Friday 5: Family’s inspiration provides drive for NASCAR tire carrier


As 5-year-old Brett Sanchelli recovered from his internal injuries, he’d sit at the end of his sister’s bed in the hospital room they shared.

He always wanted to help her. If there wasn’t anything to do, Brett just wanted to be with his 4-year-old sister. Maybe they would play a game. If they did, he’d move all the pieces. Courtney couldn’t. The accident left her a quadriplegic. 

While Brett helped as caretaker when Courtney returned to their home in Jefferson Township, New Jersey, he was always her big brother. He’d feed her, push her wheelchair on strolls and do whatever he could to make her smile. 

Courtney’s resiliency inspired him. As did his mother and father, whose selflessness kept the family together during many difficult days.  

After Brett turned 18, he honored his sister and parents with a tattoo. The image is covered by the firesuit he wears as a tire carrier for Michael McDowell’s pit crew. But if Sanchelli peeled his uniform and the shirt underneath off, one would see, above his heart, a shield similar to Superman’s. Instead of an S in the emblem, there is the letter H for heart.

“We were always about heart,” Brett said, sitting next to Courtney on the deck of their parents’ home along High Rock Lake near Lexington, North Carolina. 

“We never gave up. We always fought through any adversity that life threw at us.”

No day was worse than Aug. 30, 2000, for the family.

Debbie Sanchelli had Brett and Courtney with her when their vehicle veered off the road about a mile-and-a-half from their home and smashed into a tree. 

A family friend who was an EMT was in traffic behind Debbie. The friend and a police officer, who was nearby, quickly arrived and began to perform CPR on Courtney. A paramedic on a training run heard the call and was the first ambulance on site by four minutes. 

Brett’s pre-kindergarten teacher saw the family’s car and stopped. Debbie, who suffered a broken hip, leg and ankle, told the teacher to get her husband. When Michael was informed of the crash, he rushed out of the house without shoes.

Brett Sanchelli laughs with his sister Courtney while spinning her wheelchair on the deck of their family’s home in Lexington, NC (Photo: Dustin Long)

At the hospital, a doctor told Michael that Courtney might not live through the night. Courtney’s heart stopped multiple times over the next week. At one point, Michael was asked about signing a do-not-resuscitate order for his daughter. He needed to talk to Debbie, but she was two floors above her children’s hospital room under medication for her injuries. 

It has taken years, but Debbie says the day of the accident is “a day we’ve come to almost celebrate. I know it’s hard for people, when they look at Courtney, to understand that it could have been worse. She’s fully cognizant. So, like any child growing up, she can tell me she loves me. … But it could have been so much worse. We’re grateful to all be here.” 

Debbie wipes a tear.

“We don’t talk about it a lot,” Michael said. “It’s there. It’s never going to leave. That day … your worst nightmare.”

Courtney looks at that day and doesn’t lament her fate. Instead, she looks at what she has. 

“I could have lost everything,” she said. “I could have lost my brother. I could have lost my mom. He means the world to me, as much as I’m sure I mean to him. Without him, I don’t know where I would be in life, where I would be spiritually, mentally and physically.”

Brett Sanchelli looks at the graphic design work Courtney has done on her computer. (Photo: Dustin Long)

With Courtney facing major surgery in early 2012 that had her anxious, Brett sought to find a way to make her feel better. He and a friend hatched a campaign to get her nominated for homecoming queen in fall 2011. 

The day the nominees were announced, Brett was excused from school to get his driver’s license. Debbie recalls him going to school so he could hear the announcements and if Courtney, then a sophomore, would be nominated before he went to get his license that day.

The day that the homecoming queen would be announced at the school’s football game, it rained. Trying to get Courtney to the middle of the field in her wheelchair would be a chore, but members of the community collected plywood. They placed the pieces on the field so she could be pushed to midfield by Brett.

They were together when Courtney was selected as homecoming queen.

“That was the best feeling ever to get to see that smile on your face when we won,” Brett tells Courtney on their family’s deck.

“That was pretty good,” Courtney says, who keeps the tiara from that night in a case among other prized possessions. 

Debbie dabs her eye as she thinks about that night and what Brett did for Courtney.

“It was probably one of the proudest moments, knowing that I raised a son who was so selfless and wanted to do that for his sister,” she said. “And great joy on her behalf, knowing that there was a lot she wouldn’t be able to do, and that the community and students got together to support her and to give her that nod.”

