What is fire? (NASCAR Fuel)

In his most recent column, “What exactly is fire?” (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/021122.html), I think Cecil mixes up his fuels.

I don’t really follow NASCAR very closely, but I think they used a leaded gasoline (they have yet to enter the fuel-injection era). I think Cecil is confusing NASCAR with Indy and Champ Cars (which both burn clean-burning Methanol).

You are correct in your analysis. NASCAR uses gasoline supplied by Union 76, which will burn just like your passenger car. Methanol is used by Indy Cars of both circuits, hence the fire with no flame. I prefer to see cars on fire, so I naturally follow NASCAR.

Formula One cars also run gasoline. Engine fires are usually small and quickly extinguished, and collisions rarely spill much fuel (the fuel stays in the cell). If big fires are your thing, keep an eye on the pit lane.


NASCAR uses 101 Ocatane leaded gasoline.

It’s funny that this came up when it did, because if you were watching the Winston Cup race from Homestead last weekend, you could see the very visible flames from the fuel tank of Jimmy Spencer’s car as it hit the wall. And if you also watched the CART race from Mexico City on the same day, you would have seen - or not seen that is - the invisible flames of a Methonol fire when Tonky Kanaan’s clutch slipped while the car was being re-fueld, tearing the fueling hose apart (4 crewmen were burned, but not badly). From one camera angle of that one, you could see the waves of heat above the fire. But Methanol flame isn’t always invisible, it can be seen in the dark.

Also, calling Methanol “clean-burning” isn’t exactly true. Because complete combustion of all the fuel fails to happen, a major by-product of the exhaust of these race cars is Formaldehyde. If you’ve ever been to one of these races, you know that smell. Of course in this case when you are talking about an open fire, I guess you could say the Methanol is burning clean.

NASCAR engines use 110 octane race gas which is leaded. If the octane were only 101, it would be unleaded race gas. Several attempts have been made to make these engines survive on unleaded fuel. No luck so far. Detonation or pre-ignition are not the problem, valve seat recession is the problem.

But the larger point is: why is NASCAR so technically backward? Why aren’t fuel injection, computerized engine management, traction control, ABS brakes, data collection systems, and many other technical advancements approved for use?

Too costly? Not likely, since NASCAR is awash in television money. To technical? Not likely, since most top teams have factory engineers guiding their crew chiefs.
Loss of power? Most likely: the loss of power and control of the sanctioning body over clever engineers.

NASCAR would like to propagate the myth that its all about the drivers, and driving ability, which is just patent nonsense. A well trained chimpanzee could be taught to drive a properly set up race car. Repeat after me: its not racing, its a business, its not racing, its a business, its not…

F1 cars currently use fuel that somewhat resembles pump gas, but in the past they have used a “witches brew” fuel that more closely resembled dynamite than gasoline.

That’s what blew up in that video of Jos Verstappen, a pit fire these days would not be as energetic as that one.

Oh, that trainded Chimp remark is going a bit far. It might be easyish to drive a well set up race car, but it takes more than a priamte to have the skills to find that set up. That’s where the highest level of talent comes into play in NASCAR, the ability to communicate to the crew what changes the car needs to improve or maintain it’s handling as track and weather conditions change throughout the race. Also, it’s a far more physical exercise than one might think, with constatant G-loading, and cockpit tempratures up to 150º F. Because of this, Fat drivers who used to be competitve have been all but barred from victory lane by guys who take their physical conditioning seriously.

As for why NASCAR doesn’t change, it’s basically the old adage, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (said in a thick southern accent). There would be a major cost hit to teams and manufacuters, though, if there was a switch to OHC fuel injected motors, as the manufactures would have to create such a motor for the series, and the teams would have to re-tool their engine building shops, and proably hire completly new staff. Personally, I would be all for such a switch, as well as a change to safer composite Monocoque chassis, but not for ABS and TC because they really do take quite a bit of driver skill away from the sport.

They would not have to develop a new engine. Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler all have factory-sponsored teams running in other series using much more highly advanced engines.

Ford as the Jaguar F1 team running a Cosworth/Lotus designed engine.

GM-owned Opel Astras compete in the German DTM touring car series. Also, a variation of the Northstar V8 is used in the Cadillac LMP car.

DaimlerChrysler provides engines to the Mercedes/Mclaren F1 team, they run cars in the DTM, as well as LMP and Prototype cars in the Le Mans series.

It is a business, not a sport. Sure, it takes some ability, but I have a feeling that Schumy or Colin McRae would drive circles around NASCAR’s finest in any car.

There is no Lotus in Ford Cosworth.

Just because the current manufactueres build OHC EFI engines in other series doesn’t mean they wouldn’t need to build a completly new one for a new NASCAR formula. After all, there is a massive difference between a 4.0L DTM V8, and 3.0 L F1 V10s. They would likely not relate directly to whatever theoretical engine formula NASCAR might come up with. And that would cost a bunch of money that they aren’t currently spending. And to what gain? So that a few snobs will stop looking down their noses at the carbourators?

Colin McRae recently drove a ASCAR (there has never been a more unfortunate racing acronym) stock car in England, and didn’t embarass himself. Of course they are greatly underpowered by comparison to Winston Cup machinery. I’m a fan or pretty much all kinds of racing - I had just as much fun going to a NASCAR race at Louden as I had at the USGP this year - and frankly, I get sick of people underestimating the skill it takes to race competitively in Winston Cup. Michael Schumacher would likely have just as much trouble coming to grips with their cars as Jeff Gordon would with an F1 machine.

It’s a buisness and a sport.

One could as easily ask why racing yachts don’t have engines fitted, why marathoners aren’t allowed to ride a bike or why tennis players aren’t allowed to serve using a compressed air ball cannon.

Every sport consists of a competition within arbitrary rules. Just because a relevant technology exists doesn’t mean you then have to alter the rules of appropriate sports to utilise it.

sterwill writes:

Sorry to be so long in attending to this. The erroneous parenthetical remark was inserted by the copy desk. Fixed.

The Master apologises?
Oh, no, he puts the blame right where it belongs.
Your tell 'em.

The Master apologises?
Oh, no, he puts the blame right where it belongs.
You tell 'em.