See that? No, it’s not the money you could be saving with Geico. It’s the rain about to fall on NASCAR’s parade.
As we count down to the 2009 Sprint Cup campaign kicking off Feb. 7 with the annual Budweiser Shoot-out at Daytona, I’ve decided to put thought to...uh...pixel...for my alternative to NASCAR.
I have been watching this series for over 30 years and I’ve seen a tremendous growth. Along with that has been change for better and worse.
But this isn’t a marriage. So there’s no, “...’till death do us part” element.
With this new era of so-called “Change” in America, I’m calling for an alternative to NASCAR and the Sprint Cup Series—something that takes the storied and successful history of the sport and melds it with the present, and fan interest. I know a number of these ideas have been floated in various musings by some out there, and I may or may not have read them.
However I believe this piece will provide a framework that is more detailed than any seen to date. With some help from a major money-guy (hello! Bruton Smith!) this plan would offer NASCAR fans something to enjoy, and possibly shake up the aristocracy that has put the series in the position it finds itself in.
So without further adieu, allow me to present my solution, as I see it, for a new racing series to take to the track in 2010. You might want to make a pit stop or grab a refreshment now, because this may take a bit.
We’ll start with one of the most contentious issues facing the sport.
The new car is great from a safety perspective but it has no ties with the auto manufacturers (not that “stock” cars have for two decades). I believe if the identity of the car makers is brought back, and the mantra “Win on Sunday (or Saturday, as it were), sell on Monday” returned, it would boost lagging sales and re-build brand loyalty that was omnipresent in the past.
Pitting the cars up against each other head-to-head would also expose weaknesses in some designs, forcing improvements to better performance. A certain make may dominate races for a time, but it would be on the engineers back at the manufacturer to make changes to compete.
The manufacturers would build all racing cars to specification, including safety components such as roll-cages, energy-absorption features, fuel cells, engines, fire-suppression systems. Basically the cars would be built at the corporate shop, then loaded on truck to its destination team for final outfitting and paint. All cars will run 18-gallon fuel cells.
Cars must be mass-produced in North America (Canada, U.S. or Mexico), and body templates (which would be joined like NASCAR’s “Claw”) must match production model (with adjustments allowed for fender wells containing larger racing tires and height to allow for roll-cage and driver safety).
Minimum wheelbase (wb) would be 105”, maximum would be 120”. Here is a list of current-production cars and their wheelbase is indicated in parenthesis: Chevy Impala SS (110.5” wb), Ford Fusion (107.4” wb), Toyota Camry (109.3” wb), Dodge Charger (120” wb), Pontiac G8 (114.7” wb), and Honda Accord (110.2” wb).
What would be interesting to see is what performs better; a longer or shorter wheelbase. I have a hunch that this might vary based on the type of track. Another interesting tidbit here is the difference between the Impala SS and G8 lengths. Historically GM (Ford, etc.) would have different models of cars based on the same chassis wheelbase, in order to reduce production costs.
Manufacturers must build cars with fuel-injected V-8 racing engines, with a maximum displacement of 5.0 liters or 350 cubic inches). This engine must be available for purchase in the production car, but may have racing seals, gaskets, rings, and other replaceable parts installed. The block, cam shafts, pistons, rods, valves, and crank shaft must all be from the production car.
The intake and exhaust manifolds must also be the same as the street-legal version. The exhaust system need not require a muffler or catalytic converter, and can be an after-market system to vent out the right side of the car. A shielding system must prevent the heat from reaching the floorboard of the car.
Each car is allowed two engines per race weekend. Each engine will be sealed and must be used for 2 or 3 consecutive races. If engine replacement is required during the weekend between qualifying and race time, that car will be required to start at the rear of the field, and will forfeit pit stall selection.
Extruded foam inserts between roll cage and door panels will be required (like the COT) for impact absorption.
Two fire-suppression systems, one for the engine compartment and another for the rear cockpit/fuel cell area will be required. Both should be dry chemical. Halon would not be the first choice (for cockpit in particular), but may be acceptable for the engine compartment. Carbon Dioxide would be preferred.
