Rookie Stripe: Need-to-Know NASCAR Lingo

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs  

"Auto racing, bull fighting and mountain climbing are the only real sports ... all others are games."
– Ernest Hemingway

by Logan Stewart

Just like a baby has to learn her native tongue, it takes time to pick up the language in any professional sport, if you’re not totally familiar with it. NASCAR has a complex, rough-and-tumble terminology that can baffle a fledgling fan.

If you’re newer to racing, it’s okay if you don't understand everything happening at the track. To people who don’t follow, NASCAR may seem like nothing but left turns, but the more time you spend following races the more comfortable you'll feel. While the list of NASCAR lingo could be almost endless, here are a few key phrases to start you on track to "talking the talk."

Banking – How sloped the track’s surface is at any given point from the outside edge. It's measured in degrees, ranging from just a few to as steep as 33 degrees. Read more in a previous Rookie Stripe column.

Burnout – The celebration by drivers after winning a race where they spin the cars wheels while staying still or turning in a circle, causing heat and smoke from the tire friction.

– Trash, or pieces of metal from damaged racecars, that are lying on the track surface or stuck on the windshields or grilles of cars.

Dirty air – Turbulent air currents, caused by cars running at high speeds, which create unstable air that puts other cars in danger of spinning out of control.

Downforce – The air that moves across the top of a racecar, creating a force that pushes the car more toward the track.

Drag – Forces that oppose the motion of the racecar, causing resistance that slows the car as it glides through the air.

Drafting – A technique drivers often use to reduce the amount of drag on their cars. By riding directly behind another car so closely that the bumper almost touches the tail, the downforce and air running along both cars gets better.

Gas n’ Go
– An abbreviated pit stop that involves just fueling the car or a splash of gas, rather than a full pit stop with tire changes.

Grip – How tightly the car hugs the track. When a car has less downforce, it normally has less grip.

Groove – A driver’s best way around the track during a race, following a route that will give him or her the most gains. A high groove will put the car close to the outside wall and higher on the banking while a low groove will put it closer to the apron (concrete that separates the track from the infield). Grooves are affected by the particular track characteristics, track conditions and the weather.
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Handling – How a car feels to the driver during practice, qualifying or racing, usually determined by aerodynamics, track conditions, weather, tires and other factors.

Loose – When the car begins to fishtail, oversteer and its rear tires have trouble sticking in corners. This happens when the rear tires lose traction before the front tires.

Lucky Dog – The Lucky Dog rule, instituted in 2003 for safety purposes, allows the first driver one lap down to get that lap back after a yellow caution flag and be back on the lead lap.

– The nickname for the small pieces of excess rubber that come off tires during the race due
to the high temperature of the tires. Marbles (or ‘loose stuff’) tend to be close to the outside wall of a racetrack because they are blown there by other cars, and they can cause race cars to lose control on the track.

On the Pole – The first-place starting spot for a car in a race. The driver gets to start in the pole position by running the fastest qualifying lap of all the competitors.

Pace lap – A non-racing lap taken by all cars in qualifying order behind a safety car at the beginning of a race.

Pit lane – A long strip of pavement in the infield of a NASCAR race that runs parallel to pit road, and houses pit stalls side-by-side. At many tracks, you’ll find hot-pass holders walking behind pit lane and viewing the race from behind the pits.

Pit stall – Each driver/team has a small area of concrete along pit road utilized for pit stops. Pit stalls are chosen for each race based on qualifying results. The first-place qualifier gets the first pit stall selection and so on. Each stall is a work area for the pit crew, including a small loft area from which the crew chief, car chief and VIPs can monitor the action.
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Restrictor Plate – A square aluminum plate with four small holes that slows the speed of a racecar by impeding horsepower. Restrictor plates are a NASCAR-mandated safety element at several tracks including superspeedways.

Running nose-to-tail – When cars run together with the front bumper of the trailing car close to the back bumper of the car ahead. Can be used as another term for drafting.

Tight – When a car is hard to turn and drivers have to decelerate. This happens when the racecar’s front tires lose traction before the rear tires. Drivers may say that a tight car is "plowing."

Tradin’ paint – When a racecar physically scrapes against another so that they leave paint on each other’s vehicles.

Track bar - Just underneath the rear of a stock car you’ll find the track bar, connecting the chassis on one end and the rear end housing on the other end. It helps distribute the car’s weight and affects how it takes turns on a track. Here's a previous Rookie Stripe column all about the track bar.

Victory Lane – The champion’s celebration area at the end of a race, usually complete with confetti, the trophy and a cheering crowd of team members.

More reading: Twenty NASCAR Terms You Need to Know
Rookie Stripe: Need-to-Know NASCAR Lingo Rookie Stripe: Need-to-Know NASCAR Lingo Reviewed by Logan Stewart on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 Rating: 5