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15 Different Types Of Motorsports Explained

15 Different Types Of Motorsports Explained

Competition is a natural human trait, and racing vehicles has been a pastime dating back to pre-engine propelled vehicles. The invention of engines or motors simply made racing faster and more exciting. Various motorsports have evolved for our entertainment, from track, off-road, water-based, and even air racing motorsports.


Nascar Xfinity Xfinity Series Championship

NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship in Avondale, Arizona.

NASCAR racing is a form of stock car racing that is run by a sanctioning organization to control the race and car parameters for this type of racing.

NASCAR is an acronym for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. This association determines the rules and regulations regarding races, drivers, and cars for this particular form of stock car racing. It is the premier form of stock car racing in the USA, which has drawn a dedicated spectator following.
NASCAR was formed in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1948, but the popularity of this motorsport quickly spread across the USA.

The cars used in NASCAR racing resemble street cars of the same type but have been modified for additional power and safety measures for racing. The race format for NASCAR is typically on an oval 2.66-mile track.
The legendary Daytona 500 is a 500-mile race, which required 188 laps of the track to achieve the 500-mile distance.

Drivers race through the season, accumulating individual race wins and points for their placements throughout the season. The season champion is determined by the driver that has accumulated the highest number of points during the season.

NASCAR is part of the enclosed wheel motorsport category, where the vehicle chassis encloses the wheels of the cars.

2. Formula One (F1)

Formula One Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix

Formula 1, or F1, is an international racing format where car manufacturers compete in a series of races on tracks around the world.

The F1 cars are open-wheel cars, meaning the car chassis does not enclose the wheels. The cars are developed specifically for this type of racing and do not resemble street cars of any type.

Each race is called a Grand Prix, and drivers and manufacturers accumulate points for their finish places in races throughout the season to declare an F1 driver and manufacturer winner for the season.

F1 racing is considered the highest class of international motorsport, and the costs to participate, maintain cars, and pay drivers and crew are astronomical. This motorsport form is also considered the most prestigious for drivers and manufacturers.

Car manufacturers spend a lot of money on research to improve the cars and give drivers the edge on the track. Some of these developments result in improvements in the manufacturer’s street cars.

However, many developments for the cars are specific to F1 racing and are not included in street car design.

Formula 1 racing has its roots in the moto racing of the 1920s and 1930s, where a set of common rules were formulated. The first race with the new rules occurred in 1946 in Turin, Italy.

According to international rules, a Formula 1 race must be at least 190 miles or 305 km. The Grand Prix tracks worldwide are various distances, meaning the number of laps to achieve the minimum distance will vary from track to track.

F1 races normally take place over two days, where the first day is used for practice laps for the driver to become familiar with the track, and to perform qualifying laps, where the fastest lap will determine starting position on race day.

3. MotoGP

MotoGP Francesco Bagnaia

Francesco Bagnaia won the 2022 MotoGP World Championship

MotoGP is the motorcycle motorsport equivalent of Formula 1 racing. The bikes used in MotoGP races are not street-legal or modified street bikes but are custom-built for this type of racing.

MotoGP stands for Motorcycle Grand Prix, and similarly to F1 racing, it follows a series of races on tracks worldwide throughout the race season.

The original MotoGP races limited the engine size to 500cc, but the rules were changed in 2002 to include 4-stroke motors up to 990cc capacity.

There are various classes of MotoGP races that group the races for motorcycles of various engine sizes. The first MotoGP race season occurred in 1949 and was held on the Isle of Man.

MotoGP races are sprint races with no provision for pit stops for refueling or repairs to the motorcycle.

Riders perform qualifying laps where the fastest times determine the starting or pole position for the riders. The fastest lap times allow riders a higher rank for the start of the race, which gives the rider an advantage from the start.

A MotoGP race is typically 40 to 45 minutes long and covers between 62 miles and 80 miles or 100km and 130km, depending on the track length. Races may be shortened due to weather or track conditions from time to time.

