So You Want to Buy a Racing Watch…

Much like space travel, military heritage, and diving legends, watches will always be tied to the world of automotive sports. Today, we see brand logos plastered on the sides of race cars and immortalize the driving heroes of the past (like Ayrton Senna or Jo Siffert). Often, we are significantly attracted to the role that watches and precise timekeeping play on the track as well. This goes for both modern timepieces and even tools like vintage dash timers. The result: a genealogy that is responsible for some of the most intriguing watches available today. Bottom line? There’s much to be had in a fine racing watch you can add to your collection. So, let’s dissect the anatomy and discuss a few great examples.

Characteristics of a Racing Watch

There are a few features that separate a racing watch from other sport watches:

  • High-contrast dial that can be easily read at high speeds
  • Basic three or two register chronograph function
  • Tachymeter bezel scale for speed calculations
  • Angled case orientation that allows you to read the time without taking your hand off the steering wheel
  • Rally-style leather strap or rubber strap that is both breathable and comfortable to wear

Racing Watch Buying Guide: Vintage Breitling Chronomatic

By design, racing watches also usually tie into the imagery found on the race track. Many of them integrate characteristics like racing stripes, bright colors, or even recycled car components. This results in a watch that might be a bit too “loud” on the wrist for some people. So always consider your style, wearing preferences, and professional (or recreational) track needs before choosing one.

For The Purist

You’re fascinated by the golden age of racecar driving and probably had a few McQueen posters in your bedroom growing up. Brand sponsorships and ambassadors don’t really mean much to you, but you want a watch that quietly carries that high-speed lifestyle DNA. If you’re looking for something understated and pure, consider:

  • A basic two-register chronograph setup
  • No-nonsense dial layout without additional timing scales
  • A case that is classically sized but bold enough for modern standards
  • “High-speed” visual elements that can work in both casual and formal settings
  • Versatile case design that can work with a range of straps
  • Low-maintenance movement that can handle anything

Racing Watch Buying Guide: TAG Heuer Monaco

Our Pick: The Tag Heuer Monaco CAW2111

For The Weekend Track Warrior

If you’re looking for something a little more functional when you’re out on the track, legibility is key. Not only should your watch offer a true, in-the-field purpose, but it should also serve as a stylish piece you can wear for most occasions. Look for:

  • Full tachymeter scale
  • High-contrast, black and white “panda” color scheme
  • Alternate case or chrono pusher positioning for ease of use while driving
  • Slim or contoured case design for all-day comfort
  • Alternate material integration (like titanium or ceramic) for light weight and increased durability

Racing Watch Buying Guide: TAG Heuer Carrera

Our Pick: The Tag Heuer Carrera “Jack Heuer” Limited Edition

For The 24 Hours Of Daytona Winner

You need a watch that tells the world where you’ve been and how fast you’re moving. Racing is in your blood and you might even be like our pal Ted Gushue, who made it from the hospital to the crib in a Porsche 911 SC. Consider:

  • Truly in-house movement architecture
  • Two-tone or precious metal case construction
  • Metal bracelet instead of leather or rubber
  • Three-register chronograph configuration
  • Oyster-style case for increased water resistance

Racing Watch Buying Guide: Rolex Daytona

Our Pick: The Rolex Daytona (in gold, and preferably vintage)

A racing or racing-inspired watch can serve as a great everyday watch. Sure, you might not find yourself speeding through victory laps or timing your work commute with a tachymeter, but you can appreciate these watches nonetheless. Overall, they serve as a great addition to any collection and you can’t go wrong with any of the options listed above.

Written by

Michael is a Seattle-based writer who first became interested in watches during his grade school years. He has a penchant for design, aviation, music, and anything sci-fi or gear related. When he’s not writing about watches or contributing to a number of other projects, he enjoys catching up on his favorite books, tinkering with guitars, and exploring the trails of Washington.

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