Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
NASCAR has developed far beyond its 1940s origins of bootleggers and moonshiners running souped-up engines in their standard-looking road cars; the fundamental ethos remains, but the NASCAR racers of today are barely related to their showroom namesakes. Take the Toyota Camry, for example: like all of the current grid line-up, it features a silhouette bodyshell draped over a spaceframe, front-engined and rear-wheel drive with a proper manual gearbox. The engine is a pushrod 16v V8 which may sound archaic, but the amount of money poured into the series ensures that this old-school engine design is brought as up-to-date as physically possible. These monsters post average race speeds of over 180mph, with 210+ possible with slipstreaming. They're brutal, noisy and somewhat enigmatic in construction; in some areas very simple and basic, in others fiendishly complex.
The rules of the Sprint Cup in which these Camrys compete stipulate that the cars run an EFI V8 with a compacted graphite iron block and pushrod two-valves-per-cylinder valvetrain, with a displacement cap of 358ci (5.8-litres). But these bent-eights are fearsomely high-tech, with mean piston speeds comparable to Formula One engines - 900bhp at 9,800rpm is not unheard of. The cars are rugged and robust, but don't go thinking that NASCAR is a meathead pursuit in which the drivers just go round and round in a circle... it's an incredibly strategic automotive ballet in which positions are won and lost incrementally via slipstreaming and closing gaps. And remember that it's all happening in a tight pack at eye-watering speed. It's no wonder the accidents, when they happen, are massive.
We don't get a lot of exposure to NASCAR here in the UK, it's not a huge cultural thing like it is in the USA. So it's great to see them at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, surprising people up the hillclimb as they demonstrate that they can actually go around corners. (The odd fire burnout doesn't go amiss either.) And yes, it may seem jarring to some that Toyota should be such a big name in this apple pie institution, but you have to remember the parity aspect - all of these cars have to be broadly similar. So there's TRD tweaking afoot, but it's the same basic rumbling V8 that everyone else has. And it's scary.
More from the 2015 FoS here.