Can Race Cars Be Driven On The Highway? The Law Explained

Can Race Cars Be Driven On The Highway? The Law Explained

Can race cars be driven on the highway? Is there a special provision in the law allowing race cars to be driven on the highway? It’s still a car, it should still be legal for my race car to be driven on the highway, right?

Drive On The Highway

No. If we’re talking about a legit race car, in its purest form, this is an absolute no. Why? Because these cars are never meant to be driven anywhere else aside from the race track.

Here Are Some Existing Conditions To Consider

If the car is a lightly modified street car used for racing, the answer is yes. If the car is a purpose built race car, or a highly modified street car used for racing, the answer is no. In either case, it’s a very bad idea to drive a car with a racing roll bar when not wearing a helmet, as your head may contact that roll bar during a collision.

Race cars are not equipped with the proper equipment to drive on public roads. So, why would you want to?

Here are some reasons why you wouldn’t want to do that. Or shouldn’t.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Drive Your Race Car On The Highway

You’ve got a race car. It’s meant to race. It wasn’t built from the ground up to do mundane things like most conventional cars. So, why subject it to mundane tasks like driving on the highway?

Still set on doing that? Maybe these’ll change your mind.

Highways Don’t Last Forever

Highways don’t last forever. You’re eventually going to reach a point where it merges onto regular traffic and then you’ll be stuck with all the regular, slow moving cars.

Think your race car gives you an advantage over them? Think again! Imagine having to drive behind grandma and there’s no space to overtake her. Now you’re stuck at a snail’s crawl at 20mph (Miles Per Hour, for the uninitiated). Not so fun with an oversized engine in your hood, huh?

Do You Think You Can Take The Heat?

You’ve got an oversized engine under the hood. That powerhouse needs lots of cooling to keep it running at optimal level. How much air do you think you’ll be able to force into your rams while sitting at a standstill?


Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

And now you’re stuck with an engine that’s growing hotter by the minute as other, more conventional cars just sit patiently in traffic along with you. Your engine’s probably glowing red hot by now. Sooner or later, something’s going to give. Still want to take your race car on regular roads and highways?

You’ll Be Surrounded By Slowpokes

Do you really want to subject yourself to that type of torture? Sure you’ll be the fastest car on the road, but all that speed won’t amount to anything if the cars blocking the path ahead of you are slower than molasses.

Well, at least you’ll be the flashiest car in the slow lane.

Bumps Ahead

Watch out for bumps ahead. And not just on the road. Inside, without a helmet, you’re at risk of developing a bad case of round-horned devil look.

All race cars have roll bars. There’s no going around that rule. A roll bar keeps the body intact in the event of a rollover. This keeps the driver from getting crushed.

Roll bars, even if they’re wrapped in a generous amount of rubber padding, are still hard. Hit one hard enough and you’re in for some mighty good bruising. Without a helmet, you could crack your skull open.

How does that happen?

You’ve got a rigid suspension and a vehicle going up to speeds above 100mph, a small imperfection on the road is enough to make you bounce up and down on your seat. Get the picture now?

You Can’t Drive A Race Car On The Highway But You Can With A Street Car

Here’s a compromise, and we know there’s a big difference between a race car and a street legal car but, bear with us on this.

You see, your race car was built with the sole intention of racing it with other race cars on the race track. Every nut and bolt that went into it were properly examined to ensure it doesn’t add any unnecessary weight. It was built to be the quickest and lightest car possible.

A streetcar on the other hand is built to be safe, comfortable, and most importantly, comfortable. And legal, don’t forget legal.

You’ll never find most of the things found on street cars in a race car.

Air conditioning? Nope.

Horns? Nope.

Plush leather seats and an awesome entertainment system? Double nope.

In the same manner, you’d never find emergency stops or 8-point race safety belts on a street car. That is unless the owner is deluded enough to install them, thinking he needs this very pricey equipment that’s almost equivalent to his car’s value.

No Backsies

Granted, most race cars are basically just street cars stripped down and modified to become race legal. In doing so, there are no backsies. Once you’ve fully committed to turning your street car to a race car, it’s a race car for life.

We’re not just talking about putting stickers on and replacing the muffler. We’re talking about removing everything unessential to racing and replacing parts with lightweight aftermarket counterparts. This is not a ricer. This is a legit race car we’re talking about.

Race cars are also subject to different laws. What they basically just have to pass is the racing required standard equipment and vehicle soundness. These rules also change constantly and that’s why the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) basically put their hands up and backed off.

