NASCAR teams give drivers a number of tools to help get their cars to victory lane. One of the most important is the steering wheel. Having a car that can go 200 miles per hour is great, but if you can’t control it, what good is it? The driver has control over almost every aspect of the steering wheel. Drivers will insist on the size of the steering wheel, and where the buttons are placed on it. Race car drivers are control freaks, and this is no other part of the car that is as important for control as the steering wheel.
Brian Vickers will go down in NASCAR history as one of those drivers who had a lot of talent, a lot of potential, but who never lived up to that potential. He was hired by Hendrick Motorsports in 2003 to replace Ricky Hendrick as a driver in the Xfinity Series. He would win 3 races in the Xfinity Series in 2003, and won the Championship that season. He would go on to race in the Sprint Cup, winning three races, the controversial 2006 UAW 500, where he spun out Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhradt Jr.. The 2009 Carfax 400 at Michigan was his second win, this one for Red Bull Racing. His final win came at the 2013 Camping World RV Sales 301 at Loudon.
Sadly, his career has been derailed by health issues. He missed a lot of races in recent years because of blood clot issues, as well as having surgery to repair a hole in his heart. Sadly, this appears to be the deathnail in his career, as he does not appear to be able to race anymore, at least not a full season. This steering wheel was used during Brian Vickers’ Hendrick Motorsports days.The wheel itself is not much bigger than a regular car steering wheel. It has a large pad at the center, which Vickers has autographed, albeit upside down. Inside is a gel, with padding beneath that. The pad is made by Mattec Racing Products who just went out of business recently. Vickers wrote “Future Nextel Cup Champion under his name. That would narrow the time the wheel was used from 2004 to 2007, since it is impossible to tell if this was used in either Xfinity Seires racing or Nextel Cup Racing. The Nextel Cup became the Sprint Cup in 2008.
The wheel has two holes drilled into the spokes. A serial number, 2547, is drilled on the reverse side of the right spoke. These holes are used to facilitate the addition of radio buttons, and other buttons that are added on to the wheel. This allows communication easily, without removing hands from the wheel.
The wheel is made in two parts. The wheel itself is made by Schroder, which is a California-based company that focuses on auto racing steering products. The quick-release mechanism on the back of the wheel is made by Sweet Manufacturing, a Kalamazoo, Michigan based company. Again this does not surprise me, as this combination would meet Vickers’ standards. Quick-release mechanisms are used in auto racing, as space is at a premium, and the wheel is often very close to the driver’s body. It is removed when the driver is getting out of the car.
One other detail that needs to be addressed is that the very top center of the steering wheel padding has the remnants of tape visible. The tape is place such that when the car is going straight, the tape is perfectly vertical. This is an important tool for drivers, as it can tell them if there are steering or suspension issues in the car. The outline is very hard to see, but can be seen.
Though the steering wheel is one of the most important tools a driver has, they have many other tools, some of which we will examine next week.