Starting a Sprint Car isn’t as simple as turning a key, in fact a Sprint Car relies on a “push car” to turn the engine over, not a starter motor as in normal road cars. The push cars, usually four wheel drives driven by volunteers, push against the rear crash bar of the Sprint Car until the car fires.
In the cockpit the driver is kept busy during the starting procedure. Strapped in hard against the seat, the driver first must ensure that the car is firmly in gear. As Sprint Cars don’t have gearboxes, the car is put into gear using a device called a shifter. This is a direct cable link to the rear end which engages the gears. Once the car is in gear the driver then needs to ensure that the fuel is turned on, this is usually via a valve either mounted on the dash or somewhere in the cockpit. With the car in gear and the fuel on, the car is ready to be pushed off.
Sprint Car engines have fairly high compression, for this reason it takes a fair push to get the rear wheels turning. You will frequently see a Sprint Car’s rear wheels skidding along the track when being pushed by a push car, this is usually due to the engine’s cylinders having unburnt fuel in them, creating increased compression. This can happen when an engine stops without first being run out of fuel, such as after a spin or a sudden stop.
As a Sprint Car is a direct drive, once the wheels begin turning the engine is also turning over. The driver must now wait to ensure that the oil pressure is up to the correct pressure, around 80psi, before firing the engine. Once the right oil pressure is reached the driver waits for a few more seconds to ensure that all eight cylinders have plenty of fuel before flicking the ignition switch on the dash, at this point the engine should fire to life.
When shutting down a Sprint Car engine the car is first taken out of gear, once again using the shifter, the fuel valve is then turned off. As the engine runs out of fuel it will lean off, causing the revs to build, at this point the ignition is switched off.
You may ask why starting a sprint car is such difficult process, "why not just install a starter motor like most cars in the world?" Well, it’s just a part of what makes a Sprint Car a Sprint Car. It’s part of the tradition and another factor of what makes Sprint Car Racing so unique.