Much as there is a difference between the performance of an Aprilia V4 and a Royal Enfield single, donning the proper timepiece is a necessity in the world of professional motorsports. Certain watch elements are handy for spectators wishing to monitor laptimes, including accuracy, durability and readability. Stopwatch functions (which most non-moon phase chronographs have integrated), sapphire crystals (for the scratch resistance necessary in harsh trackside environments) and reliable illumination (for night and/or endurance races) are critical. Whether sprinting the quarter mile or tackling a 24-hour attempt, here are the top 10 watches for motorsport enthusiasts.
This value-priced Swiss automatic chronograph features a derivative of the nearly ubiquitous ETA 7750 automatic chronograph movement, a tough, reliable and accurate horological machine. With an eco-friendly self-winding automatic movement powered by your arm’s kinetic motion, it’s the perfect companion for all-electric events such as the Formula E series or the Isle of Man TT Zero race. It sports an anti-reflective analog display window and is water resistant down to 100 meters, so even if the race is red flagged by a little rain, you can rest assured knowing your watch won’t be.
An elegant yet masculine skeleton openwork watch designed for the long-distance racer, the Graham Silverstone RS Endurance offers a monopusher movement with a double chronograph function for measuring 24-hour race progress and simultaneous lap times. Various elements of the watch are also styled after the track, with a tire-tread patterned strap, a date disc striped to resemble a track’s painted curbing edges and a seconds counter shaped like a disc brake rotor. If you’re looking to go the distance all day and all night, the Graham Silverstone RS Endurance is the watch to roll with you.
Few names in the world of motorsports evoke more sense of reverence than that of race car driver and automotive legend Carroll Shelby. This watch is the result of a collaboration between Carroll Shelby International and Swiss watchmaker Baume and Mercier. It was one of only 1,963 limited edition pieces inspired by the infamous Shelby Cobra CSX2128, a 289-series roadster that won the 1963 12 Hours of Sebring. Taking cues from their 1948 mono-push chrono, the modern Capeland Shelby Cobra combines retro accents and classic lines with chronograph and tachymeter functions to honor one of American racing’s great triumphs.
An amalgamation of AUTomotive and AVIAtion, the Autavia namesake first appeared on the Heuer timers built for rally car dashboards in 1933, prior to becoming a line of Heuer wristwatches in 1962. Famously, Formula One and World Sportscar star Jochen Rindt wore a 39mm panda dial Heuer series 2446 Mark 3 Autavia throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Recently, Tag Heuer announced the launch of a new 42mm version homage to that watch, employing their “new” mostly in-house Heuer 02 automatic chronograph movement and dropping the TAG from its dial logo. New and used models are often available for sale on Amazon, such as this example.
Spanning over 2,000 miles from the north to south borders of Mexico, the famous Carrera Panamericana race of the 1950s was widely believed at the time to be the most dangerous race of any type in the world. The current Juan Manuel Fangio limited edition Carrera Chronograph, inspired by the Argentine race legend who dominated the first decade of Formula One racing, sports a durable stainless steel case with an analog sapphire-crystal display to stand up to whatever the track throws at you. With a black perforated leather band to keep racers cool, it is a timeless piece that the champion’s gaucho ancestors would be proud of.
The Speedmaster line became famous as a tough and reliable manual-wind astronaut’s watch in the 1960s and “Moon Watch” versions are still produced to this day, including several Apollo program tribute models. However, the Speedmaster was actually created to be a race timer well before NASA discovered it for spaceflight use. Today’s Speedmaster Racing versions sport a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal over a Swiss automatic movement with a face styled in the gray, black and yellow hues of many a famous race car or bike. A rubber-on-steel testament to the beauty that can only be found in mechanical porn, this co-axial chronograph is the perfect piece for gearheads of the two, three and four-wheel variety.
Tissot has a long and distinguished history as a sponsor of both Formula One and MotoGP, but their latest Nicky Hayden Ambassador series watches claim a special attachment to our hearts due to the tragic death of Nicky Hayden earlier this year while cross training in Italy. This battery-powered quartz chronograph features the usual tachymeter bezel for time/distance calculations as well as the usual stopwatch functions found on most chronograph watches. The uniqueness comes in when you realize it’s adorned with artwork and logos long associated with Hayden, bearing his name and famous 69 racing number on its caseback and arriving packaged in a plastic replica helmet.
While the square-faced Monaco became legendary after Steve McQueen checked the time on one in the opening sequence of the greatest racing movie of all time, Le Mans, he did in fact also wear one in real life. Off the set, McQueen raced motorcycles with a fair amount of skill and was downright talented and quick in another early ’70s racing legend, the Porsche 908, a car in which he nearly won the 12 Hours of Sebring! Just as McQueen himself will always remain iconic, Heuer’s iconic timepiece also broke the wristwatch mold, as the first water-resistant timepiece with a square case and the first automatic chronograph. The Monaco is pure vintage elegance, just like the race itself.
Introduced in 1963 specifically with the professional racer in mind and still awarded to the Daytona 200 Pole winner to this very day, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona offers the ability to precisely measure speeds up to 400 units per hour. Sleek as a land speed record contender, the Daytona’s chronograph and bezel with tachymetric scale are the ultimate in high performance and a true complement to the mechanical detail and love that goes into every race machine. This beautiful platinum, ice blue dial and brown ceramic version is currently discount priced down from its $75,000 retail tag to a mere $54,203 for the real deal on Amazon, or $129.99 for an homage piece from Henry Jay.
The beauty, legacy and attributes of every watch described above cannot be understated. But any cheap, modern digital watch/stopwatch with lap timer functions and easy to use pushers are far better at the task of actually timing laps at a racetrack. This $14.99 Resee Digital Stopwatch, although less likely to impress competitors and colleagues while bench racing, will be far more precise, consistent and easier to quickly read than any of the beautiful wrist machines listed above, regardless of price. And according to this listing, “You can also work out of your home and use it for tracking daily running up and down the stairs!” So you know at least you’ll have that going for you.