Sprint Car 101: The Cockpit


(WOMR file photo)

The Cockpit

The sprint car cockpit sure isn’t built for comfort!

Just trying to climb into this cramped cockpit can be a major effort, requiring the driver to maneuver and contort their body in order to get through the chassis bars, the wing, crash bars, seat, torque tube, steering box, and many more things!  To make entry into the cockpit somewhat easier, the steering wheel is a quick release type, meaning it can be removed to aid driver entry.

Once in the cockpit, the seating position is very upright.  The driver has a 5 point seat belt/shoulder harness setup.  Because of that harness, the driver has very limited body movement.  Additionally, the driver has poor vision, because of the wing, and the high bonnet of the car.  He cannot see the front of the car and the front wheels.

Rock screens are used to prevent rocks, chunks of clay, and other “flying missiles” from penetrating the cockpit during the race, which also limits visibility. Wrap around seats, as well as head and neck restraint devices, such as a HANS system, means that the driver has very limited peripheral vision.  To make things even worse, the drivers use plastic strips called “tear-offs” on their race helmet visor, limiting vision additionally.  The idea of the tear-offs is that when a driver’s vision becomes impaired from mud, the tear off can be removed, leaving a clear view once again.  In a 20 lap feature, the driver may use as many as 20 tear-offs.

Sitting above the driver’s knees is the power steering box.  Most cars are fitted with knee guards to protect the driver’s knees in a crash.  The driver straddles the drive line, which is encased by torque tube.  A hoop around the torque tube is used to keep it from causing injury to the driver in a crash.

A sprint car is fitted with only two (2) pedals, the brake on the left and “the loud pedal”, the accelerator on the right.  The accelerator is usually fitted with a hoop that the driver’s foot slips into so that it doesn’t come off of the pedal when bouncing over ruts.  It also serves a purpose in case the throttle sticks, the driver can lift up on the accelerator hoop to prevent a stuck accelerator. Sprint cars do not have a gear box, so there is no need for a clutch pedal!

The instrument panel, or dashboard, of a sprint car cockpit does not have an elaborate array of gauges. Usually a sprint car will be equipped with only a tachometer, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges. An oil pressure light is commonly fitted in the cockpit to alert the driver if the oil pressure has dropped to dangerous levels, indicating a possible engine problem.  An ignition switch, usually a simple toggle switch is all that is required to start a sprint car, no keys or starter motors.  A fuel tap allows the driver to turn the fuel off.

Controls available to the driver in a sprint car cockpit are fairly limited, as well.  The shifter knob allows the driver to put the car into and out of gear, and is linked directly to the rear end by a cable.  Shifters come in all types and shapes, but the objective is still the same, to make sure that the car is locked in or completely out of gear.

Lastly, the driver is able to adjust the big wing angle using a slider valve.  This allows the driver to change the handling characteristics of the car to suit the track conditions.  Additionally, some cars are fitted with adjustable shock absorbers, which can be manipulated by the driver in the cockpit.  Also brake bias can be adjusted by the driver, although not that many cars may be fitted with this feature.

Alas, you have now the basic knowledge of sprint car composition, Sprint Car 101!



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