It would seem unfair to some, but street cars can race and have been raced around the race track with little to no problems. Of course, certain considerations have been made based on the engine and power output of the car.

The added weight brought on by having necessary road equipment like lights, turn signals, horns, bumpers, mirrors, extra seats, tires, and others factor into the final outcome of the lap. It’s definitely going to be slower than that of an actual race car.

The ground clearance and tires used are also going to throw the car off a bit because of how far it sits from the ground and its center of gravity.

A Rally car, on the other hand, can be driven on the street, but only in transit from point of origin to the race track. This is the closest you can get to driving a race car on the road. And yes, it is going to be an uncomfortable ride given the obstacles you’ll face en route.

Wait, Maybe There Is A Provision For Letting Race Cars Drive On Public Roads And Highways

There have been instances where race cars were driven on the highway but with the special provision that no other cars were present. So, this sits between legally driving a race car on the highway in normal situations and not.

During these parades or processions, any race car can be driven on the highway. Now this seems to throw off the notion that it’s not the most ideal condition for these cars to drive in. if you take notice, these events move faster or cars are still on trailers.

The thing is, everything moves faster in these events.

So, is it still a parade? Yeah, maybe. A parade on speed.

Maybe this is the answer you’re looking for. If you’re a race car owner who wants to drive down the highway, visit your local city hall, and check out events that will allow you to do just that.

Isn’t A Ferrari A Race Car? Why Can People Drive It On The Highway?

Ferraris are marketed as race cars. The key term there is “marketed”

These high powered machines can hold their own on the race track. There’s no question in that. But, at the end of the day, these cars are still targeted at men and women who are looking for a car that will allow them to live out their race car fantasies.

Only the most serious race car aficionados would dare race their Ferraris on the road. The hair-raising power emitted by the engine is definitely not for the faint of heart in congested city streets. Neighbors will complain once you rev the engine and you’d most probably develop a serious case of tinnitus if you use it on a daily basis.

Better get some noise cancelling headphones to block out the complaints.

You’d find these cars used on the race track more often on the weekends for their pursuit of having an adrenaline rush. Most days, these cars just sit in their garage for people to admire as an expensive centerpiece.

What About A Lambo?

A Lamborghini is basically in the same class as a Ferrari. A closer look at the cabin will reveal that the Lambo has a more passenger friendly inner space.

This Is Why Racing Cars Are Broad ANd Low

Is it a race car? Sure. If you’d like to call it that. And that’s applicable to all Lamborghinis. It could be an Aventador, a Murcielago, whatever, if it’s a Lambo, it’s fast.

To me, it falls under the super car category. That’s where BMWs, Jaguars, and Porsches belong.

These cars are barely street legal.

Ok, So Explain Why A Bugatti Veyron Can Be Driven On The Highway.

The Bugatti Veyron is touted as the fastest production car today. With a top speed of 254 mph it’s fast. As fast as an F1 Race Car.

No one’s driven their Bugatti Veyron at that speed yet on the highway. No one probably will.

It’s just too fast to be safe when driven at that speed in public. The only way you’ll hit that top speed is on a race track with no one else around to hinder your progress.

So, the Bugatti Veyron might be the fastest production sports car in the world today but on the highway, it’ll just be as fast as everyone else.


Why Not Get A Street Racer Instead?

Okay, so let’s say you really, really, really want to be the fastest car on the road. We’ve already established the fact that using your race car is probably the most impractical way to go about it. So, why not make a compromise and settle for a street racer instead?

Sure, these cars are a notch slower than your average race car, but they’ll still be fast enough to give you that adrenaline rush.

What’s A Street Racer?

Street racers became popular when Japanese cars became widely available to young people in the 90s. These cars were affordable, looked sleek enough to pass as a legit race car, and had all the trimmings needed to make a comfortable ride.

The level of modification for these cars were also beyond expectation. Aftermarket products were widely available and they came at very reasonable prices. Because the target customer base for these cars were mainly young Asian people, the term “ricer” for these racers became quite popular.

This term started as an accepted norm and was embraced by that community of racers until it became derogatory. It has come back in recent times and has shed off the bad connection to its name.

Here’s the kicker: you won’t get a ticket for driving your fast street racer on the highway. Why? Because you have all the safety equipment mandated by the law on your car.

Street Legal Race Car Basics

What makes car street legal?

Regular cars are built to transport people from point A to point B safely.

Race cars aren’t. They’re just meant to go from point A to point B faster than anyone.

What makes a car street legal, anyway?

