Formula One Racing For Dummies
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If you're a newcomer to NASCAR, learning some basics — like the differences between the NASCAR series and what the flags signal during a race — will have you talking like a race pro in no time. And if you're heading to a NASCAR race, know what items to take (and not to take) so your day at the track is fun and safe.

The NASCAR main series

NASCAR has many different racing series, featuring drivers from all over and with various levels of talent competing in a set number of events and following rules by the sanctioning body. The three national NASCAR series are:

  • NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is where you can find NASCAR’s stars, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars weigh 3,450 pounds, and their engines produce about 850 horsepower, meaning the cars can reach speeds above 180 mph at some tracks.

  • NASCAR Nationwide Series: Many drivers from the NASCAR Nationwide Series move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after they hone their driving skills. Some of the stars from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series also race here, for practice and the love of competition. Some drivers, such as series starts leader Jason Keller, stay in this series because they prefer the competition. NASCAR Nationwide Series cars weigh 3,400 pounds, and their engines produce about 750 horsepower, making the cars slightly slower than their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series counterparts.

  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was created in 1995. It features souped-up pickup trucks with engines that produce about 750 horsepower. Trucks are capable of going about 180 mph on certain tracks. This series is similar to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with many drivers hoping to advance to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition and others who are happy earning a living driving race trucks.

What the NASCAR race flags mean

At the start of the NASCAR race, keep your eye on the flagman (a NASCAR official), who is perched above the race track at the start/finish line in a crow’s nest of sorts. They’re waving different colored flags at the drivers as they zoom by in their race cars. These are the various flags used and what they signal:

  • Green flag: The flagman waves this flag to start or restart a race. Green means go, so when a driver sees this flag, they slam on the gas pedal and take off.

  • Yellow flag: A yellow flag means NASCAR officials have called a caution period because an accident or debris on the track makes driving conditions dangerous. When drivers see a yellow flag, they know they must slow down to line up behind the pace car and drive cautiously around the track until the track has been cleared.

  • Red flag: Drivers must stop on the track — in a designated area — when they see the flagman wave a red flag. It means it isn’t safe for drivers to circle the track because of inclement weather or poor track conditions.

  • Black flag: When the flagman waves a black flag at a driver, that driver must get off the track and go to the pits immediately. They did something wrong or their car isn’t fit to be on the track.

  • Blue flag with diagonal yellow stripe: This flag alerts a driver that a faster, lead-lap car is about to pass them and they must yield to that car.

  • White flag: This flag means that the race leader has one lap to go in the race.

  • Checkered flag: When the checkered flag waves, a driver has crossed the finish line and won the race.

  • Green–white–checkered flag sequence: If there is a caution during the final laps, this flag sequence announces that there will be a green-flag restart of a couple laps. A green flag signals the first lap of the restart, and the white flag signals the final lap that leads to the checkered flag. It was added in 2004 to help ensure a race doesn’t end under caution. Races get only one chance for a green–white–checkered finish. If a caution waves during a green–white–checkered finish, the race is over.

What to pack for a NASCAR race

Going to a NASCAR race is a lot of fun, but if you haven’t been to a race before, here’s a handy list of what to bring with you and what to leave at home:

  • Do bring binoculars to a race, no matter where you’re sitting. Even if you have the best seats in the house, it’s difficult to see the teams, cars, and drivers up close, especially at a big track.

  • Do bring a camera with a telephoto lens (which brings the action closer to you) if you want a good picture of the cars on the track.

  • Do bring earplugs, especially for children. NASCAR races are loud, with decibel levels that can rival the roar of an airplane engine. The best kinds of noise deterrents are headsets that actually muffle the sound. If you’re the macho type who doesn’t want to wear earplugs, your ears may ring, and your head may hurt the next day.

  • Do bring a raincoat. Umbrellas aren’t allowed in the grandstands because they get in the way of other fans’ views of the track.

  • Do dress for the weather. It can be steamy and sweltering at races held in the summer but cold, damp, and windy at races in the spring or fall. Be prepared, and check the weather forecast before you leave for a race.

  • Do wear sunscreen. You’re a perfect candidate for sunburn when you watch a race. You sit in aluminum grandstands for four hours in the middle of the day. Sunscreen can prevent an uncomfortable ride home, not to mention skin cancer.

  • Do bring a seat cushion if you want a more comfortable perch in the stands.

  • Do bring a radio or scanner if you want to keep track of what’s going on during a race. Wear headphones, though, so you can hear the conversations without the huge distraction of the engine noise.

  • Do bring lots of liquids so you can stay hydrated on hot days. Just like drivers and crew members, fans need to drink plenty of liquids to keep themselves from dehydrating. You wouldn’t believe the number of fans who are taken to the hospital with heat stroke or exhaustion on a hot Sunday race day.

  • Do pack food if you don’t want to spend money on concessions.

  • Don’t bring any glass containers into the grandstands.

  • Don’t bring any coolers that are bigger than 14 x 14 x 14 inches.

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