Real Horsepower

Abigail Johnson/Senior Photographer

The sport of racing has been adored and supported by millions of Americans nationwide. Various countries nationwide participate in motorsports to break the limits of humanity and to prove who has the best technology. This fast-paced mechanical race can average at high speeds of 200 miles per hour at superspeedways. Fans sit on the edge of their seats as the cars whiz by and the smell of burnt rubber fills the air. 

How did this classic motorsport start? It started with a horse. 

It is often heard that certain automobile engines have a high horsepower value and this variable was in fact defined by how much power a horse generated while pulling. One horsepower is defined by Merriam-Webster as a power unit of 746 watts or 550 foot-pounds of work per second. For instance, a Formula One racecar can potential produce 990 horsepower. In comparison, the average horse can produce nearly 15 horsepower. The average horse can reach 30 miles per hour but the fastest recorded horse reached 55 miles per hour in a race.  

Horse racing is an event that has been around for generations. It originated in the late 1600s shortly after horses were introduced to the Americas. The first Kentucky Derby was later held in Churchill Downs in 1875 and won by famous race horse Aristides by only two lengths. Lengths are described as the “8 foot distance” between horses during a race. Legendary racehorse Secretariat holds an astounding record of winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in 1973 and no horse has even come close to breaking that record since. 

The first official race with race cars wasn’t held until 1895 in France and was quickly followed by a Chicago Thanksgiving Day race in the same year. Of course, NASCAR was established until centuries later in 1948 and held its first race in Daytona Beach.  

We owe the fascinating world of race cars to the rich history and popularity of horse racing. While the two differ, both represent the American spirit and the pursuit of the American dream. If humanity wishes to improve motor technology and excel in future racing events, we must remember the very reason all of racing started: with a bond between a horse and a human. 


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