Last weekend marked the start of another NASCAR season with the annual running of the Daytona 500. After I’d finished up at work for the day, I went home and turned on the race. I missed about the first half of the race, but I was still there in plenty of time to see some of the big crashes that happened.
There are a lot of people out there who are only interested in watching racing for the crashes. While I do enjoy seeing a good racing crash (provided nobody gets seriously hurt), I’m also quite interested in all the strategy that goes into winning a 500-mile race on an oval track. There really is a lot more to it than just constantly turning left.
It was a pretty exciting finish to the race, with Chase Elliott looking like he might win after taking pole position in qualifying, but instead becoming one of the numerous drivers to run out of fuel on the last couple laps. That’s part of the strategy that’s so intriguing to me – fuel management. You could run a perfect race, but if your last pit stop was not ideally timed or you were a little heavier on the accelerator than you should have been at some point in the race, it could result in you not having quite enough juice to make it to the finish line. At any rate, it was a great finish to the race with Kurt Busch winning the Daytona 500 for the first time after coming in second three times at the season-opener in the past. You can see Kyle Larson in the #42 car run out of gas on the last lap here too:
After all that, Kurt Busch managed to make it through as the fastest to drive 500 miles. It got me thinking, when these guys drive 500 miles over the course of a couple hours, how many miles do they put on their cars throughout the season? I wondered this because I recently passed a fairly high mileage milestone on my car – more on that a little further down though.
Anyway, I did the math. Not factoring in any of the distance driven during practice or qualifying, a driver who manages to run every mile of every single race in the regular season (including the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race in May) will drive a total of 15,875.5 miles or 25,400.8 km over the course of said season. However, it’s hard to say how much distance each car covers over the course of a year. I mean, there’s testing, practice, qualifying and all that extra stuff that doesn’t get factored into that total. Also, obviously not all drivers are going to compete in every race, and even if they do, there’s always the chance of a crash or mechanical failure to take them out of the race early. Plus, each team has multiple cars ready to go just in case one gets destroyed, so it’s pretty unlikely that any one car will run each and every mile of the season.
If one did, however, I would imagine it would probably do about 30,000 km/year just on the track.
But of course, every season the teams build new cars to go race for another season win. So each year we can easily see how powerful and fast these cars are, which is great, but we don’t really get a sense of how these cars score in one department which I think is more important to consumers than either of those stats: longevity. Would anyone buy a car that runs for 30,000 km and then is just done? Then again, these cars are nothing like cars consumers would buy, so that’s probably a pointless comparison.
What I’d really like to see is a NASCAR team use the same car for 15 years and see what happens then. Just in the races alone, that would work out to 381,012 km. If your car is still winning races after a life like that, then I’d be genuinely impressed.
But you know, it doesn’t take a ton to keep an old, high-mileage car going, as long as you don’t mind doing regular maintenance and spending a few bucks here and there as it is required. Perhaps my view on this is a bit skewed, though, having a mechanic for a father and only having ever owned high-mileage cars. I’ll just say this – I have a little experience hitting big milestones on my odometer.
For example, the first car I owned after getting my driver’s license was a 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis that had been owned by my aunt and uncle, and had amassed about 320,000 km of experience before it came to me. I ended up driving it around until about 365,000 or so when a rotten frame forced me to park it and move on to another car. I only ever took one photo of that car’s odometer, but it was a pretty good one, with it reading 333,333.3.
That may actually be the tiniest photo ever, but it’s big enough to see the odometer.
The next car I owned was a Saturn SC 3-door coupe that my mom handed down to me. As I recall it was somewhere around 380,000 when I got it, and I drove that sucker until the odometer read 430,007. I never did get a photo of the final number because the backlight in the odometer on that car was burned out, making it pretty difficult to actually see the numbers. But my next car was an almost identical Saturn. Here they are side-by-side:
That’s Jody SC1 McLean on the left, and Optimus Primus on the right. Yes, I name my cars. No, I don’t care what you think of that.
I purchased Optimus Primus with already about 220,000 km on the clock, but given that my previous Saturn was already up around 430,000 at the time, that didn’t worry me at all. I ended up driving it until it was at about 277,000, and I would’ve kept going too, except the floor had rotten to the point where the car probably wasn’t the most safe to drive. I wouldn’t call it a deathtrap, but it made things interesting, anyway. I did take photos at a couple big milestones that I hit in it, though.
And then this one:
And for those of you wondering about the Service Engine Soon light, yes, I was fully aware of it. I drove with that thing on for a long time. Part of it is, again, having a mechanic for a father and not always feeling an urgent need to fix minor issues… But it has continued to be a theme to this very day, as you’ll see further down.
The next photo comes from my dad’s old Dodge Ram camper conversion van, and isn’t anything all that crazy – I just liked the look of all those sixes lined up:
After Optimus Primus, I moved to the car I’m currently driving, The Patchback, a 15-year-old Volkswagen Golf that I’ve set out to make look as ridiculous as possible on a shoestring budget. With the odometer reading 358,000 km, it was no spring chicken when I bought it… But for the $600 I paid for it, and the few important parts I’ve had to replace over the couple years since then, I’m not going to complain. I’ve definitely managed to hit a couple milestones since then. The first one I tried to catch was 370,000 (kind of a random milestone, but it seemed big at the time), and I almost got it too:
Actually, just missing milestones is something I seem to be not bad at…
Then, a couple months later, another random milestone. Really, I think it was just that I had stopped and noticed the odometer, and given that it’s so rare to see one with three zeros on the end, I decided to take a photo.
A couple years ago, I bought a matching Volkswagen Cabrio to go along with my Golf…
Its odometer was at around 283,000 when I got it. I drove it for a summer, and then stored it for the winter. This past summer, I was all geared up to hit a big milestone on the odometer. I even planned for it, making sure as I got close to 300,000 that I would be able to stop somewhere to get a shot of the big moment.
When it did actually roll over 300,000, it didn’t. It rolled back to zero. Seriously.
On the downside, no big number to show off to people. On the upside, an opportunity to sell a car with ZERO kilometres on it! As I later found out, this was normal for Volkswagens of the era – they all did this when they hit 300,000. Perhaps nobody expected a Mk3 Volkswagen to go that far? Well mine has, and is still going strong.
No such problem on The Patchback, however. A couple weeks ago I hit the big milestone I had been waiting for for about 21,000 km. And you’re damn right I missed the big moment.
So now, I’d like to hear from you. I want you to tell me (and maybe back it up with a photo if you can) what the highest mileage you’ve ever managed to get a car to while you’ve owned it. I bet some of you will blow me out of the water, so please share either in the comments here, in the comments on Facebook, or in a tweet!