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NASCAR has plenty of tradition baked into the motorsport series, and perhaps the most obvious among new or casual fans is that cars seem to invariably turn left in a counter-clockwise motion, begging the question as to why. Is it attributable to car design, tradition, or something else? Why don’t NASCAR races ever have cars turning right? 

Are NASCAR race cars able to turn right?

Despite most tracks requiring drivers to only turn left during a race on “oval” tracks, NASCAR cars absolutely have the ability to turn right just as much as left. There is nothing in NASCAR car design that limits right turns. To note, cars are tuned and “set up” for left turns on tracks that exclusively require left turns – which aids in the car’s handling during left turns by controlling lateral forces – but they still can turn in either direction. 

In fact, right turns in NASCAR have become more prominent in recent years, with more “road courses,” including both left and right turns, being added to the schedule. For instance, the 2008 schedule for NASCAR’s top division included just two road courses. Fifteen years later, the 2023 Cup Series schedule included six road course races. 

An often-heard criticism of NASCAR is that races are just cars “turning left all day,” but road course races have been fielded since the sport’s earliest days. Just the second NASCAR-sanctioned race in the sport’s history was run on a road course in 1949. 

So, NASCAR’s history on road courses underscores that NASCAR has always “turned right” as well as left, just not as often. 

Oval shapes and safety determine left turns

So, why does NASCAR turn left on oval tracks instead of right? The reason is down to a few fairly simplistic factors, most notably, tradition

According to ESPN, NASCAR historian Buz McKim notes that horse races in the United States were run counter-clockwise in defiance to the British running some such races in a clockwise motion. NASCAR simply kept the tradition of turning left on oval courses a tradition, he states. 

Allan Carter with the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame notes the tradition of counter-clockwise competition in the U.S. goes beyond motorsports, noting baseball, horse racing, and track and field are all organized in a counter-clockwise motion. 

Driver safety is also another factor. NASCAR drivers sit on the left side of the car, which keeps them further away from safety barriers in a crash. If drivers were positioned on the right side of the vehicle, it stands to reason most NASCAR ovals would be run clockwise. 

Do European race car drivers turn clockwise?

The latter point regarding driver safety begs another question. Since drivers sit on the right side of the car in Europe, do race car drivers from that area of the world turn clockwise, keeping them further away from safety barriers? 

According to The German Way, most European racing series courses run in a clockwise direction. Thus, drivers are often positioned on the right side of the car

However, this is not an absolute. For instance, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has drivers sitting on the left side of the car, although some tracks, including Brands Hatch in Britain, are run clockwise.