Race cars are built for competition. Regular cars are built to safely carry people from place to place. Street legal race cars exist in the intersection of these two groups: they’re super-fast cars that also have all the safety features required by local laws. 

The definition of a street legal car varies from state to state, but there are a few things they must have, wherever you are. According to legal site, street legal race cars need:

Mandatory Equipment On Street Legal Cars:

Seat belts

In the interest of safety, this one is on top of the list. Seat belts keep you strapped into your seat, safe from being ejected or slamming around against the insides of your car. Seat belts have been responsible for saving thousands of lives in near fatal crashes.

A Regular, Round Steering Wheel (not a butterfly-style steering wheel)

A regular, round steering wheel is the standard equipment found on stock cars. Replacing your steering wheel with smaller or larger counterparts affects the turning radius of your car. Install a small steering wheel and you’re looking at multiple hand passes as you try to make a U-turn.

If you put in a steering wheel that is too large, chances are you’ll find gaps or too much allowance when you try to make a turn.

And don’t even think about installing butterfly-style steering wheels on your stock car. That will require you to keep both hands, at all times, in a rigid position as you try to make turns. These steering wheels are only fit for race cars as you are not expected to make complete turns.

A Functioning Horn

Horns may only be treated as accessories but they do serve a purpose. A car horn can help you signal others on the road for help. You can also use it to warn others of imminent danger.

A Hood

A hood keeps your engine inside the engine bay, insulated from direct sunlight. This helps keep the temperature at an optimal level. The hood keeps your engine safe from the elements.

A standard hood will have regulation height air intakes for added safety. An ample amount of air vents


It also prevents other people from accidentally coming in contact with your hot engine when you park your car.

If not for anything else, it also helps keep your engine from being tinkered with or stolen by others.


Bumpers that can withstand a minimum of 5mph impacts are required on all cars used on the road. Race cars normally swap these out for fiberglass pieces to save up on weight. Those shatter on impact. That’s not good especially if you’re headed towards a separating wall.

License plates

Conventional cars have these. Race cars don’t.

One of the reasons why race cars don’t have these is because it poses a danger to everyone involved should it happen to fly off at high speeds.

A Working Muffler

Most states require a muffler to help cut down on the noise pollution. Race cars with or without mufflers are loud. Rev the engine high enough and you’re going to wake the entire neighborhood. The quieter your car is, the less risk you’ll have of getting a ticket for causing a racket.

Or at least lessen the risk of your neighbors plotting something against you and your loud race car.

Functioning Brakes And A Working Emergency Brake

All cars have these, but just having functioning brakes and a working emergency brake won’t automatically make your race car street legal.

These components have to be tested to ensure that they will work each and every time you need it deployed.

All Required Lights (Headlights, Brake Lights, Taillights) And Reflectors

Conventional cars come with the customary headlights, brake lights and taillights. Reflectors are also standard requirements for some cars in certain states.

Race cars swap these out for stickers to further bring down their total weight. Take a closer look at professional race cars and you’ll see that those realistic looking lights are just decals. They’ll only reflect ambient light but they can’t generate their own.

Now try driving your race car at night on the highway at ridiculous speeds. Yeah, go ahead. We dare you.

On second thought, no. Don’t. Just don’t.

Acceptable Ground Clearance

An acceptable ground clearance is needed to drive cars safely on regular roads. Everyone who’s lowered their cars to ridiculous levels have had that harrowing experience of scraping their under chassis on a speed bump.

And race cars? Well, try slipping a finger underneath that body and you’ll know just how ridiculously lowered they are.

Oh and for those with monster trucks, just so you know, you’re not exempt from this law too. Too much ground clearance is also frowned upon. Keep those off-roaders off the road.

How To Make A Race Car Street Legal

To put this bluntly, you’re far better off buying a second car than turning a race car back into a street legal vehicle. 

But, if you’re willing to put all that money and time into turning one back to something you can drive on the road, well, that’s entirely up to you. There’s always that option to put up a third mortgage on your house.

Let’s say on the off chance that someone in your family likes you enough to leave you a NASCAR-style stock car in their will. Like any guy, you’d want to show it off to all your friends, co-workers and the rest of the world by driving it to every place you go right? I know I would, given the chance.

Cut Holes Into The Body To Put All The Lights Back In

Race cars come with one-piece molded bodies to lessen the weight brought on by having individual parts. To make room for all the lights to be re-installed, you will need to section off areas on the body and cut into it. You will also have to fabricate housings to carry the lights.

