NASCAR, Stop the Talladega “Flip” Flap [and Improve Competition] (Part Two)

Crabber 1967 .@crabber1967Correspondent INovember 19, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - NOVEMBER 01:  David Reutimann drives the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota after being wrecked in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on November 1, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If we can agree that flipping cars are not acceptable at Talladega, or any other track for that matter, what does NASCAR do?

At this point in time NASCAR seems inclined to do nothing.

If a very large minority of fans is seemingly unconcerned about cars flipping into the air, with the potential of entry into spectator areas, then these fans don’t understand what a disaster such an event would be.

[If you'd like to read the first part of this article click:

NASCAR, Stop the Talladega “Flip” Flap (Part One) ]

The flipping race cars at Talladega (including the Carl Edwards flip in April of 2009) should raise concerns among fans and the sanctioning body.

Now I agree that the flip of Carl Edwards’s car was, in part, a fluke.

While it is true that Edwards’ car was returning to the track surface before it was launched off the hood of Ryan Newman’s #39, the accident came close to becoming a tragedy. See the clip on YouTube:

Carl Edwards Talladega Crash 4-26-09 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9FsYDEIZWk&feature=related .

The possibility of a car getting into the spectator areas was clearly illustrated for the first time when Bobby Allison’s 1987 accident occurred. This potential for tragedy is clearly shown in the following YouTube clip: Talladega Crash Bobby Allison Bill Elliott http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt5XCCgwulA .

But beyond such grave concerns, the current race car and the rules governing the racing has suffered due to the box that the advance of technology has forced the cars and teams into.

NASCAR’s tightening of the “box” that the teams can work within has not helped the entertainment value of the events, either.

Now for those of you who think that I am just some guy from the 60s [guilty on that point] ranting about “The Good Old Days,” I would like to point out the following comments by a person who covers all the NASCAR Cup races each week.

The AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer wrote on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 an article titled “Time to address Talladega issues.” She began the article with the following:

NASCAR will point to the 58 lead changes among 26 drivers as proof of a good race at Talladega Superspeedway.

But pushing those stats is much like a used car salesman trying to unload a lemon. You can spit-shine the product all you want, but a dud is still a dud.

Ms Fryer further commented:

It was instead the watered-down results of a technology-driven sport that has far surpassed the limitations of the 2.66-mile speedway. But still, in the end, all the measures taken by NASCAR to improve safety and reduce the eye-popping accidents that have become a staple of restrictor plate racing were for naught. The final 10 laps were still marred by two frightening accidents in which cars went airborne—bringing the total to four vehicle rollovers in two Talladega weekends this season.

Wasn’t keeping the cars on the track the point of all the safety measures?

And she concluded the article thusly:

NASCAR has many different directions it can take on fixing the issues at Talladega. The time is now to pick one.

After the completion of the Halloween 2009 Talladega race, some thoughts came to me concerning the reduction of speed and a subsequent increase in competition in NASCAR’s Cup series.

My first thought was: “Have them race trucks! The trucks are boxy, even more than the NASCAR-designed COT. And… Wait a minute… they already race trucks… Never Mind!”

My second thought was: Zipper Top cars! Follow the example of the Convertible Series (1956-59) where teams cut the tops off the Grand National (Cup) cars to run in convertible races on Saturday, then would bolt the top on (“Zipper Tops”) for the GN race on Sunday.

The fact that convertibles were slower was shown at the first Daytona 500, when the hardtops ran one qualifying race and the convertibles ran the other at a much slower speed. When the race started the hardtops ran away from the convertibles.

So, have the current cars run as convertibles instead of using restrictor plates.

But wait! Convertibles aren’t the big sellers that they were back in the 1950’s, and the manufacturers probably would not be happy as they don’t make convertible Fusions, Impalas, Chargers or Camry’s;never mind.

My third thought was: Well, cut the engines in half I’m sure the teams have something a little more sophisticated than a hacksaw that could literally cut the engines in two. A smaller engine would result in a slower car.

Now the first two ideas are pretty much absurd, but number three has some merit.

NASCAR did flirt with reducing engine size in the early 1970’s. The engine size limit was 427 cubic inches (seven liters) when six and one half liters (396 cubic inches) was considered for Daytona and Talladega.

So, although, the size limit was not reduced, the fact that Chevrolet introduced a 396 cubic inch engine in their street cars was no coincidence.

Currently, NASCAR has demanded that the new engines designed for NASCAR racing continue to follow the designs used in that part of the 20th Century.

When Toyota entered the Cup series, they had to make a pushrod, rocker arm cam-in-block V8 with a carburetor. Does anyone know if Toyota has ever built a pushrod, rocker arm engine? And how long ago did they last make an engine with a carburetor?

So should the change just be a simple reduction in engine size? If NASCAR were to try to lower car speeds (a big if) a reduction in engine size would probably be what they would do.

But what about changes that would take a new direction, that would be relevant to the automotive challenges of today?

Why not really get back to the possibility of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday?”

