Saving NASCAR Pt. One: Race “Stock” Cars
True fans of NASCAR will agree that the “R” for Racing was replaced by Revenue long ago.
The France family, owners of NASCAR, has found it more profitable to manage a series based on entertainment factor, rather than the spirit of racing (some guy named McMahon figured this out with pro wrestling a while back too).
But in the past 20 years we’ve seen the “SC” of “Stock Car”, or at least the appearance of such, go by the wayside. Aero-coupes—with twisted bodies and frames, morphed out of their street-dwelling brethren.
Due to several driver deaths in the early 2000’s, most notably seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR has worked to improve driver safety on the track and in the car design.
2007 saw the introduction of the “Car of Tomorrow” (CoT). The boxy designs all appear the same—save the nose and an insert in the rear-side windows. Otherwise only the decals of the grille openings, headlights, and manufacturer logos set them apart.
While the innovations in driver safety are a plus, there have been drawbacks.
Many purists claim NASCAR has become nothing more than a “Glorified IROC Series”, with drivers in similar machines. Numerous complaints have been voiced about the handling, or lack thereof, of the new cars.
However the numbers show something different.
Passing is up. NASCAR recently dropped the hammer on the drivers during a closed-door meeting at Michigan Speedway by telling them to, “Shut up and drive.” The car is what it is, and it ain’t changing.
My solution (and I won’t claim it to be original, because I’ve heard it voiced and agreed with so many times) is for NASCAR to return to racing “Stock” cars.
Under my plan, each manufacturer will provide their 4-door sedan with an “X” (about 110) inch wheelbase (the current four makes in NASCAR are from 107” (Camry) to 120” (Charger)), as their model. These cars will be built with frames and safety features to meet NASCAR requirements and incorporate developments in the CoT.
A series of body templates joined together, known as the “Claw”, must fit over the cars with similar tolerances to the street version. The difference from current specifications is there would be different “claws” for each make, whereas today there is a different nose piece, but the rest of the body shapes all fit one template. Allowances will be made for ground effects, so as to prevent air from flowing under the car and creating lift.
The new “Stock” cars will likewise be fitted with the company’s small-block V8 engine. Displacement will be limited to five (5) liters, but this amount is negotiable. This would result in lower horsepower and improved fuel consumption.
At this point, the cars would be shipped to race teams; where modifications for driver comfort, adjustability, and paint would be applied. Performance parts for engines and handling alterations must be approved by NASCAR, as is the standard today.
I would go so far as to suggest that adjustments such as weight-jacking and center of gravity over the rear axle should be prohibited. This would eliminate “Wedge” and “Track bar” changes during pit stops.
The point of the exercise is to get back to the days of “Stock Car Racing”.
Benefits: The manufacturers’ return to being actively involved (as opposed to passively) has a trickle-down effect. It means that their cars are racing, rather than something built by the teams to a specification.
This will lead to direct competition on the track, which will increase marketability (return to “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday”), improved brand recognition (the race cars will truly appear like the street version, and vice-versa), and all these factors will lead to increased sales. Cheering for a driver in a certain brand is cheering for that brand, rather than something wearing a decal.
For the teams it will result in a reduction of costs—primarily in payroll. They will not need to pay for wind tunnel time or have aerodynamicists on staff, and can reduce the number of shop personnel since cars will arrive in a fairly complete state.
The fans will see this as a return to the roots of the sport, and I can’t see a downside to that.
Drawbacks: This change will not be without pains. An enormous amount of time and money have gone into the development and build up of the CoT.
But this is nothing new to NASCAR. The cars have evolved with the times, and this is simply another evolution, or merging of new racing technology with production model cars.
Also, the costs are pushed back onto the manufacturers. Teams would purchase racing chassis and engines from them, and thus the incentive to win is increased at the higher level.
The Manufacturer’s Championship would actually mean something again.
Jobs in the Charlotte area would obviously be affected, as shops would not require as many people, but these positions could be absorbed as an experienced workforce by the manufacturers.
On the track there may be periods where it appears a certain make can’t be beaten. The lack of performance by one make should create incentive to improve. I would submit that Chevy’s dominance in 2006 and 2007, and Toyota in 2008, make this a moot point.
But the performance gains being made at the manufacturer level will benefit all teams running that car type, rather than just one team finding something that allows them to compete where others struggle.
Then the topic of driver complaints arises. But really, how many more times can these guys say the new car “Sucks”, even when they win?
Most understand the history of the sport, and from the days when drivers took minimally improved street cars to the track—to the hand-built performance machines of today—they still raced, and found ways to win.
Wouldn’t it be great to walk into the local dealership and there be a racing car sitting next to the street-legal version, and they appear almost the same?
Talk about getting your heart rate up…Can I get a big number 13 and my name above the door? I’ll even take the Aero Package with ground effects and the rear wing.
Going back to "Stock Car" Racing would help get NASCAR back on track. It's a "Win-Win-Win" scenario for everyone.
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