800 Horsepower: Behind the Scenes, Under the Lights

by | Sep 24, 2018 | SPORTS

Most people don’t realize that the history of NASCAR is the history of bootlegging and blockade-running during the era of alcohol prohibition in the US, between 1920 and 1933. The outlaw origins of the sport started with drivers in Appalachia, including Virginia. These bootleggers would modify their cars for speed and handling in order to account for the increased weight of their illicit moonshine, and to give them an edge outrunning the police.

When prohibition was repealed in 1933, moonshine runners continued to develop their machines and by the 1940s they were racing their cars semi-professionally. 70 years later, RVA Mag went behind the scenes at Richmond Raceway during Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400, to see what happens when 40 cars running at 800 horsepower race in close quarters at over 100 miles per hour for around three hours.

Race Day at RIR. Photo by BW

Cars Almost to Fast to Film. Photo by BW

Today, NASCAR runs 36 races a year, two of which are at Richmond Raceway, a three-quarter mile track that runs its races at night. What most people don’t get to see is the sheer expanse of people, parts, and pageantry that goes into running one of these races: the five pit crew members for each vehicle, who can change four tires and refuel the car in 13 seconds; the crew chief and race engineers; the fighter jet fly-overs; the Marine Corps band; and of course, Governor Northam.

Marine Corps Band Singing the National Anthem. Photo by LS

Fly Over During Pre-Race. Photo by LS

And with the average age of current drivers hanging somewhere between 20 and 33, the sport has an energy and accessibility that is befitting of its origins, which makes the experience all-encompassing. The sheer volume of 40 cars that run at a decibel level almost 900 times above a person’s daily average for noise in-take, the percolating smell of fuel, the concrete track on pit-row that is sticky with burnt rubber from tires that are changed up to 12 times per race, and the athleticism of the crews who keep the cars running for all 400 laps.

Sets of Tires in the Garage Area. Photo by BW

Pit Crew in Action. Photo by LS

While the entry point for NASCAR might seem intimidating for first-time race-goers, the experience is unlike any other sport. And unlike other forms of motor sports, NASCAR is unique in that there is a certain level of egalitarianism to the way the teams are structured. What this means, in real terms, is that unlike Formula-1, the NASCAR team with the most money is not always likely to win.

For instance, NASCAR regulates just how big the engine can be, limiting the size to 358 cubic inches, restricting the amount of horsepower an engine can produce. This ultimately makes the racing experience more about driver competency, rather than dollars spent on high tech racing gear. Because of these rules, the race leaders of the change frequently – sometimes with multiple race leaders on a single lap.

Pre-Race Hangs in the Garages. Photo by BW

Going from Garage to Track. Photo by BW

Getting Ready to Race. Photo by LS

Regardless of what your impressions might be, unless you’ve been to a NASCAR race, they’re probably wrong. Richmond Raceway is one of the best tracks on the circuit, and any sport where you can both bring in your own beer and booze, and have the constant potential for death defying race-cars is a result. Some of RVA Mag’s best behind the scenes photo from the Saturday race can be found below:

Driver Matt DiBenedetto. Photo by BW

Driver Daniel Suárez. Photo by LS

Pit Crew, Kyle Larson. Photo by LS

On Pit Row, Waiting for Cars to Pit. Photo by BW

Fueling Up, Flame Resistant. Photo by Landon Shroder

Mid-Race Chill. Photo by LS

Under the Lights, Richmond International Raceway. Photo by LS

Photos by Branden Wilson and Landon Shroder

Landon Shroder

Landon Shroder

Landon is a foreign policy and communications professional from Richmond specializing in high risk and complex environments, spending almost 20 years abroad in the Middle East and Africa. He hold’s a Master’s Degree from American University in Conflict Resolution and was a former journalist and producer for VICE Media. His writing on foreign affairs has been published in World Policy Journal, Chatham House, Small Wars Journal, War on the Rocks, and the Fair Observer, along with being a commentator in the New York Times on the Middle East.

more in community

Need Space to Paint? 17th Street Studios is a Painter’s Paradise

Down in Shockoe Bottom, a small project is merging the worlds of art and community in a way that speaks to the city's evolving needs. Sarah Salo, a Richmond-born artist now navigating the bustling fashion industry of New York, finds herself at the intersection of this...

What Makes The Richmond Animation Festival a Can’t-Miss Event?

Dive into the vibrant world of animation at the 2nd Annual Richmond Animation Festival, set to captivate audiences at The Byrd Theater on April 28th. This year's festival promises an eclectic mix of short films, showcasing talents from around the globe, including a...

The Sun, the Moon, and Virginia! A Rare Solar Eclipse Encounter

This Monday April 8th, Virginia's going to be treated to a solar eclipse. Now, while we're not exactly in the prime spot to see the sun completely hidden (that's called the path of totality), we're still in for a pretty good view. Here in Richmond, we're talking about...

Virginia Icon Pharrell Williams is Coming To Town

A musical based on Pharrell Williams' childhood is set to be filmed in Richmond. It's a coming-of-age story set in 1977 Virginia Beach, drawing from Williams' upbringing in the Atlantis Apartments. Williams will produce, and Michel Gondry, known for Eternal Sunshine...

RVA 5×5 DEEP DIVE | Bottom of the Ninth

NOTE: This is the first of a multi-part series over the next few weeks about the baseball stadium issue in Richmond.News came out this week about the new baseball stadium designs in the Diamond District, which is a sign of progress, but also a sign of trouble....

Patriot Front’s Lawyer Comes to Richmond

In October 2021, the mural of Arthur Ashe in Richmond’s Battery Park was vandalized with advertisements for the white supremacist group Patriot Front. The graffiti was removed after the park was temporarily closed but some community members of the Battery Park...