Racing true stock cars (like they did when a pushrod, rocker arm cam-in-block V8 with a carburetor WAS state-of-the-art) would possibly once more make winning a race a true sales aid.

What about a change to the series that would help push the boundaries of today’s automotive technology?

This change would entice manufacturers to enter the series because the interest generated with the general public (not just the racing public) virtually demands it?

Now the question is, how to do this?

Well, as it turns out, someone who has a lot more experience with the automobile industry than I do has an idea that addresses the above questions, and his name is Peter M. De Lorenzo.

Mr. De Lorenzo has a web site called autoextremist.com and his bio describes him this way:

After a 22-year career in automotive advertising and marketing, Peter M. De Lorenzo founded Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999 as an Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. Since then, the site has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals within and outside the auto industry and De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

The idea is simple, really; the rules would simplified.

The box inside which the cars must fit would be a literal box. Overall dimensions, weight and fuel usage would be the main parameters.

The fuel limit would be simply a fixed amount of fuel for a race weekend. Safety rules would have the most detail, requiring the latest in safety developments.

Manufacturers would send their brightest minds to answer the challenges that would be presented by this sort of rules package.

As far as NASCAR is concerned, Mr. De Lorenzo has the following comments:

Even NASCAR would benefit from this new perspective, even though it’s clear that for the brainiacs in Daytona Beach change is anathema. To say that NASCAR and its ruling France family cabal operate in a parallel universe devoid of any semblance of rational thought or visionary thinking, is to state the excruciatingly obvious.

How Brian France and his minions have managed to accelerate NASCAR's already alarming pirouette into mediocrity with a numbing combination of non-decisions and a flat-out refusal to do anything proactive that might actually improve their on-track "show" or help position their antiquated, out-of-touch racing series for the future is almost beyond comprehension and will make for a nice business school marketing class case study down the road one day.

As in how not to do it.

But how could we possibly expect anything else from these masters of the oblivious? Why should we expect an immediate rule change to dramatically smaller engines, which would negate the use of restrictors in an effort to bring an aspect of throttle control  and real racing back to the drivers on the superspeedways? And oh, by the way, why should we expect them to bring overall fuel-efficiency into the equation? Because a move like that would make too damn much sense, that's why.

Mr. De Lorenzo goes on to say:

NASCAR is an organization still operating in the "we've always done it this way" mode while the rest of the world has been operating in the “what have you done for us lately?" mode for a long, long time. To say that the rational world has passed NASCAR by is a gross understatement.

As I've said repeatedly, NASCAR not only adamantly believes in the "not invented here" mindset, they take the madness one step further to the point that if they didn't think of something it must not exist . I don't find this mentality to be "charming" or "quaint" or an example of some benign state of "old school" thinking; it's just pathetic.

The short story? They need to get back to stock cars, period. And for purposes of this discussion, that means taking Camaros, Mustangs and Challengers, while putting all the latest safety gear in the stock dimension bodywork, of course and using production engines with fuel-injection and dry sump lubrication, for starters and then let them go as fast as they want, as long as they deliver 15 mpg over the entire race weekend.

Mr. De Lorenzo’s full comments are on his website under the November 11, 2009   “Fumes” column titled: “For Love of the Game.” http://www.autoextremist.com/fumes1/ . If necessary scroll to the bottom of the “Fumes” page and select “Next Entry” to find the entry dated November 11 2009.

This column address most forms of motorsport, not just NASCAR and I recommend it to all thinking motorsports fansand ask them to imagine “What if?”

Would NASCAR dare to go this way? Would any sanctioning body dare go this way? Unfortunately, the answer is almost assuredly no.

In the meantime I hope NASCAR takes some sort of meaningful measures that will truly keep the cars on the ground;changes that have a chance to improve the racing as well.

NASCAR has what I call an “Institutional Memory.” This Institutional Memory is remarkable in that Big Bill France, his son, and virtually all of the people that ran NASCAR in the 1960’s have either died or retired from the day-to-day operations of the sanctioning body.

Despite this, NASCAR remembers the boycotts of the 1960’s by the manufacturers over engine and car designs. This is the reason that now we see NASCAR mandating a single engine design, as well as a race car totally designed by the organization.

The car apparently is very precious to NASCAR. Somewhat like a child to its mother. The COT may not be perfect (far from it) but its “birth mother” NASCAR seems willing to protect this vehicle design, even if (in my opinion) it could be improved.

And by “improved,” I mean a car that would be, at least somewhat, easier to drive, and not so sensitive that when it is leading the race it can easily dominate, while identical cars (NASCAR says they are) cannot catch up because of aerodynamic turbulence from the other cars.

Wasn’t one of the ideas behind the COT, was to make the cars LESS aerodynamically sensitive?

If we agree that no matter how enticing the ideas expressed by Mr. De Lorenzo are, they won’t happen, then must we be stuck with what we have?

So to NASCAR I pose these questions:

Why not slow the cars?

Why not try some changes in the NASCAR-mobile that may just make the racing better?

Why not?


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