A fresh-air and cooling system for driver is required. This would consist of a filtration system in the car, connected to the driver helmet with a hose, along with a cool-suit, to help maintain a healthy body temperature. A ceramic or silica tile plate (similar to the Space Shuttle’s protective tile composition) will be installed along the floorboard/firewall to protect the driver’s feet and reduce cockpit temperatures.
Roof flaps to on top and side skirts and front valence to prevent air from getting under car would prevent roll-over. A rear spoiler (possibly with side panels similar to the COT) would help provide rear downforce and stability. This spoiler must be an option for the production model, and standard on the “SS” model of the street-legal version of the car.
The following aspects of the car will be allowed to have adjustability at the track; Camber +/- 2 degrees; Caster +/- 2 degrees; Three different types of springs/shocks will be allowed; Air pressure in tires (minimum established by manufacturer); Gear ratio may be changed, but final drive must match production car; Ride height raised or lowered by 1.”
Tracks on the Circuit
I believe I have assembled a pretty good list of facilities to race at. The key is almost all of these (sans Darlington and Daytona) are not owned by International Speedway Corporation (ISC—also owned by the France family who owns and runs NASCAR). I think there is diversity that is currently lacking on the schedule, as well as a good geographic spread, to reach markets around the country.
For smaller tracks that currently don’t host a Cup-level race, there would be some requirements to bring the facility up to standards; Permanent seating capacity must be increased to 50,000 by the second race, and 80,000 minimum for the third racing season.
SAFER barriers must be installed on all outer and inner walls. Track fencing must be 16 feet high with a 3-foot track overhang, and reinforced with 1” horizontal steel cable no more than 2 feet apart to protect spectator areas. Exceptions are allowed for road courses.
A concrete wall separating pit road from the track must be installed, with SAFER barrier on the track side. Pit road must have a minimum of 36 full-size pit stalls (minimum of 26 feet in length). Pit road must have non-porous reinforced-concrete pads to prevent spills from reaching ground.
Track List (alphabetized by name; this is not indicative of a schedule)
Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54 mile D oval) Hampton, GA
Barber Motorsports Park (2.3 mile road course) Birmingham, AL
Bristol Motor Speedway (1/2 mile high-bank oval) Bristol, TN
Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5 mile D oval) Concord, NC
Daytona International Speedway (2.5 mile tri-oval) Daytona, FL
Darlington Raceway (1.366 mile oval) Darlington, SC
Gateway International Speedway (1.25 mile low-bank oval) East St. Louis, IL
Iowa Speedway (7/8 mile tri-oval) Middle of nowhere (a.k.a. Newton, IA)
Kentucky Motor Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval) Sparta, KY
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval) Las Vegas, NV
Milwaukee Mile (1 mile flat oval) Milwaukee, WI
Music City Motorplex (TN) (.596 mile oval) Nashville, TN
Nashville Superspeedway (TN) (1.33 mile tri-oval) Gladeville, TN
Nazareth Speedway (.946 mile tri-oval) Nazareth, PA
New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058 mile flat oval) Loudon, NH
Pikes Peak (CO) Speedway (1 mile tri-oval) Fountain, CO
Rockingham Speedway (NC) (1.017 mile oval) Rockingham, NC
Texas Motor Speedway (TX) (1.5 mile D oval) Ft. Worth, TX
Texas World Speedway (TX) (2 mile tri-oval) College Station, TX
Virginia International Raceway (3.27 mi. [full] or 2.25 mi. [north] road course) Alton, VA
Note: Music City, Nazareth, Pikes Peak, and Texas World would need some work to be brought up to standards—most others are in a position to host a race with minimal, if any, upgrades. And for those of you dying to see North Wilkesboro, NC reborn, knock yourself out—we could add that if brought up to modern standards, but you might want to have a bake sale to raise some cash!
I would be open to the following ISC tracks also being on the schedule; Talladega Superspeedway (2.66 mile tri-oval), Richmond International Raceway (3/4 mile tri-oval), Martinsville Speedway (.526 mile flat oval), and Phoenix International Raceway (1 mile tri-oval).