A word of caution though, you can’t just cut into the body without any prior plans set. The integrity of the body is going to get compromised and sections will become weaker the more you cut into it.

An easier way to do this is just to swap out the race car body with a stock body and mate it with the chassis.

Attach A Bumper

All street legal cars need bumpers for both the front and the rear. These will protect your car as well as others using the road in front and behind you.

The allowed bumper for street legal cars are rated at 5mph collisions to remain intact.

Dial The Power Down To An Acceptable Speed

Race cars have large engines. With large engines come a lot of power. That power translates to torque and acceleration. If you have too much of it, a light pressure on the accelerator pad could move your car a couple of feet instead of just for a few inches forward or back.

You don’t want that— especially when you’re stuck in traffic or just trying to get out of a tight parking spot.

Replace The Windows

Race cars don’t have working windows. Those just add to the weight. To bring your race car back to stock, you will have to install new windows along with the mechanism needed to raise/lower it. These windows have to be street legal to reduce the risk of shattering.

Put Mirrors Back In Place

Race cars don’t have any need for rear view or side mirrors. Street legal cars do. You will have to channel the doors to house your side mirrors.

You will also need to install a liner or at least fabricate a section for your ceiling to attach the rearview mirror.

Adjust The Suspension For Regular Road Use

Race cars have rigid suspensions that are well-suited to perfectly level roads like that on race tracks. A regular road is nothing like a race track. There are little bumps, holes and other imperfections that will cause your car to jolt up and down. And with you in it, a short ride through a rough patch is going to feel like being inside a blender.

Rebalance The Chassis

The chassis on race cars are extremely rigid. This is to help counter the forces of inertia and the possible twisting that might result from too much torque.

Most of the weight will be concentrated on the front as this is where massive forces are experienced. To correct that, you will have to rebalance the chassis for an even keel.

Put All Gauges Back To Stock

All of the changes you make on your race car to bring it back to street legal specs is going to throw your gauges out of whack. You will need to recalibrate your existing gauges and remove those you won’t be needing to reduce the clutter on your dash.

You can buy stock gauges brand new or from a replacement parts store.

Optional: Roll Bar Removal

Most guys reverting their race cars back to regular street cars often have the roll bars left untouched. Should you remove it? If you’re thinking of using it to carry more passengers, yes. Without a roll bar inside, the cabin will feel less cramped.

If you’re just driving solo, keep the roll bars in but do try to wear some head protection when driving or double the padding to reduce the risk of serious head injuries.

You Will Need Seats

If you’re planning on carrying passengers, you will need the rear seats back. Your race car seat for the driver’s side can stay. You can also install one on the passenger side but take note, these seats don’t recline.

Adjustments for these seats will just have to be for moving it forward or back.

If you’re putting the rear seats back, the roll bars will definitely have to go since portions of it will cut into the rear section of your car.

Put All Creature Comfort Components Back

All the things taken out to reduce weight will have to come back in. The first thing on your list should be the climate control components. That’s your air conditioning and heater system. These take up a lot of space not only in the dash system but also within the engine bay for the compressor and AC unit.

Tubing will take up space inside the engine bay and the cabin.

Don’t forget to put in the entertainment system to complete the package. You’ll have to cut into the dash to house the main unit and then route some wires into the speakers that you can put anywhere within the cabin.

Install A Generous Amount Of Padding

Race cars have Spartan cabins. That means there are no paddings anywhere except where it matters. All that exposed metal means hard surfaces will come in contact with soft bodies. Now, that’s not a problem if you’re always wearing heavily padded race suits when you drive.

If you’re not, then you definitely have to invest in some padding for your doors, ceiling and floors. Make sure you install sound dampening mats to reduce the noise inside the cabin while you’re at it.

Invest In A Whole New Exhaust System

And here’s the most tiring aspect of that plan: putting an exhaust system that adheres to the emissions standard approved by the DMV.

You’ll need a whole new set including the catalytic converter to ensure you don’t spew out harmful gases when driving your vehicle on the road.

You Will Need To Go To The DMV

Here’s the hardest part: registering your converted race car for street use. You can only do this by going to your local DMV. They will come and assess your car to ensure that it passes all the safety regulations and is fully equipped with the right equipment for road-worthiness.

This process can take a long time. It may require you to make adjustments here and there if they find some things not to their liking. This will cost you a lot of money and time.

In Parting

If you’re lucky, you won’t have to do much to your race car. This is just a list of things you might have to do. Along with all those modifications listed above is a need to set a budget. Assess the amount you’ll need to raise if it’s still practical to revert that race car back. Maybe this will help you see that it’s better to just put all that money in for a stock car.