The tattoo Brett Sanchelli had put over his heart in honor of his sister Courtney and their parents. (Photo: Dustin Long)

After Brett graduated from high school, he faced one of his most difficult challenges. He wanted to be a pit crew member after seeing the crews in action in a race at Dover International Speedway, but to do so meant moving from New Jersey to North Carolina and leaving his sister and parents behind. 

“It was definitely difficult,” said Brett, who left home a couple of months after graduating high school. “I visited about a month after I left and every time I visited it was harder to leave.”

On those occasions he made it back home, one night was set aside for Courtney. It was popcorn-and-movie night.

“She got to pick the movie,” Debbie said, “and he would just sit at her bedside or crawl into the bed and snuggle with her and they’d watch their movie.”

These days, Courtney takes college classes online. Her dream is to be a graphic designer. 

To Brett, she is so much more. She is inspirational.

“Everybody has God-given abilities to do everyday things that she cannot do,” he said. “I never take that for granted. I told myself that I would rather use up every ounce of my God-given ability than ever waste an ounce of it.”

That pushes him each day he trains at RFK Racing as a member of McDowell’s pit crew for Front Row Motorsports.

“You got to work hard every single day,” he said. “You have to be driven. Some people wake up and they think, ‘Oh, today is an off day.’ I don’t ever think I’m going to have an off day.”

Each day he removes his shirt is a reminder of what his family has endured and how they’ve overcome challenges. 

“I’m always thinking about them,” Brett said. “They are the reason why I go out there on Sundays. Everybody has to have a why. Otherwise you’re just doing just based off willpower, and willpower eventually wears out. 

“You’ve got to have a why. The reasons why you get up every single day, why you do the things that you do and things that you love. They are. Every single day.”

2. Comparing Kevin Harvick to other greats

Kevin Harvick’s victory at Richmond at the age of 46 years, 8 months and 6 days does not make him the oldest driver to win a Cup race, but what Harvick has done puts him in elite company when looking at age-related achievements in other sports.

The oldest NBA player to score at least 40 points in a game is 23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan. He was 40 years and 4 days when he scored 43 points against what was then the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 21, 2003.

The oldest NFL quarterback to throw five touchdowns in a game is Tom Brady. He was 44 years, 2 months, 7 days when he did it Oct. 10, 2021, vs. the Miami Dolphins. 

The oldest Major League Baseball pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Nolan Ryan. He was 44 years, 3 months and 1 day when he no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays on May 1, 1991. 

But Harvick still has a ways to go to catch some marks.

The oldest driver to win a Cup race is Harry Gant, who was 52 years, 7 months and 6 days when he won at Michigan on Aug. 16, 1992.

The oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby is Bill Shoemaker, who was 54 years, 8 months and 15 days when he won the 1986 Kentucky Derby aboard Ferdinand.

3. Staying positive

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson is winless in his last 22 Cup races and has four top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts, but he’s kept a positive outlook on what has been a challenging year.

A year ago, Larson had one of the greatest seasons in U.S. motorsports history. He won the Cup championship, the All-Star Race and 10 points races. His five playoff wins matched Tony Stewart’s record in 2011 for most during the postseason.

In 2021, Larson won the Chili Bowl Nationals, the most prestigious midget car race in the country. He won the Knoxville Nationals, the premier sprint car race in the country and also won the Kings Royal, another elite event. He won the Prairie Dirt Classic dirt late model race, among the country’s top events for that series.

The wins, though, haven’t come as often this year in any form of racing for Larson.

NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400
Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson’s only Cup win this year came in February at Auto Club Speedway, but he feels his team is pointed in the right direction to make a deep playoff run. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “I’d probably be in a better mood if I was winning all the time, but I still feel like I’ve done a good job of staying positive though not winning as much. I have a pretty realistic mindset. … I won 46 races in 2020 and 33 last year. 

“That’s a lot of to win. Not often you see someone win that much. I realistically know that you’re going to have bumps in the road. Kind of everything went right for me the last couple of years. It seems like this year not much has gone right.”

But with the playoffs near, Larson feels confident about what’s ahead.

“I feel like we’re getting some momentum to the tail end of our regular season,” he said. “We’ve had good cars every week, so that’s the most important piece, I feel like, to contend for the championship. 

“It’s about limiting our mistakes as a whole, and I think we can make a good run at it. Everybody’s season has really been inconsistent, maybe aside from Chase (Elliot) there for a month and a half or two months. If you can find consistency, I think you can make a deep run in the playoffs.”