4. Motocross

motocross jeffrey herlings

Jeffrey Herlings of Team Red Bull KTM Racing

Motocross is dirt bike racing, where off-road motorcycles are raced around a dirt track of between 1 mile and 3 miles or 1.6km and 4.8km long. The number of laps varies for motocross races, but a typical race is generally 12 laps.

The track incorporates several obstacles that the riders must negotiate on their bikes, including tight turns, mud pools, ruts, corrugations, and jumps.

The bikes used in motocross are off-road, non-street legal bikes with custom components to handle the challenges of the tough terrain on the track. Lightweight frames enable riders to throw the bikes around tight corners, while enhanced suspensions reduce the pounding for the bike and rider on rough ground and landing large jumps.

Motocross bikes are based on standard off-road bikes that are available for public purchase, but the bikes are modified with features and components to handle the rigors of a motocross track.

Motocross is popular worldwide, with each country having its own race formats and championship series.

The motocross or MX race starts with all the riders in a row behind a starting gate. The dropping of the starting gate signals the start of the race. A day’s motocross racing normally consists of several elimination heats where the winning riders progress to the day’s final race.

5. Rally

2020 Dakar Rally

Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz at the Dakar Rally in 2020.

Rally motorsport is an off-road racing event that can last a single day or span several days, or even weeks, depending on the event scope.

Rally racing can include multiple classes of off-road vehicles, including cars of various classes and motorcycles of various classes.

Race participants usually have a team of mechanics with support vehicles that support the driver or rider and their race vehicle throughout the event. The support crew drives ahead of the participants or takes a shorter route to meet the racers and the next overnight stop, where repairs or adjustments can be made to the race vehicle.

These races use off-road cars and bikes equipped for enduro racing which can involve many hours a day racing across off-road and paved surfaces. Some rally events include shorter time-trial sprint events for certain legs of the race, which may be held in urban settings.

Rallies are timed events where the winner is the driver or rider that had the best time across all the race days rather than the person who crosses the finish line first.

Some well-known rally events include the Safari Rally held in Kenya, the Monte Carlo Rally, and the Acropolis Rally in Greece. The most famous rally is the Dakar, which historically started in southern Europe, often Paris, France, traversed sections of North Africa, and Saudi Arabia for the finish in Dakar.

The Dakar covers 9300 miles or 15,000 km and is conducted over two weeks. The race format changes each year based on the political state of the regions the race will traverse.

6. Drag Racing

NHRA drag race

NHRA 30th Annual Fall Classic at the Woodburn Dragstrip

If you enjoy high-octane engines, loud cars and bikes, and a race that is over in seconds, then drag racing is the adrenaline rush that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Drag racing is run over a ¼ mile or 402m straight track where two drivers race their vehicles side-by-side in a straight sprint to the finish line.

The races are conducted in several heats, with the winners of the heats being matched against each other, leading to a final race on the day to declare the champion.

Drag cars have many different classes, from cars built specifically for drag racing, such as the funny cars, to modified production cars, trucks, and hot rods.

Motorcycles, from standard production bikes to specially built drag bikes, compete in their own classes at the drag track.

The engines in the cars can be standard gas engines, nitromethane or top fuel powered engines, and even jet engines from aircraft.

An iconic aspect of drag racing is the parachutes deployed at the end of the race to slow the vehicles down sufficiently before they run out of track.

Many countries have a series of drag racing events that move from city to city, where drivers and teams move around the country to compete in all the series events in pursuit of the series championship.

7. Oval Track Racing

Oval track racing is a descriptor given to all types of motor racing that takes place on a relatively small oval-shaped track.

Some common oval track racing events are stock car racing, sprint car racing, dirt track motorcycle racing, and NASCAR racing.

There are different-sized tracks used in oval track racing, from short tracks typically less than 1 mile, or 1.6 km, often 0.5 miles or 800m, to 1-mile tracks, intermediate tracks, or speedways between 1 and 2 miles long or 1.6km to 3.2km, and superspeedways, which can be 2 miles to 2.5 miles, or 4km long.

