Long Before NASCAR Had the COT, There Was The IROC Series

Dustin ParksAnalyst IJanuary 24, 2010

16 Feb 2001:  A view of the IROC Race during the Daytona 500 Speedweeks, part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge  /Allsport
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

When NASCAR first spoke of moving to a newer and safer car, needless to say everyone was critical of the new design. It was boxier, heavier, and didn't exactly look like a "stock" car.

The splitter on the front looked like something for on a snow plow. The wing on the trunk seemed out of place. It just didn't look like a car made for NASCAR competition.

An entire new rule book was sent to teams, as there was little wiggle room for tweaking and adjusting. The cars were essentially equal, forcing teams to figure out ways to get an advantage over the other competitors.

The new car has been criticized, ridiculed and in some cases hated. But, it wasn't that long ago when another series had a similar idea.

Remember the IROC Series?

A series of only four races pitting 12 of the best drivers from the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, Camping World Trucks and Indy Car against one another.

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The cars used for each race were Pontiac Firebird Trans Am's. The drivers competing didn't use their crews to work on the cars. The IROC officials prepared each car for the races, with no car having a particular advantage. Tire pressure, spoiler angle, horsepower, downforce, everything was equal.

Sound a little familiar?

The only advantage the drivers had were experience in driving on certain tracks. Drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and others who compete weekly in NASCAR were dominant because they were used to racing at the tracks on the circuit.

The series ran on equal ground, no tinkering with the cars, no wedge adjustments and no tweaks in downforce. The only difference between each car was the color of paint. And to determine which car the drivers would race, they'd just draw colors out of a bag.

After the 2006 season, the IROC Series dissolved after Crown Royal elected to not renew sponsorship and funding could not be found. This was after long-time sponsor True Value elected to end sponsorship following the 2003 season.

No backing meant no racing.

That same year, NASCAR introduced their "car of tomorrow" that would be run for 17 races in the 2007 season. The boxier car meant new rules, and very little wiggle room for adjustments.

Sound even more familiar?

The new car is using similar ideas from the IROC Series to make the competition on equal ground. The first year the car was introduced, teams saw hefty penalties for violating the rules.

Dale Earnhardt Jr's then-crew chief Tony Eury Jr. got a huge fine when the wing brackets weren't bolted in the right location.

Later that year, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's cars were pulled from qualifying at Infineon Raceway. Crew chiefs Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus made changes outside the templates, and NASCAR deemed it out of line. Fines and suspensions soon followed.

It's no secret that today's Sprint Cup car is different than the that car ran for a majority of 2007.

The car is safer, that is undeniable. Wrecks such as the one by Gordon at Las Vegas, Michael McDowell at Texas and Carl Edwards at Talladega prove that. But this car is one where the crews cannot do much to gain an advantage in aerodynamics.

The IROC Series did not give teams an opportunity to make adjustments on the cars, so in a way the new car is a step up. But, the concepts used in the series are very well noted.

The cars used for IROC were different than any other series raced, just like the new car in NASCAR was one never seen before.

What is interesting is that when the 12 drivers chosen to race in IROC each year competed, you didn't hear complaints about the car. This could be because the car actually had the right stance and looked racy. A slanted nose, big winged spoiler, it just looked like a race car.

The Sprint Cup car, it just doesn't have the look of a typical race car. It was different, and drivers were critical of how it handled.

Even after two full seasons of racing the car, teams are still learning how to adjust and drive the vehicle. Now, as early as after six races, the car will be changing from having a wing to going back to a spoiler. It will be a different game when the changes are finalized.

As critical as drivers have been of this car, the concept of having a common car among all drivers was already used. The IROC Series had every driver in equal equipment, and put the effort on the drivers to win.

The next time a driver says that the Sprint Cup car is tough to handle, remember, it wasn't the first time drivers ran equal equipment.

Although not around anymore, IROC's influences are still being felt by many.