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According to survey data collected by Gallup, 83 percent of adults in the United States drive frequently. However, relatively few people drive for sport. Automobile racing—a sport in which vehicles that are often specially designed or altered race on different types of courses—adds a different dimension to an otherwise routine activity. On roads, tracks, and closed circuits, drivers attempt to complete courses at the greatest speed possible.
Automobile racing has been around since modern cars were invented. The emergence can be pinpointed to 1985 when a race was held from Paris, France to Bordeaux, France and back. This was shortly after Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered car. The winner’s speed was merely 24.15 kilometers per hour, which is equivalent to about 15 miles per hour. Within a year, the sport moved to the United States, where a race was held in Illinois. Drivers raced from the city of Chicago to the city of Evanston. Today, competition cars routinely exceed an incredible 200 miles per hour, a testament to how the sport and motor technologies have advanced since then.
What makes automobile racing stand out from other popular, televised spectator sports? Automobile racing has eclipsed other competitive sports in the number of people who attend its events. The Indianapolis 500 brings in over 500,000 people annually, making it the largest paid-admission sporting event in the United States. Whether audiences are tuned into the television or packing the stands at the race tracks, the sport has mass appeal.
Just like any sport, certain players excel professionally and attract the attention of the masses. Some of the best-known racers today from around the world are Jimmie Johnson, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Lewis Hamilton, Kyle Busch, Kur Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Sebastian Vettel, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Niki Lauda, Helio Castroneves, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, and Kimi Kaikkonen. Each driver has a special niche in racing, with some drivers competing in multiple types of competitions or events.
Formula racing is the most famous professional sector of car racing, wherein a single-seater, open-wheel vehicle and driver are in a circuit race. Think of Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. Another category of races are sports car races, where two-seater vehicles compete on closed circuits. Unlike formula racing which has open-wheel design, sports car races have closed-wheel vehicles. The FIA World Endurance Championship is an example of this type of race. Stock car racing is predominant mostly in the U.S., focusing on vehicles that have not been modified beyond factory configuration. Picture the Sprint Cup Series and the Daytona 500—both of which are held by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), a name known well beyond the racing industry. Other types of racing include drag racing, rallying, touring car racing, production car racing, one-make racing, and monster truck racing.