Most oval track racing requires the cars to travel in an anti-clockwise direction, causing the vehicles to only make left-hand turns around the track. This is for safety reasons, particularly in larger lefthand-drive cars, such as those used in stock car racing or NASCAR.

8. Touring Car Racing

touring car spezial tourenwagen trophy

A Porsche Cayman GT4 driven by Torsten Klimmer during the Spezial Tourenwagen Trophy in 2019.

Touring car racing is another form of closed-wheel car racing, where the wheels are enclosed and protected by the car chassis. Touring cars are standard-looking everyday cars, such as sedans and hatchbacks, that have been heavily modified for racing.

The general rule of touring car racing is that the body of the car must be standard, but the suspension, brakes, engine, wheels, and tires can be modified for racing. The exact nature of the modifications allowed varies from country to country and the relevant governing bodies.

Touring car racing is also called saloon car racing in some regions, and the cars closely resemble production cars more than any other form of motorsport.

Touring car races are not as fast as some other motorsport races, but the jockeying for position allows drivers to nudge and bump other cars, which makes for exciting racing for the drivers and the spectators.

Touring car racing generally includes shorter sprint races in the series and longer enduro races, which can last anywhere from a 3-hour race to a mammoth 24-hour continuous race.

9. Sports Car Racing

Ford team 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Ford team at 24 hours of Le Mans in 2019.

Sports car racing is similar to touring car racing in that recognizable sports cars are used in these races. They are set apart from touring cars in that they are classified as sports cars of the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Lotus.

These cars are generally coupe-style two-seaters with rear-wheel drive. Modifications to the bodywork engines, suspension, wheels, and tires are allowed in this type of racing, although the degree of modification varies from country to country.

Generally, more modifications of sports cars are allowed than that for touring cars, which allows sports cars to be heavily modified from the original standard-production sports car model.

Spots cars used for this class of racing are often called GT cars, which refers to their designation as Grand Touring cars.

The 24-hour Le Mans race in France is a classic, well-known enduro race for sports car class race vehicles.

10. Stock Car Racing

Stock car racing started using standard production or stock cars for racing. Modifications to the cars were strictly controlled, so the race car did not deviate too far from the original stock model.

This restriction kept the playing field level and gave all competitors an equal opportunity in the race, regardless of their budget for the car. The evenly matched machines meant that the race was won or lost on the driver’s skill rather than the machine’s power or technology.

As a result, stock car racing was aggressive and competitive, which attracted the public’s interest and grew the sport’s popularity.

Stock car racing has evolved over the years and slowly modified the cars, mostly in the interest of safety for the drivers. Modern stock cars generally no longer resemble stock production cars but are built specifically for racing. NASCAR is a form of motorsport that evolved from the original authentic stock car racing form.

Stock car racing is usually undertaken on oval tracks varying in length from ¼ mile tracks to 2.6-mile tracks or 400m to 4.3km tracks.

11. Kart Racing

National Karting Championship Bucharest Romania

National Karting Championship in Bucharest, Romania

Kart racing uses small, custom-built race cars and started out as a form of motorsport for children. The cars were often powered by lawnmower engines, were designed to be close to the ground, and did not attain exceptionally high speeds.

Karting has since grown into a fully-fledged motorsport class of its own, with categories for children and adults. Kart racing has become more refined and sophisticated, using specially designed cars and engines to supercharge these tiny race cars.

The technology and engines used in karts can get these cars up to speeds of 100 mph or 160 kph, making them a formidable and challenging form of motorsport.

Karts come in different classes depending on the type of kart racing they are used for; sprint racing, oval track racing, or enduro kart racing. The type of tracks used in kart racing varies in shape and length.

Karts are often categorized into various class races where vehicles with the same capacity engines are raced against each other, and the drivers must be within a certain age group.

Kart racing is often seen as a feeder sport, providing a platform where youngsters can develop their racing skills for other forms of motor racing, including Formula 1.

12. Sprint Car Racing

Sprint car racing is a popular motorsport in the USA because the races are fast, short, and provide aggressive racing action that pleases the crowd.

