May 312015
 

(Please read Part I and Part II first.)

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!

 Posted by at 7:00 pm
May 312015
 

(Please read Part I of this post first.)

NASCAR has become boring for one big reason. It has completely lost the stock car narrative.

There are two especially colorful bits of culture that inform the birth of NASCAR. The first is that the sport was full of guys who built their skills—driving and turning the wrench—running moonshine. The second is that the sport started really taking off at the beach. The first big races in Daytona used the beach as one straightaway and the beach road as the other.

So in the very earliest races, it was common to drive to the track, tape up the headlights, roll down the windows, slap a number on, and go. “Run whatcha brung.” They really were “stock” cars, hence the term “stock car racing.” You made a race car out of something that was initially sold at a dealership.

Now of course, there was performance-oriented tweaking from the beginning. And as safety regulations came on board, the cars started changing in some bigger ways. You can’t purchase a grocery-getter at the Ford store with a full roll cage and five-point racing harness. But the bodies kept large strands of recognizable DNA common to both the street and the track all the way through my childhood. Do you remember the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe?

aerocoupe

The slanted front was common to all Monte Carlo SSs of this generation. What made it an Aerocoupe was that extended and slanted backlight. This car came about because the Ford Thunderbird was eating the Monte Carlo’s lunch aerodynamically on the racetrack. NASCAR required that any car body run in the series had to be available for sale to the public.

That term “stock car” making a bit more sense now? Hard to believe looking at the formless blobs of today, isn’t it?

Of course, said formless blobs haven’t a single nut or bolt in common with their ostensible street counterparts today. They’re also all essentially identical to each other, with only the tiniest bodywork details differing from one make to another. And here we have NASCAR’s problem.

Primarily in the pursuit of safety, NASCAR has allowed its very spirit to be overwhelmed. Today’s NASCAR is formula racing, when it was founded specifically not to be formula racing.

The term racing formula is usually applied to open-wheel series, but I think it applies here. It is the set of regulations with which a car must comply to compete. In today’s NASCAR, every millimeter of the car is regulated, with hundreds of pages of requirements. The pre-race and post-race inspections are beyond rigorous; the violations, frequently absurd-sounding.

The problem with NASCAR’s formula is not necessarily that it has one, but how it has come about. IndyCar and F1 formulae are intended from inception to produce dedicated race cars. However, NASCAR has a set of regulations it applies to race cars that are spiritually descended from cars that were not dedicated race cars, but were instead turned into race cars.

So it’s formula racing, but it’s a formula that generates a primitive race car. Pushrods. Recirculating ball steering. Ton and a half of curb weight. Handling? Yeah, sort of. Sometimes NASCAR apologists will try to zing me by saying their cars are harder to drive than IndyCars. I’ve never understood why that’s supposed to be such a devastating point. Yeah, they’re hard to drive. It’d be tough to drive a dump truck that way too. What’s the difference?

So what’s to be done? Well, I have an interesting answer, but it seems I’m long. I didn’t know I was headed for a Part III, but I am. Watch for it. (And that really will be it.)

(Continue to Part III.)

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
May 302015
 

Before I get into this, let me assure you that my NASCAR fan pedigree is pure—hardcore, even. I lived in Anniston, Alabama—20 minutes from what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway—until I was 15 years old. I enthusiastically attended many Winston 500s and Talladega 500s. (That’s not what they’re named anymore, but […]

 Posted by at 10:56 pm
May 242015
 

What an inspiring performance! That was just an outstanding job getting back through the field to win this year’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Congratulations to Juan Pablo Montoya on driving one hell of a race. He is a reliably entertaining driver, and I’m delighted to have him back in the greatest racing series in the […]

 Posted by at 3:27 pm

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