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What Is a Racing Steering Wheel?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 17, 2024
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A racing steering wheel is a steering wheel found on a racing vehicle. Typically manufactured from aluminum or carbon fiber, the racing steering wheel commonly has a rim diameter that is larger than a typical street steering wheel, making it easier to grip in competitive situations. Occasionally adorned with molded studs on the reverse side of the rim for added grip, the racing steering wheel is designed to be comfortable and easily gripped by the driver while wearing fireproof racing gloves. The majority of steering wheel designs used in racing applications are very similar to a street version of the steering wheel; however, a special solid center model of the racing steering wheel is designed to avoid the broken thumbs commonly associated with racing contact involving the front tires of the racing vehicle. Some special-use steering wheels do not resemble a traditional steering wheel at all.

One of the most important functions of any racing vehicle is control. The racing steering wheel enables the driver to maintain this control through a comfortable and special component, designed especially to provide the best in driver control. In drag racing, the two most powerful racing vehicles in the world are top fuel dragsters and funny cars. These vehicles use what are known as a butterfly-type racing steering wheel. This design uses two grips just large enough to fit the driver's hands into and is attached to the steering hub on thin, pulled-back arms looking much like a butterfly's wings.

Many racing vehicles use the steering wheel for much more than simply steering the vehicle. In most racing classes, the steering wheel also houses the push-to-talk radio button, which allows a driver to communicate with the pit crew. In Indy-type cars, the steering wheel houses controls for shifting, fuel control, and weight adjustment as well as the radio button. These very expensive racing steering wheel designs also provide engine information in the form of engine revolutions per minute, temperature and oil pressure. The Indy-type car's steering wheel alone commonly costs more than the complete vehicle used in many other forms of racing.

The common racing steering wheel provides the driver with a way to steer the vehicle and avoid wrecks; however, the racing steering wheel can also become a liability in a severe crash and can actually trap a driver in a vehicle. The typical steering wheel inside of any racing vehicle is attached to a quick-release hub. This hub allows the steering wheel to be removed from the steering shaft by pushing a button, thereby giving the driver additional space to exit or enter the vehicle.

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