Sprint car racing is a homegrown American form of motorsport that was developed in the 1940s. The cars are intentionally small, compact, and powerful to provide an exhilarating race.

The tracks used for sprint car races are typically short oval tracks no more than ¼ to ½ a mile or 400m to 800m long and can be dirt or paved. Sprint races usually cover 8 to 12 laps of the track, depending on the length of the track.

Sprint car racing has spread from the USA and is popular in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. There are winged and non-winged class cars as well as several smaller classes in the mini and micro sprint race cars.

Sprint racing has very few rules, and the powerful cars used in these races have contributed to making this form of racing one of the most dangerous motorsports.

13. Air Racing

Not all motorsport takes place at ground level, as shown by the sport of air racing. Air racing is racing with aircraft over a predetermined, fixed course. The participants fly the course at high speed and are awarded points for time, execution of tight turns, and navigating the obstacles on the course.

A series of pylons called air gates demarcate the course through which the pilot must take the aircraft at high speed. The course is flown one aircraft at a time, with the point accumulated determining the winner of the race.

Various aircraft are flown in air races, some built explicitly for the sport, while others are standard aircraft with a few modifications.

One of the most popular air races is the Red Bull Air Race, which is held in a different location each year.

The race format is usually over two days, with the first day being a practice day and the second day the race day, where the time is taken and points awarded. Heats are flown where pilots are eliminated, with a final 4 heat where the top 4 pilots compete for the first 4 places in the race.

14. Hydroplane Racing

hydroplane racing

Hydroplane racing is a form of motorsport which takes place on the water, using specially designed hydroplane boats.

Hydroplane races occur on lakes and rivers because they require calm water to prevent serious accidents with these high-speed boats.

Hydroplane boats have an aerodynamic hull which allows the boat to almost become airborne, with only the propeller and a small area of the hull making contact with the water when the boat is at full speed. This reduces the friction and drag on the boat hull and allows for extremely high speeds on the water.

Hydroplane racing is extremely dangerous since strong winds and rough water can cause the boats to flip over at high speed, causing serious injury or death for the driver.

Hydroplane racing is popular worldwide and is also known as hydro racing. Hydroplane racing is usually on an oval course laid out on the water with maker buoys. A Single race is generally 3 laps around the course, with the winner being the first boat across the finish line.

There are generally 4 or 5 boats in an individual race, and the competition is run in the form of elimination heats, leading to a final race with the winners from the previous heats.

Modern hydroplane boats can exceed 200mph or 320kph, driven by jet turbine engines producing up to 3000 horsepower. The hulls of the hydroplanes are made from aluminum and composite materials.

15. Powerboat Racing

powerboat racing

Philippe Dessertenne of the China CTIC Team at the Formula One Power Boat Shenzhen Grand Prix.

Powerboat racing is different from hydroplane racing due to the shape of the hull of the boats. Powerboats use hull shapes that are more typical of traditional boats but modified for additional speed.

Powerboat racing is separated into two main categories, offshore powerboat racing, and inshore powerboat racing. Offshore racing takes place on coastal waters in the ocean, whereas inshore powerboat racing takes place on inland bodies of water.

Offshore powerboat races are typically point-to-point, while inshore powerboat races generally follow a loop or oval course, leading to these races being called circuit powerboat racing.

Inshore races usually have a circuit of 1 mile to 1.2 miles or 1.5 to 2km long, with 9 laps being the typical race distance.

Offshore powerboat races vary in length but are usually between 20 and 25 miles or 32 and 40km long.
The boats in both categories are powered by specialized outboard motors rather than the jet turbine engines used in hydroplane boats.

Motorsports are a means of competition and public entertainment that provide people with an enthralling, adrenalin-rush form of sport that is hard to beat. The variety of motorsports provides a wide range of racing types to appeal to many different types of vehicles and racing preferences.

The insatiable human need for speed and competition will ensure that motorsports will be an active part of our existence for the foreseeable future.