On any given Sunday, race car drivers around the world pilot the most exhilarating automobiles on the planet. From the first practice session Friday morning to the waving of the checkered flag late Sunday afternoon, every turn of the steering wheel or press of the gas pedal dumps another dose of adrenaline into their bloodstream.
For the rest of the week, though, they still have driving to do. And while the NASCAR Next Gen car might be perfect for braving the banking of Daytona, and a Dallara-chassis IndyCar might have been bred for the Brickyard in Indianapolis, the truth is that neither is very good for dropping off kids at soccer practice or picking up groceries.
So, when race car drivers are away from racetracks, what do they drive?
To answer that question, ESPN contacted every driver with a full-time ride in the NASCAR Cup Series and IndyCar, granting them anonymity to answer truthfully: What's your daily driver? More than half of those fields provided answers, just one driver declined to participate, and the responses -- from drivers who come from all over the world -- reflected the uniqueness of the American auto market.
Before we get into the drivers' weekday rides, though, we should talk about who's supplying them. Automakers invest in motorsport, primarily, as a marketing exercise, and with drivers appearing as the face of that investment, brands are incentivized to extend that relationship beyond the racetrack. And they do, by giving drivers free vehicles for personal use.
There are four manufacturers that support these series in a significant way: Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota. Chevy is the only supplier involved in both NASCAR and IndyCar, with Ford and Toyota joining them in stock cars and Honda the rival engine supplier in the U.S. open-wheel series.
Of the 61 full-time drivers approached, Chevy supplies 28 of them (46%), Honda has 15 (24%), Ford has 12 (20%) and Toyota has six (10%). Of our respondents, 61% drove for Chevy, 29% raced for Ford, 6% were Toyota drivers and another 3% represented Honda.
Less than 10% of respondents admitted to daily-driving a vehicle that had no direct relation to the manufacturer they were employed by. So we expected to see a large number of Chevrolets in our data, and we did.
No vehicle was more popular among drivers than the Chevy Tahoe, a full-size SUV chosen by more than 25% of our respondents. Felix Rosenqvist, a Sweden-born IndyCar driver for Chevrolet-supplied Arrow McLaren, called it "the best car you can have living in Indiana," where McLaren's IndyCar operations are based.
"It's just the freedom of your space," he told ESPN ahead of Sunday's IndyCar race on the streets of Toronto. "If you spend a lot of time on the road -- which I think if you would take the average time you spend on the road in the U.S. compared to Sweden, it would probably be three times, four times more -- and being in that environment, you just want it to feel nice. You have room, you can relax, you have good speakers, you have good comfort, you're sitting up high, it's not noisy -- all those things."
What Rosenqvist wants in his daily driver are the same things the average American car buyer wants, too: space, comfort, visibility from a raised seating position. In 2022, the full-size pickup trucks from Ford (the F-150) and Chevy (the Silverado) were the two bestselling nameplates in the country, accounting for nearly 8.5% of all new vehicles sold last year, and the architecture of the Silverado is what underpins the Tahoe.
Unsurprisingly, then, the F-150 was the next most-popular response among our drivers, accounting for 16% of responses. In fact, 77% of our drivers report driving full-size pickups or SUVs: 25% chose the Tahoe, 16% the F-150, 12% the Silverado and 6% the Chevy Suburban -- an extended-length Tahoe.
"It's definitely kind of crazy when you come over here, you see the size of the cars," Rosenqvist said. "Being a European, the first time you come to the States, you're like, 'Man, all the vehicles here are so much bigger.'"
These being race car drivers, we did find one subset of respondents who sought out some of that adrenaline they find at the racetrack in their daily drivers, and that was in F-150 owners. Ford offers a variant of the F-150 called the Raptor, a 450-horsepower monster designed to be as comfortable on the desert sands of Baja as it is in the parking lot of your local hardware store, and 10% of respondents enthusiastically relayed that they drove one every day -- including NASCAR Cup Series regular Chase Briscoe, who drives for Ford-supplied Stewart-Haas Racing.
"Growing up, for whatever reason, my dream vehicle was always a Raptor," Briscoe told ESPN. "So when I got signed by Ford and started doing the NASCAR thing, I remember they were like, 'All right, so what do you want for your loaner vehicle?' And I was like, 'Well, what can I pick?' And they're like, 'Anything.' Obviously you can't pick a [$500,000] Ford GT or something, but I was like, 'Can I pick a Raptor?" And they're like, 'Yeah, absolutely. If that's what you want.' So I have this white Raptor with blacked-out wheels."
The American auto market is changing, though. Sales were down 11% across the board in 2022, except in electric vehicles, whose figures jumped by 57%. EVs accounted for 5.6% of new vehicle sales in the U.S. last year.
That growing electrification is reflected in the NASCAR and IndyCar garages. Even though these drivers are paid to burn rubber and vaporize fuel at a rate far beyond the average driver of America's highways, they have adopted EVs at a rate similar to the rest of us. More than 6% of respondents said they drove an electric vehicle on a daily basis, and all of those respondents were Ford drivers, having opted for the F-150 Lightning or the Mustang Mach-E.
Race car drivers, they're just like us. Infinitely more talented, blessed with bravery most of us will never know, but once they leave that racetrack, they climb into the same cars, trucks and SUVs that we all do. They just don't have to pay for them.