So what do we do to bring genuine excitement back to NASCAR?
I envision a template for a NASCAR race car that specifies dimension ranges, including length, width, height, and weight. Ample safety standards would remain in place, to include full roll cage, racing harness, on-board fire suppression, semi-active aerodynamics (integrated body flaps designed to prevent rollover, for example), and the like. It’s a short, but important, list of requirements, primarily intended to prevent the sport from being needlessly dangerous.
And then, we put the “stock” back in “stock car racing.”
I think we need to return genuine production-based homologation to NASCAR. I think a manufacturer’s entry should be based on a street-legal car for sale to the general public, in quantities of at least 5,000 per year. All of the production car’s body panels must be used, with simple rules permitting ground effect additions that are necessary on a racetrack but impractical on the street. Race-specific spoilers? Nope. It’s on the race car only if it’s on the production car.
Now, here’s my favorite part.
The engine and transmission must be identical to those in the production car for sale to the general public. The only permitted modification would be removal of emissions controls.
Ridiculous? Is it really? You know there’s a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger for sale, right? How much power would that thing make without street exhaust and a catalytic converter?
Standardize on 93-octane unleaded gasoline. Any powertrain is permitted, so long as it is identical to that in a car sold in quantities of at least 5,000 per year to the general public. Each manufacturer would declare a single entry for a season some months in advance, so NASCAR could develop appropriate inspection protocols. (I don’t see needing much. I think engine management software would be the area to police most closely.)
I remember reading an old Junior Johnson interview where he talked about dreading “driver meetings” in the early days of the sport. He said officials would come through and announce a “driver meeting,” and what that almost always meant was “Junior’s found another way to whip all our asses, so we’re going to take it away from him.”
Well, there are no cheats with my plan. Where would they be? Essentially, if a car hits all of the dimension windows and safety requirements, and the sheet metal and engine pass pre- and post-race inspection, you’re good. If it doesn’t and/or they don’t, you’re not.
Now my 5,000-per-year number is relatively high. The last time NASCAR had such a requirement, it was 200 per year. I’m thinking that’ll keep a manufacturer from fielding some 1,500-hp monster or something, because they’d have to sell 5,000 of them. If it costs too much, they won’t be able to do that.
But think about all of the variability my approach would introduce! Wouldn’t it be awesome to have manufacturers solving the power problem in different ways, then going head-to-head? This one’s quicker to speed, but that one’s more efficient. This one’s stronger at higher altitudes than that one. Remember what a technological showcase the Indianapolis 500 used to be? What if NASCAR stole that entire dynamic?
And win on Sunday, sell on Monday? Oh, big-time. If the car really does look like the race car, and the owner knows s/he’s got the same engine as his/her hero?
I’m sure there are all kinds of ways people who make a lot of money right now would not make a lot of money under my proposed restructuring. Plus, NASCAR’s never had much of a reputation for transparent operation in the first place. So I don’t have any real hope that anything like my proposal would ever come to pass. I’m simply imagining a highly entertaining shot in the arm for a series that has stumbled into formula racing and is rather ill-suited for it.
I enjoyed following my thinking on these three posts. Thanks for indulging me!