Exhaust tips are a strange thing to take pictures of, you might think. To be honest, I admit that it is kind of strange, but whenever I go out into the field, with camera in hand, I end up taking at least a few pictures of the race exhaust setups I see. I’m drawn to them, and over the years, I’ve ended up with a bunch of them in my files.

If I think about why I shoot them, I’d have to say it’s for a few different reasons. One, the exhaust outlet of every car performs the same function, to evacuate the engine of its spent gases and release them into the atmosphere. Yet, depending on the application, the car on which it’s found, the kind of racing the car was designed for or even the track at which it is racing, the exhaust can take many different forms. It’s kind of fascinating.

At tracks where there are noise restrictions, the form tailpipes take can be pretty unusual. What makes them unusual is the function of quieting the exhaust to the point at which it can run past the sound booth without attracting a black flag, and they can take on a sculptural form. That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it, exhaust as sculpture? But there it is.

On road cars, the exhaust always comes out the back of the car and always behind the rear axle. On racecars, there’s no telling where it will come out, and I can usually find interesting examples no matter where I am.

Like spark plugs, exhaust pipes can tell you a little bit about the health of an engine. Most of the Porsche Cup cars I’ve seen usually have a nice chalky gray soot covering the inside of their tailpipes. Others leave traces of black carbon on the flanks that trail the pipe. Still others spit water and other byproducts of combustion, leaving telltale splatters on body panels and bumper covers. Some blow smoke. Some blow flames, which is always a primal treat for a photographer.

What follows is a photo essay of all the exhaust systems I could find that I’ve shot over the years. I can’t help feeling that I missed a few that I have shot, but this is the lion’s share.

The very idea of a feature like this may leave you scratching your head, yet I believe the images stand on their own. As you look at the images on the following pages, see if you notice how each pipe’s form is influenced by its function.

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Image courtesy of Brett Becker