Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rookie Stripe: Fuel for Speed -- NASCAR Gasoline

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

I have a little red Prius. She’s six years old and takes unleaded gas. I’ve never named her, though I thought about it a few times. At the gas station, I pull out my credit card and fill her up to her capacity of nine gallons, which usually lasts me almost two weeks, if I’m careful.

Back when I was still learning about NASCAR, I noticed that race cars go through a lot of fuel. So I thought, Stock cars probably run on the same unleaded fuel as my red Prius, right?

Not exactly. Let's put on the brakes and focus on racing fuel.

First-Class Fuels


Sunoco® has been the official fuel of NASCAR since 2004 and is the exclusive gasoline for the three top series -- Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Estimates vary, but around 5,000 gallons are needed to fuel the Daytona 500, or as much as 450,000 gallons of Sunoco racing fuel in a season for all three series combined. Race teams use Sunoco Green E15, actually green in color, and made specifically for high-performance race engines. According to Sunoco's website, the gasoline is a 98 octane fuel blend and contains 15 percent ethanol by weight to keep moisture out of both gas cans and race cars. The fuel is made at Sunoco’s facility in Pennsylvania and transported cross-country by tanker to every NASCAR race.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
"So how do you make horsepower with racing fuel? Remember the "O" words -- octane and oxygenates. Basically the more fuel and air mixture you can push through an internal combustion engine, along with higher RPM's and a higher compression ratio, then the more horsepower you can generate with it." – Whitfield Oil Company, Sonoco distributor 

High-Octane Handlers

As high-powered as Sunoco racing fuel is, you’ll find some of NASCAR’s most powerful athletes handling it. Gas men, part of the six-man over the wall pit crew, are some of the largest and strongest on the teams. On race days, gas tanks are filled an hour or so prior to the race and put in a staging area in each pit box. Gas runners get the fuel from a fuel distribution area in the infield, which is close to pit road and staffed by Sunoco crew members.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Gas dump cans weigh in around 90-plus pounds when full. During a pit stop, the gas man -- wearing fire retardant protective gear, apron and Nomex® head sock -- will hoist the 12-gallon dump cans over the wall, with the help of other crew members who stay behind the wall. Usually a team will use up to two full cans per pit stop. The gas man empties them into the car’s fuel cell in mere seconds, throwing the cans back over the wall when he’s done with each one. They are caught by pit support crew members, who put the cans on wheeled carts and run them back to the Sunoco fuel station.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
During a pit stop, fueling the car happens in about 12 seconds. In that amount of time, my red Prius and I are probably still sitting at the gas station.

Want to learn more?
For a quick video on the No. 14 team's gas man:
Smokin’ Aces: Life as a NASCAR Gas Man
Read about how teams figure out fuel mileage on NASCAR.com: When Fuel is All that Matters

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