the product (which were housed in glass jars) when going over bumpy roads.

In between these clandestine deliveries, bootleggers raced each other for fun, money, and of course, bragging rights. They are even credited for “inventing” high-speed driving maneuvers such as the “bootleg turn.”

Yes—these illegal, reckless races eventually paved the way for one of the biggest spectator sports in the world.

In 1947, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was formally established. The sport eventually grew to include big races like the Coca-Cola 600 and Pocono 400, with stock cars by Dodge, Ford, Plymouth, and Chevrolet, to name a few.

Stock Car vs. Regular Street Car

Ironically, stock cars today look anything but stock. Let’s take a closer look at how different the car sitting in your driveway really is from a NASCAR stock car.

High-Revving V8 Engine

v8 engine in red muscle car

A present-day stock car is equipped with a 90-degree pushrod V8 engine. This powerplant is based on small-block V8s used in American cars since the ’60s. However, this engine is not meant to last a very long time—it’s designed to be pushed to the limit at every race. 

After its short service life, the engine suffers deformities from enduring the massive power it produced.

Contrary to its predecessors, the NASCAR V8 engine is capable of 850 horsepower when running without restrictor plates. It can sustain high RPMs over the course of the race. For peak performance, the engine’s camshaft features a unique design that allows the valves to remain open longer at high speeds.

From 1948 to 2011, carburetors delivered fuel into the engine block. In 2012, however, NASCAR’s governing body favored switching to electronic fuel injection.

Four-Speed Manual Transmission

Car manufacturers have shifted their focus from traditional manual transmissions to producing automatic transmissions for their street cars. The technology they put into these automatic transmissions make cars more convenient to drive as compared to a manual transmission.

Despite these advancements in technology, NASCAR maintains the four-speed manual transmission for all stock cars. 

Drivers find themselves still rowing the gears just like in an old muscle car. They maintain this heavy-duty assembly because it is easy to use and modify.

NASCAR Roll Cage

Drivers are strapped in high-performance cars in each race. Any mistake can cost the driver serious injuries. To prevent this, a stock car is fortified with a NASCAR-approved roll cage. 

It features steel tubes that are strategically spread out inside the body of the vehicle to provide maximum protection during impact. 

Other race cars like competition drifting cars also use the NASCAR roll cage design for protection.

Tires Designed for Racing

You’ll immediately notice that a stock car’s tires don’t have any tread. Having this bald design provides a greater contact area for improved grip on the track.

The tires on a NASCAR race car are also wider and softer than those found on a street vehicle. Plus, the rubber is made from special compounds that are designed to withstand extreme speeds and heat.

Body & Chassis Design

Gone are the days when the competing stock cars were exactly like those on the road. 

Today, NASCAR sanctions a uniform body template for all race cars used in the series.  The cars are then fashioned to loosely resemble the Chevy, Toyota, and Ford vehicles you see on the road. 

Each car features a roof and hood made of carbon fiber to reduce weight. And for optimum weight distribution, the heaviest parts of the vehicle (i.e., the engine and transmission) are located as close to the middle as possible.

NASCAR Liveries

The NASCAR liveries make each car easily distinguishable during a race. This involves decals and custom vinyl that are placed on certain areas of the exterior of the body for advertising or design purposes. 

After wrapping the stock car, it will finally have some semblance to its street car equivalent because of headlight and grille printed decals. 

Among the most memorable liveries in NASCAR’s history are those of Richard Petty (No.43), Jeff Gordon (No.24), Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (No.3), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (No.8), and Tony Stewart (No.20).

Almost Everything 

In reality, modern stock cars share very little with vehicles that are built for the street. Although a race car may look somewhat like a Camaro, Mustang, or Camry, the underpinnings of the vehicle are entirely different.

Focusing on aerodynamics and power (while ignoring nearly all creature comfort) is what it takes to go as fast as NASCAR requires. 

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In the Garage with CarParts.com is an online blog dedicated to bringing DIYers and devoted car enthusiasts up to date with topical automotive news and lifestyle content. Our writers live and breathe automotive, taking the guess work out of car repairs with how-to content that helps owners get back on the road and keep driving.

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