I used to be a race car fan in my youth. I’m a car guy and always have been.
I was 11-years-old when I first went to work in my Dad’s gas station. I was pumping gas, washing windshields and checking fluids when full service stations still existed.
I was pumping gas at $0.14 a gallon during the price wars. I had to listen to the old guys bitch and grumble if we raised the prices by two cents. I’m that grumpy old guy now.
This was down south, NASCAR’s Mecca. I knew more racers and race car fans than I knew normal people.
I only mention all this to let you know that I know my way around a car. My pride is a 1965 Ford Ranchero that is patiently waiting for the snow to melt.
This entire preamble brings me back to NASCAR.
As a teen, NASCAR and NHRA were where we “wanna-be racers” got our cues. Car dealers and speed shops had a saying during that time, “race on Sunday and sell on Monday.”
The make and model vehicles that ran and won the races sold briskly. The speed tricks that the mechanic tinkers, those wizards behind the curtains, would leak their discoveries to the open market.
All those products were purchased and installed in our personal vehicles. All those power and maneuverability tricks gave us the illusion that we could go racing as well.
Not that I’m saying that we did race on public streets, only that we knew that we could.
On race day, you knew which drivers were driving Fords and who were driving Mopars. You could tell the difference between a Ford Fairlane, a Torino, and a Dodge Charger.
I stopped following NASCAR for quite while, but I’ve started watching races again with the urging of some friends.
What I’m finding out about today’s NASCAR is a little distressing. OK, it’s making me hermatile.
What I’m reading and hearing is all about rule changes, parity, and equal competition; limits on its crew members, standardized engines, and more rule changes.
Watching a race the other day, I couldn’t help myself but think. If they changed the decals and number from one car to another, I would not have been able to identify the switch.
Honestly, can you tell the difference from one car to another other than the sponsors that they sport?
Thank God the drivers are still bigger than life. They are why we watch.
But where is the innovation? NASCAR was all about innovation, not about restrictions.
Don’t get me wrong, I support all and any safety rules and devices that have been, or will be instituted. I’ve witnessed more than a few horrific cashes and felt the loss of special drivers.
I applaud any changes that make the sport safer for the competitors and fans.
But, the rules have gone too far. Computer testing has dialed in all the horse power, frame geometry, and wind resistance that the rules allow—there’s no wiggle room left for innovation.
Essentially, there is nothing new coming out of NASCAR that a fan is able to bolt onto his own vehicle—other than bobble heads.
Hell, I’ve heard enough negative driver interviews about the Goodyear tires alone to be able to tell NASCAR how a sole source is less inclined to improve its product if they have no competition.
For years, the products that came out of racing improved automotive safety, power, and believe it or not, fuel economy. Now they’ve tied everyone’s hands and the wizards are gone.
Considering this nation’s economic meltdown, as well as the global recession, NASCAR might want to rethink their business model. They used to be a test bed for all kinds of exotic gear and changes.
By stepping back into an innovative persona, NASCAR can not only survive the economic contraction, invite the wizards back—because with them comes another new breed of fan—but also, place themselves back into a leading edge role hand-in-hand with manufacturing leaders through a renaissance ideology.
Let a Ford look like a Ford, and a Toyota look like, well you get the idea. Be a market billboard to help sell the products that can rejuvenate an auto industry that used to be a world leader.
Let NASCAR help develop the alternative fuels, whether that means bio-fuels, hydrogen cells or battery powered electric cars. Be on the edge chasing performance instead of following the slow stagnation of regimentation.
I have a passion for these steel and rubber conveyances that we use for transportation. As an American, our vehicles are a significant representation of the freedoms we enjoy.
We are not tethered to one locale. If we can afford the petrol, there is no place in this country that we can not travel to. We purchase and use the products that might perpetuate that feeling of freedom.
All that being said, I’m hooked again, and I’ll be going to the races. But NASCAR is not what it used to be and it makes me a little hermatile.
To Editors: Hermatile is not a real word yet. I figure if I use it often enough I'll get it in to Websters Dictionarry eventually. Hermatile: extreme and excessive bitchy behavior (not gender specific).