There will be a maximum of 24 races, with the season-opening race to be the first weekend of March. Sanctioned tracks will receive one race per season, and may bid on a second one based on turnout, percent of capacity filled, and purse. There would be 3-4 off weekends during the season every 6 weeks or so to allow down time for drivers and crews.
There would be a limit of 400 miles on 1.5 mile tracks or larger, 300 mile distance on tracks 1-1.499 miles in length, and 250 miles on shorter tracks or road courses. One or two feature races of the season may go longer—but that’s up for discussion. The idea is to keep the races about three hours in length—but this will vary based on caution periods.
Once a race had completed half of its scheduled distance, plus one lap, it is considered “official”; should completion be prevented by weather, darkness, or another factor.
Teams would arrive at the track Friday morning for registration, inspection, 2 hours of practice, and qualifying. Adjustments can be made on the car but no practice after qualifying. Saturday morning race inspection would occur and the race would start mid-day early afternoon. If weather interferes with qualifying, it will be pushed back to race morning.
Qualification for races will be conducted with a single car on the track to be timed for two flying laps. The faster time will be counted toward the record. The top-34 times will be takes. Positions 35 and 36 will be provisional starters based on their owner point position or being a series champion within the past 10 years.
If weather should prevent qualifying the race lineup will be set based on car owner points from the previous race weekend.
Number of Team/Crew Members
Each race team will be allowed one driver per car, one crew chief/race engineer per car, one engine specialist, and seven other crew members (including pit crew) for a total of 10 crew members allowed to make adjustments/work on car during the course of the weekend.
Teams with more than two cars entered must share pit stall and crew members. (For example: Hendrick Motorsports would be allowed two pit stalls, and one pit crew per pit. Thus Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would share a stall and pit crew, and Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin would share a stall and pit crew—similar to Formula 1.)
The race winner would receive 100 points, with five point decrements down to 0. No bonus points awarded. Cash bonuses would be awarded for leading the most laps and winning the pole position.
No points will be awarded for finishing below 20th. If car is more than 10 laps down to leader or causes two cautions (for causing an avoidable incident or dropping debris/fluid on the track), they will be parked for the duration of the race. This will prevent cars that have been severely damaged in wrecks from returning to the racetrack, as there will be nothing to gain.
The point leader at end of season is declared champion. First tie-break is race wins, second is average finishing position for season, third is races finished on lead lap, and fourth is laps lead. In case a tie was to still exist a coin flip will determine the champion (or something like that...maybe rock, paper, scissors).
Minimum age for a driver is 20. Drivers must have at least three years of experience in other forms of racing, with at least one year in “stock” cars on paved tracks.
All drivers and crew members will be subject to random drug testing during the season. First infraction is a six-month suspension and mandatory rehabilitation attendance. Upon return monthly testing will be conducted. A second infraction will result in a permanent ban from the sport.
Tire manufacturers may purchase one of each type of race car, and hire drivers (active in series are allowed) to perform tests at sanctioned tracks. During the off-season teams may conduct testing at any sanctioned track with the previous years’ tire compound for no more than two days per team owner.
No “exclusionary” contracts for “Official” sponsorships would be allowed. This would in part eliminate “Conflicts of interest” between the sanctioning body and sponsors.
If you’re still awake and your eyes aren’t crossed, I think I have pretty well covered the gambit of issues that currently face NASCAR. Since they seem unwilling to correct some of these deficiencies then I believe the formation of a new series is in order.
The cars would get back to resembling their namesakes, and performance would be something that could be found in top-end models of the vehicle. The tracks would provide diversity desired by the fans, and reduce the number of “cookie-cutter” designs on the schedule—which would be shortened; helping everyone involved.
The competition would revert back to a day when the guys who made the fastest “hot rod” could bring it to the track and win, but this would reduce the cost to a race team enormously. Finally, there would be a return of some common-sense to racing. No “freebies” or mulligans; no "Lucky Dogs" or wrecked cars just making laps; and the best racer for the entire season would win the championship.
Feel free to comment on areas I may have omitted, or not been specific enough about. I heed the floor and open it for discussion.