At the New York Auto Show, Road and Track talked to Ford’s President of the Americas, Joe Hinrichs. At one point, the topic of conversation shifted to his stint driving the pace car at a NASCAR Sprint Cup race last year. The venue was Michigan International Speedway (MIS), and the car was the one shown above, a then-preproduction 2015 Mustang GT.
What Hinrichs had to say about the experience was interesting.
“I didn’t realize that the pace car has a very specific job at NASCAR events,” he said.
And it’s not just to keep unruly stockers organized whenever the caution flag comes out.
“When you go out on the track, MIS in this case, your job as the pace-car driver is to get to 55 mph and maintain it. That’s the pit-road speed limit,” he continued.
Nowadays, maintaining that limit is as simple as setting the cruise control on the modern cars that handle pace-car duty today.
“Once you lock in the pit-road speed via the cruise control, then you flip on the lights,” he said.
Hinrichs then explained why this is so important.
“When the lights go on, that informs the field that the pace car is now traveling at the pit road speed limit.”
Since stock cars don’t have speedometers, the drivers now take the opportunity to look at their tachometers and see what revs they must be at to match the pace car’s speed. When they go to pit during the race, they can’t exceed whatever RPM that is, otherwise they’ll get dinged for speeding on the pit road.
Hinrichs then explained that it’s a thing that changes from venue to venue. Some shorter tracks may have a pit road limit as slow as 35 mph, so drivers need to re-orient to the pace car at every race — there’s no magic one-size-fits-all number for them to rev match against.
And that, in a nutshell, explains how and why the pace car sets the pace on race day, and also sheds some light on how otherwise unassuming family sedans like a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry can pull pace car duty with bone-stock power.
Their job is to travel at the slowest mandated speed at the track.
This article originally appeared on MSN.