4. Next Gen will make Glen a different experience 

This weekend marks the first time the Next Gen car has competed at Watkins Glen. The only time the Next Gen car has been at Watkins Glen was for a May 24-25 tire test with Chris Buescher, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.

Christopher Bell said the Next Gen car should change things based on what he experienced in the simulator this week.

“It is a lot different,” Bell said. “The run-off area we have outside the carousel, we would use that all the time with the old car, but with the Next Gen car it just becomes very sketchy whenever you  jump over the rumble strips,” he said, noting the Next Gen’s underside and how it impacts aerodynamics. “The really rough racetrack on the outside there, makes the car very unsettled. I would expect that to be completely different.

“The bus stop, the way you jump off the curbs and land really abruptly, I think that will be really different too. … Certain parts of the racetrack are going to be vastly different.”

Kyle Larson hasn’t been on the track but he’s studied data and an on-board camera from Byron’s car from the test. 

“It’s a much faster pace,” Larson said of his observations. “I just feel like you don’t have as much time to relax. I feel like we’ll be running qualifying laps the whole time. I don’t think you’re going to be able to pass very well. Restarts and stuff, you may be able to get people, but as soon as things get strung out, it will be very, very difficult to pass just because the braking zones are way shorter than the previous car (with the better brakes on the Next Gen car).”

Larson noted that there’s a chance of rain for Sunday’s race. 

“I honestly hope it rains because I think that will make the racing a lot better,” he said. 

5. Number crunching

Chase Elliott will clinch the regular season title with a 61-point lead over second place after Watkins Glen. He currently holds a 116-point lead on second heading into Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).

Ryan Blaney holds the final playoff spot. He leads Martin Truex Jr. by 26 points. Blaney has outscored Truex by 53 points in the four previous road course races this season.

Seven of the 16 drivers who won races last season have yet to win this year. They are AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, Blaney and Truex.

Fifteen different winners through 24 races ties for the most through 24 races.

Chevrolet has won all four road course races this year. Trackhouse Racing and Richard Childress Racing have two wins each. Ross Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas and Daniel Suarez won at Sonoma for Trackhouse Racing. Tyler Reddick won at Road America and Indianapolis for RCR.


New NASCAR Cup season features several changes


While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:


— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 


— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.


Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.


— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.

Friday 5: Clash at Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing


Mired in traffic was not where Chris Buescher expected to be. Sure, he knew that racing 22 cars on a quarter-mile track inside a stadium that has hosted the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Series would put him in tight confines, but when the green flag waved for last year’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Buescher was in traffic on the freeway.

He was headed to the airport — along with the rest of RFK Racing. 

Both Buescher and team owner Brad Keselowski failed to make last year’s feature, sending them home earlier than expected.

“A punch to the gut,” Buescher told NBC Sports.

NASCAR’s return to the Coliseum for Sunday’s Clash is not a redemption tour for RFK Racing, said Jeremy Thompson, the team’s vice president of race operations. He calls it a reset.

That’s what last year was thought to be with Keselowski leaving Team Penske to become an owner/driver of an organization that had gone more than four years without a points victory before 2022. The Clash was a chance for RFK Racing to show its new direction.

Instead, RFK Racing and Spire Motorsports were the only multi-car teams not to have a car in the feature.

“Yes, it was not a points race, but it just looked bad,” Buescher said. “And it was bad. It hurt our feelings more than anybody else’s, I promise.”

Through that disappointment, lessons were learned.

“We didn’t have a lack of hunger that was holding us back,” Keselowski said of last year’s Clash. “We had a lack of understanding our vehicle dynamics. Understanding was just not good enough on a lot of levels.

“We continue to invest in resources and people to continue to push that forward to where we can go to events like that and feel that we’re a threat to win and we’re not just trying to make the race.

“I don’t think I understood that when I came in, where we were at as a company on the vehicle dynamics side.”

It was clear immediately that Buescher and Keselowski were in trouble. Buescher was 21st on the speed chart in practice; Keselowski was 33rd of 36 cars. 

“The car bounced so bad that I thought we were going to rip the transmission right out,” Buescher said of last year’s Clash weekend. “We spent all of practice trying to make the car just drive in a circle vs. trying to make it faster. We missed … before we ever left (the shop).”

Said Thompson about last year’s Clash: “I felt like our effort going into that was exceptionally high. We left no stone unturned. We just turned over some of the wrong stones.”