Now, maybe you have a vehicle that has been modified for performance or looks. It may need just a little work to make it street-legal again. Examples include restoring the muffler/emissions controls, removing dark tints or replacing illegal lights with DOT-approved lights.

In parting, never drive a race car outside the race track. It’s just not designed to drive on the street — or even to make right turns.

Examples Of Street Legal Race Cars

Well, you can’t go tearing up the highway in a professional race car but you definitely can on a street legal race car. We’ve got a list of street legal cars here that are still attainable (depending on the size of your wallet) for the average Joe.

These cars have all the necessary equipment needed to make it legal on streets and highways. Although, it wouldn’t hurt to go through the checklist again to make sure you absolutely have everything needed to evade a ticket. So go ahead and check before heading out. And have fun on these cars.

Classic Muscle Car

Want to raise your cool factor by a hundred notches? Get any of these Classic Muscle Cars: a ’69 Camaro, a ’70 Chevelle, or a ’71 Monte Carlo. These cars have stood the test of time and have remained classy without sacrificing power and speed.

If you’re ever planning to have a fast car, get a Classic Muscle Car. These are the sexiest fast cars on the road even if they’re parked.

Get A Beater Car

Want to surprise people with flashier cars with how fast you can go? Get a Mazda Miata. These little things are zippy! And they look sporty enough to make you look cool. Pop the top down and you’re in a very enjoyable sports car that won’t cost you too much out of pocket.

The Acura Integra and Dodge Neon are also good examples of Beater cars that can hit 0-60 within a respectable amount of time. Not as cool as the Miata though.

High Performance Luxury Cars

The Germans got this right the first time. So get a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi or Porsche if you want to have a “race car” you can drive legally on regular streets.

These cars are very hardy and require little maintenance. They’re also built to stand the test of time. Not only are they beautiful on the outside but they’re just as beautiful inside too. And that’s down to the last nut and bolt used.

Exotic Sports Cars

One good example is the Bugatti Veyron. It’s the fastest street legal production race car allowed to be driven on regular roads. This car can reach a ridiculous top speed of 258mph. Need more speed? Get the Koenigsegg One:1. That monster can hit 273mph!

You’ll have to spit out a whole boatload of cash just to purchase these cars and pay off the importation taxes associated with them.

And no, the rest of the cars on the road won’t split up like how Moses did it when people notice you rapidly gaining on them. You’ll still get stuck in traffic like the rest of us conventional drivers.

Cool cars though.

Formula One Racer Kit Car

Still dreaming of driving a Formula One style racer? Get a kit. These cars look like the real thing but with the trimmings and equipment needed to make it street legal. You won’t be as fast as the actual car itself but you’ll just be a little bit closer to the coolness factor.

Race Cars Go In Reverse

Oh and, the local police will still probably stop you every chance they get because in their eyes, your car isn’t fit for the road.


In Conclusion:

Here’s the bottomline: you can’t legally drive your race car on the highway. You just can’t and you shouldn’t. The risk of getting a ticket and some penalty points on your license is way too high for that.

Just remember this:

If the car is a lightly modified street car used for racing, the answer is yes.  If the car is a purpose built race car, or a highly modified street car used for racing, the answer is no.

Put it on a trailer. Get behind the wheel and just pretend you’re roaring down the highway. Engine sounds coming from your mouth is optional.

And again, why would you want to waste your time racing down the highway at a limited speed? Don’t you want to let your valves open up when you push the pedal to the metal on the race track?

That’s where your race car belongs anyway.

And no one is exempt from the law. Not even the Stig.


Related Questions:

What’s The Most Legal Way To Get My Race Car On The Highway?

The most legal way to get your race car on the highway is on the back of a trailer. Most racers shudder at the thought of being trailer queens, but that’s the only way you can get your car on the highway with no risk of getting a ticket. Just pretend your engine’s on when you get behind the wheel.

Can I Put A 440 In My Japanese Street Racer?

Sure, why not? Your only problem now is making sure your Japanese Ricer can take the torque that would twist any weak chassis to a pretzel when you push the pedal to the metal. You’ll have to make massive modifications to the body for that to happen. Get ready to shell out more bucks for that.

What’s The Meaning Of Street Legal?

The term “Street Legal” was given to high powered cars with race trim who were equipped with the proper safety gear for road use. That means all the lights are functional, there’s a horn present, the body trim won’t present a road hazard and it’s essentially safe enough to drive on regular roads.

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