What’s the difference between your car and a racing car?

How similar is your car to the race cars the pros drive? What are the major differences between a race car and the car sitting in your garage?

If you’re the kind of person that works hard, has limited free time, and wants your car ready to go for the track, the Atomic Autosports team at Rad Air in Wickliffe can complete your vehicle projects on-time and have you ready to go for the track.

1. Engine: the Power Generated 

The basic race car engine design is not that much different from an average car on the street. However, usually the engine block is custom-made and it tends to be much larger for racing events. V8 race engines are used for race cars and they run at a rating of 800 horsepower and higher. About 37.7 percent of passenger cars on the road today run a 4-cylinder engine with a small block, the most of any engine type. 

While several other factors are similar (like piston size and overall engine size and design), the average car on the street has a 4-cylinder engine, generating 200 horsepower. Of all cars sold today, about 54.2 percent have the 4-cylinder engine. The race car engine is approximately four times more powerful. 

2. The Way the Camshaft Works

The biggest difference is how the engine’s camshaft (or cam) operates. The camshaft controls the valves’ opening and closing, like breathing in and out of a lung, only this happens inside the engine. 

The cam regulates the fuel/air mixture the engine can pull in and out. The power generated by an engine is dictated by the amount of fuel that it can burn efficiently. 

The camshaft also keeps the intake valves open longer at higher speeds in a race car for additional airflow and peak engine performance. If you did that to the average car on the street, the engine would be far less powerful at lower, street-legal speeds.

3. The Overall Design

Several design differences allow race cars to be driven extremely hard, then after a short period to be rebuilt for the next race. Average vehicles on the street are rarely pushed to the same mechanical limits. They must run for tens of thousands of miles with minimal maintenance.

The chassis of a stock car is lightweight but firm enough to handle the high stresses of racing. Therefore, the car’s weight must be distributed with the heavier parts closer to the midpoint of the car. A roll cage serving as a chassis is designed with a 24-gauge sheet metal body covering to close the cockpit. 

The deck lid (roof) and hood are carbon fiber, roughly 50 percent lighter than steel. The entire car is wind tunnel designed to maximize downforce, the downward thrust created by the vehicle moving through the air and ultimately making the tires push down for more grip.

The energy generated by the engine is maximized. Aerodynamics are so important to on-track performance, and with historical racing as well, NASA has a partnership with NASCAR for aerodynamic testing. 

4. Tires

The tires used in race cars are very different from those used on an average vehicle on the street. The demands placed on tires are from speed and temperature, and they can be extreme. The tires on race cars are wider and softer and they are formulated with specail compounds that are approved by NASCAR. If the race track is a mile or more in lenth, NASCAR has the requirement of both outer and inner tires. 

The inner tire is mounted on the inside of the outer tire. Should the outer tire deflate, then the inner tire is there to take over and the driver can bring the car to stop in a controlled manner. 

As well, there are no treads on the tires used in NASCAR. The bald design allows the tire’s surface to be completely exposed to the track. This maximizes the tire’s ability to grip a dry track. 

The most significant differences between a race car and the car in your garage boil down to specialization. When a win for your or your favorite driver can be determined by a tenth of a second, the cumulative effect of all those modifications is significant.


Atomic Autosports offers car prep services for autocrossers, track day enthusiasts, and race car drivers. From custom alignments and fluid exchanges to brake suspension and upgrades.

Save time and make sure that it’s done right. Let the experienced team work with you to get your car ready for the track.