Two weeks later, both Keselowski and Buescher won their qualifying races at Daytona, but there was much work to do to overcome flaws with other parts of their program.

“We’re pushing really hard on vision and values of what it takes to be a high performer at this level, whether that is getting all the details right in the shop or on the road,” Keselowski said.

RFK Racing learned from its struggles early in the season, particularly with its short track program. Buescher, who had never placed better than 16th at Phoenix at the time, finished 10th there last March, a little more than a month after the Clash. He called his top 10 that day “a small win.”

Progress continued but it was not quick. Buescher placed third at Richmond last August before winning the Bristol night race in the playoffs. Keselowski was seventh at New Hampshire last July and won the first stage at the Bristol night race in September before a flat tire ruined his chances.

Keselowski acknowledges that turning RFK Racing into a team that can contend weekly for wins will take some time, but he sees progress.

“We’re not everywhere we need to be, but we definitely have a plan to get there,” he said. “Navigating that plan is challenging, but we’re on a path.”

2. Why not more horsepower?

NASCAR will take what it learned in last week’s Phoenix test to the wind tunnel on Feb. 13. If the wind tunnel test of short track enhancements goes well, changes could be implemented before the April 2 race at Richmond.

The changes being tested in the wind tunnel are a smaller spoiler (2 inches) and some adjustments to the underbody of the car. 

Still, one suggestion drivers often make is to give them more horsepower.

“I think there’s a misconception that we could take the existing engines and just throw 200 horsepower in it,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in response to a question from NBC Sports. 

“We do have multiple-race engines today that we have to keep in mind. (More horsepower) is something that we are actively discussing, but, obviously, we don’t do that in a vacuum. We do that with the engine builders.

“But anybody that has been around, we’ve raced high horsepower and low downforce before and ended up at some point in time deciding to go away from that to get more entertaining racing. … I think we’re open to entertaining any horsepower gains that we can get with our current (engine) architecture, but anything beyond that is actually not something that can happen quickly.”

Probst later said that keeping the engines in the current horsepower range could prove helpful for any manufacturer looking to join the sport.

“One of the reasons we landed on the horsepower range we’re in now is to try to land in areas that have existing racing engines designed for them, similar to our current (manufacturers),” Probst said. “We’re not hiding from the fact that we would like to encourage some new (manufacturers) to come in. That is part of the equation for that whole thing. I’m not saying it’s the driving reason, but it is a consideration.”

3. Crossing the line

The quarter-mile oval in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will provide plenty of chances to hit bumpers, doors and other parts of the car Sunday.

But there’s a line between short track racing and racing without respect. 

For Ryan Preece, who is running his first race in the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend, there is a clear divide.

“There’s certainly a way to go about it in quarter-mile racing where you can pass somebody without hitting them,” said Preece, a veteran of racing modifieds in bullrings. 

So how does he tell what’s crossing the line on a short track?

“If somebody drives into me getting into the center of the corner, they’re in control of their race car at that point,” Preece said. “So that or door slamming somebody, not even trying to make the corner, are two good examples (of not racing with respect).”

Preece relies on a lesson he learned racing modifieds with how to race in close quarters.

“I’ll never forget this, I was at Thompson (Speedway) and I used (seven-time modified champion) Mike Stefanik up pretty well into Turn 2 with probably six or seven laps to go, trying to chase down the leader. It didn’t happen. 

“I said, ‘Oh, hey man, I’m sorry. I had to do what I had to do for my team.’ He looked at me and said ‘Well, what about my team? What about the guys I race with?’ 

“I think that day really helped me understand that side of things. You want to race with as much respect as you possibly can. There’s a way to do it, a way to race somebody hard but not overstep the line.”

4. On the same page

Ty Dillon moves to Spire Motorsports this season as a teammate to Corey LaJoie.

Dillon will drive the No. 77 car, which has never finished in the top 30 in car owner points since its debut in 2019. The best the car placed was 31st in owner points in 2021.

Dillon says he has confidence in building the program based on Spire Motorsports’ approach.

“We aren’t unrealistic about where we are,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

But he also said that management has workable goals.

“We said, ‘Hey, here’s where we stand in the spectrum of the race teams,’ ” Dillon said. “Here’s our goals. Here’s what we believe we can accomplish. The structure of what everybody knows and how we’re all pulling in the same direction is a real confidence (boost).

