Auto racing has existed since the invention of the automobile. Races of various sorts were organised, with the first recorded as early as 1867. Many of the earliest events were effectively reliability trials, aimed at proving these new machines were a practical mode of transport, but soon became an important way for competing makers to demonstrate their machines. By the 1930s, specialist racing cars had developed. There are now numerous different categories, each with different rules and regulations.
The modern kart was invented by Art Ingels, a fabricator at the Indianapolis-car manufacturer Kurtis-Kraft, in Southern California in 1956. Ingels took a small chainsaw engine and mounted it to a simple tube-frame chassis weighing less than 100 lb. Ingels, and everyone else who drove the kart, were startled at its performance capabilities. The sport soon blossomed in Southern California, and quickly spread around the world. Although often seen as the entry point for serious racers into the sport, kart racing, or karting, can be an economical way for amateurs to try racing and is also a fully fledged international sport in its own right. A large proportion of professional racing drivers began in karts, often from a very young age, such as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. Several former motorcycle champions have also taken up the sport, notably Wayne Rainey, who was paralysed in a racing accident and now races a hand-controlled kart. As one of the cheapest ways to race, karting is seeing its popularity grow worldwide.
In off-road racing, various classes of specially modified vehicles, including cars, compete in races through off-road environments. In North America these races often take place in the desert, such as the famous Baja 1000. Another format for off-road racing happens on closed-course short course tracks such as Crandon International Off-Road Raceway. In the 1980s and 1990s, short course was extended to racing inside stadiums in the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group; this format was revived by Robby Gordon in 2013 with his Speed Energy Formula Off-Road series.
In Europe, "offroad" refers to events such as autocross or rallycross, while desert races and rally-raids such as the Paris-Dakar, Master Rallye or European "bajas" are called "cross-country rallies."
In North America, stock car racing is the most popular form of auto racing. Primarily raced on oval tracks, stock cars vaguely resemble production cars, but are in fact purpose-built racing machines that are built to tight specifications and, together with touring cars, also called Silhouette racing cars.
The largest stock car racing governing body is NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). NASCAR's premier series is the Monster Energy Cup Series, its most famous races being the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Brickyard 400. NASCAR also runs several feeder series, including the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series (a pickup truck racing series). The series conduct races across the entire continental United States. The NASCAR Pinty's Series conducts races across Canada and the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series conducts races across Mexico.
NASCAR also governs several smaller regional series, such as the Whelen Modified Tour. Modified cars are best described as open-wheel cars. Modified cars have no parts related to the stock vehicle for which they are named after. A number of modified cars display a "manufacturer's" logo and "vehicle name", yet use components produced by another automobile manufacturer.
There are also other stock car governing bodies, most notably the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).
In the UK, British Stock car racing is also referred to as "Short Circuit Racing". This takes place on shale or tarmac tracks – usually around 1/4 mile long. The governing bodies for the sport are the Oval Racing Council (ORC) and BriSCA. Both bodies are made up of individual stadium promoters. There are around 35 tracks in the UK and upwards of 7000 active drivers. The sport is split into three basic divisions – distinguished by the rules regarding car contact during racing. The most famous championship is the BriSCA F1 Stock Cars. Full-contact formulas include Bangers, Bombers and Rookie Bangers – and racing features Demolitions Derbies, Figure of Eight racing and Oval Racing.
Semi Contact Formulas include BriSCA F1, F2 and Superstox – where bumpers are used tactically.
Non-contact formulas include National Hot Rods, Stock Rods and Lightning Rods.
UK Stock car racing started in the 1950s and grew rapidly through the 1960s and 1970s.
Rallying at international and most national championship levels involves two classes of homologated road-legal production-based cars; Group N production cars and more modified Group A cars. Cars compete on closed public roads or off-road areas on a point-to-point format where participants and their co-drivers "rally" to a set of points, leaving in regular intervals from start points. A rally is typically conducted over a number of "special stages" on any terrain, which entrants are often allowed to scout beforehand at reduced speeds compiling detailed shorthand descriptions of the track or road as they go. These detailed descriptions are known as pace notes. During the actual rally, the co-driver reads the pace notes aloud (using an in-helmet intercom system) to the driver, enabling them to complete each stage as quickly as possible. Competition is based on lowest total elapsed time over the course of an event's special stages, including penalties.
The top series is the World Rally Championship (WRC), first contested in 1973, but there are also regional championships, and many countries have their own national championships. Some famous rallies include the Monte Carlo Rally, Rally Argentina, Rally Finland and Rally GB. Another famous event (actually best described as a rally raid) is the Paris-Dakar Rally, conceived in 1978. There are also many smaller, club level, categories of rallies, which are popular with amateurs, making up the "grass roots" of motor sports. Cars at this level may not comply fully with the requirements of group A or group N homologation. Other major rally events include the British Rally Championship, Intercontinental Rally Challenge, African Rally Championship, Asia-Pacific Rally Championship and endurance rally events like the Dakar Rally.
The worst accident in racing history is the 1955 Le Mans disaster, where more than 80 people died, including the French driver Pierre Levegh.