You can argue all day about whether or not auto racing is a “real” sport but I’m willing to assume most normal people lack the skills to jump behind the wheel of a stock car and spend a few hours circling a track at over 200 miles per hour.
Sure, the car might do the majority of the work, but it’s hard to ignore the dexterity required to navigate a track.
You also have to consider the fact that drivers can burn thousands of calories and lose an absurd amount of weight over the course of a race thanks to stress and the ridiculous temperatures they’re forced to endure.
However, the sport’s detractors have a tendency to claim the only skill required to compete is the ability to turn left (because they’ve apparently never heard of road courses).
I don’t buy that argument for the reasons I’ve already mentioned but it has made me wonder about the answer to a question I’ve never really thought about: why are races run counterclockwise in the first place?
I did a bit of digging to figure out the answer and discovered it goes back further than I ever would have thought.
Why Do Race Cars Turn Left?
People have been racing each other at the highest speeds possible ever since the automobile was invented around the middle of the 19th century.
The first recorded auto race took place all the way back in 1867 when two British guys faced off to see who could complete an eight-mile route in the quickest time.
Rallies were the race of choice in the early days of the sport but the game changed in 1896 when seven cars competed in a five-mile race at the Narragansett Trotting Park, a converted horse track in Rhode Island.
However, things got taken to the next level when the Brooklands race course was constructed in England in the early 1900s, as it was the first track built for the sole purpose of racing cars.
Brooklands wasn’t a perfect oval but the banked, ring-shaped track helped usher in a new era of racing and was the inspiration for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was opened in 1909.
Races at both of those venues ran counterclockwise, but if you’re looking for the reason why, you have to follow in the footsteps of Pitbull and go back in time.
ESPN set out to answer this question a decade ago and spoke to a couple of experts on the subject and it turns out the answer is more bizarre than I ever would have guessed.
According to NASCAR historian Buz McKim, the reason race cars turn left stretches all the way back to the 18th century before cars were even a thing.
It turns out a disgruntled American named William Whitley was still a bit salty about that whole “Revolutionary War” thing and decided to stick it to the British— whose horse races ran clockwise— by having competitors run the opposite way during an event at his course in Kentucky in 1788.
As a result, the left turn became the standard in the United States and when automobiles burst onto the scene the tradition was adopted and the sport never looked back.
And that, my friends, is why race cars turn left.