“We know we’re not going to be the team that competes every single weekend for wins, but we’re going to be the best at who we are. Over time, people are going to say, ‘Damn, Spire has taken a step.’ … We’re long-term focused and everybody’s on the same page as that.

“I’ve been a part of a team that said, ‘Hey, we’re wanting to build something.’ Well, you get 10 races in and they haven’t won a race and they’re throwing everybody out the door.”

Dillon said the “realistic, genuine expectation” at Spire Motorsports makes this situation feel different for him.

“The hope and optimism is knowing that we’re all on the same page,” he said.

5. Rule book changes 

NASCAR announced a series of rule changes this week and stated that it would outlaw the video game move Ross Chastain made on the final lap of last year’s Martinsville race. 

NASCAR also made a number of changes to the rule book this week.

Among those:

— Intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead a Cup driver to be penalized 25-50 points and/or 25-50 owner points and/or $50,000 – $100,000 fine. Last year, intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead only to a fine of $25,000 – $50,000.

— Member to member confrontations with physical violence and other violent manifestations could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension or membership revocation. Last year, such an infraction was listed as incurring a penalty of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or a fine of $50,000 – $100,000. Violations also could result in a race suspension(s), indefinite suspension or termination.

— In the past, if a car could not go when it was time to make a qualifying attempt, it was put on a five-minute clock to do so. That’s changed this year. Now, the clock will be no more than one minute unless it is a safety issue. 

Also, NASCAR listed the length of each Cup race. The inaugural Chicago Street Course Race is scheduled for 100 laps.

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup


Harrison Burton made the first start of his NASCAR Cup Series partnership with the Wood Brothers in the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Burton and the Woods teamed last season as Burton jumped into full-time Cup racing after two full seasons (and four wins) in the Xfinity Series. Their first race was the Clash at the Coliseum, and it was a good start — Burton qualified for the feature and finished 12th on the lead lap.

Then things headed downhill. Crashes at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway left Burton with finishes of 39th and 33rd, respectively. After the first five races of the year, he had four finishes of 25th or worse.

Now, Season Two, and there are higher expectations. Much higher.

MORE: Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

“The start of last year was really, really rough,” Burton told NBC Sports. “It kind of put us in a hole. We got into the wreck in the 500 and crashed at Fontana. Things kind of stack up on you, and all of a sudden you’re buried in points and it’s hard to make it back up.

“But, at the end of the year, three of the last four weekends were big for us (three consecutive top-20 finishes). We need to build off that and try to get out of the West Coast swing and have a clean group of those races. That’s really important. We need to get our average finish up in the first four to five races and not put ourselves in a hole we can’t get out of, and then go from there.”

The Wood Brothers team typically brings strong cars to the Daytona 500, the season’s first point race. Trevor Bayne scored the team’s latest win in stock car racing’s biggest event in 2011.

“We ran well in the 500 last year until I was upside down,” Burton said. “We had a fast car and qualified well and finished third in our duel. Then in the second Daytona race we put ourselves in good position late, so we were in contention in both Daytona races. The speed was there, and the cars drove well.”

The team’s primary goal is to make the playoffs, Burton said. “And we want to be a contender,” he said. “Cup races are so hard. First, you have to contend. Having a good average finish is really important. If you average around 17th or 18th all year, you can kind of point your way into the playoffs, and doing that is on our minds for sure.”

MORE: Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

Burton looks for a strong start in Sunday’s Clash, which will present teams with a mix of the old and the new. Drivers got the experience of racing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and notes from that race will be useful, but the racing surface will be all new again.

“Every repave has a different tendency,” Burton said. “We’ll see how close it is to last time and how different. Obviously, there is experience on that track, but still it’s a completely new surface, so it’s going to be a mixture of old and new. There’s some knowledge we can build off of, but we kind of have to go into the weekend with that knowledge as tentative because we don’t know if the track is going to be different.”

Burton heads for Los Angeles with a win already under his belt this year. He and teammate Zane Smith, last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, won last Friday’s International Motor Sports Association’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Burton drove the finishing laps in the four-hour race. He was third with about 50 minutes to go but moved in front with 22 minutes left when leader Elliott Skeer parked. Burton outran second-place Spencer Pumpelly by .688 of a second for the win.

“I thought we could run well,” Burton said. “After the test we did, we were really fast, so I was pretty excited. But apparently there is a lot of sandbagging that goes on there, so I wasn’t sure where we were. We had to have some things go right for us, and they did.”





Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

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Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.


The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.


Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.