Racing's secret ingredient

January 05, 2015,

Synthetic lubricants play an integral role in racing

Few companies have been involved in motorsports as long as ExxonMobil, the makers of Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil. The Mobil 1 brand's history in motorsports officially began in 1978. From that time, the presence of Mobil 1 technology on race tracks and circuits has grown by global proportions.

Today, synthetic oils are the standard for a variety of lubrication needs for teams competing in NASCAR. Down to the molecular level, synthetic oils are specially formulated to withstand extreme temperatures, flow quickly to protect critical car parts and work to maximize efficiency and performance.

With ExxonMobil renewing Mobil 1 as the Official Motor Oil of NASCAR and the Official Lubricant Technology Partner of NASCAR, we’ll detail the development of Mobil 1 synthetic oil in the sport of stock car racing, which is now chosen by more than 50 percent of teams in NASCAR’s top three series.

The early days in NASCAR

The origin of Mobil 1 synthetic oil in NASCAR begins in the 1987 season with Rusty Wallace’s No. 27 car owned by motorsports legend Raymond Beadle. The relationship started small with an associate sponsorship and using off-the-shelf Mobil 1 15W-50 synthetic motor oil in Wallace’s engine. Fully synthetic 15W-50 oil was especially adaptable to racing because of its ability to stand up to extreme engine stress conditions where conventional oil may not perform.

At the time, synthetics were relatively new in motorsports. But it wasn’t long until the Mobil 1 team showed its first success in NASCAR. On the winding road course of Watkins Glen in August of 1987, Wallace drove to Victory Lane and gave Mobil 1 oil its first NASCAR win. Running in all 29 races that season with Mobil 1, Wallace went on to earn two wins, nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

It was only two seasons later, in 1989, that Rusty Wallace edged out Dale Earnhardt to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings and give Mobil 1 oil its first stock car championship. If not already, Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil had officially established itself on the NASCAR circuit.

Developing synthetics on the track

In 1991, Rusty Wallace joined the rejuvenated Penske Racing South organization and took Mobil 1 oil with him. The move joined the Mobil 1 team with Penske's NASCAR and open-wheel teams. It was then that ExxonMobil deepened its lubrication technology relationship to test and develop new lubricants on Penske racecars.

Analyzing the engine and oil after each race, engineers with Mobil 1 and Penske began to notice the significant advantages of synthetic motor oils. Synthetics provided outstanding wear and high-temperature protection, helping to maintain the performance of the car in grueling race conditions. Mobil 1 oils reduce frictional loss in the engines to maximize fuel mileage, increase horsepower and turn more RPMs.

Realizing the mutual benefit of running Mobil 1 oils, the Penske Racing organization grew its relationship with ExxonMobil by introducing the No. 12 Mobil 1 Dodge with driver Jeremy Mayfield in 1998. The first primary sponsorship for the Mobil 1 brand in NASCAR showed how a company can benefit from showcasing its products not only on the racecar, but also inside of the racecar. Drivers Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. would also pilot the Mobil 1 machine in the No. 12 and No. 77 Penske cars, respectively, before ExxonMobil transitioned to its current partnership with Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing.

Tony Stewart's crew adjusts his car during a pit stop.

Newman, now in his second stint with Mobil 1, addressed the topic of automotive product manufacturers partnering with NASCAR teams in a 2003 interview. "It holds true that the best drivers are using the best products," Newman said. "In order to win, you need to be able to push everything to the limit, and Mobil 1 has allowed my car and my team to perform at a higher level and to race in ways we never could before."

Synthetics for every moving part

Today, synthetic lubricants play an integral role in racing in addition to engine performance. In fact, Mobil 1 and Mobil lubricants touch every major moving part of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy. This includes lower friction synthetic gear oils, spline shaft grease, advanced chassis lubricants and precision power steering fluid.

Each of these products plays an important role in making the car more efficient and reliable. Mobil 1 gear oils, for example, reduce friction in the transmission, which translates to quicker shift times and improved restarts. Similarly, Mobil 1 chassis lubricants reduce friction in the suspension components, providing maximum tire grip as well as helping to reduce steering compliance to give the driver an edge behind the wheel.

Engineers from ExxonMobil and SHR have formed a close working relationship to deliver more performance and enhance results of the No. 10, No. 14 and No. 39 cars on the track. Building on Tony Stewart’s 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, ExxonMobil and SHR teams are a blend of chemistry and engineering that is helping to advance the science of synthetic oils. Ultimately, the knowledge and technology the team achieves through racing ends up in the synthetic oils found at local auto parts stores, quick lubes and mechanic shops.

Tony Stewart meets with Mobil 1 lubricant engineers at Dover International Speedway.

 "Throughout the year, Stewart-Haas Racing saw real progress from the technology partnership with Mobil 1 in regard to fuel mileage, engine efficiency and reliability," said Tony Stewart, reflecting on his Sprint Cup Championship. "Mobil 1 engine oil, chassis lubricants, gear oil -- even the power steering fluid -- helped get us to the end. It’s about reducing friction, heat and rolling resistance, and standing here as Sprint Cup Champion, I’d say Mobil 1 did a great job of giving me what it takes to win."