What is Wrong with the American Auto-Racing Scene?
NASCAR introduced the Car Of Tomorrow last season and tried unsuccessfully to convince fans that they are better interpretation of the models available to the new car buyers. Then they tried to convince the fans that the cars would all be equal. Well the cars may be equal, but they are boring. Now they are playing a game with the engine packages. I’ve taken a close look at the new Dodge and Ford engines and thought to myself, “these engine look just like the Toyota clone of the SB4 Chevrolet.” The valve covers are very similar and the head ports are identical now. Is this the next phase of cloning a NASCAR entry? I have always been a brand loyal type person. I will pull for a Dodge over any other make, yet my favorite driver, Kyle Busch, drives a Toyota. Now the way the cars are being built, I might as well throw any thought of brand loyalty out of the equation. If I didn’t know the car number and for what manufacturer that driver drives, I couldn’t tell one car from another. Now that Carl Edwards went airborne at Talladega NASCAR is looking at some way to slow the cars down again. Like duhh, if NASCAR can’t figure it out where does it leave a sport based on speed. How about doing this NASCAR, require all teams run the current body shell offered to the buyer. Don’t allow them to tape off the grills and smooth all the edges. Leave it alone, just as the factory makes it. Then require them to run a stock engine block and heads, just like back in the good old days. How about this, no more specifically designed and manufactured race only engines. That should slow the cars down because of aero properties and with a mandated stock block and heads on an engine the horsepower would be about ½ of the current engines. Then allow these big no-no’s, Overhead cams plus fuel injection and work with the four manufacturers to design a workable electronic control that a limiter could be used to equalize the field. Taken together the cars would be hard to maintain 180 MPH on these big tracks. The cars might be slower, but it would be closer to the original idea of stock based vehicles and a lot more exciting.
During the 1950s and 60s the Indy 500 was the race to watch. I always looked forward to seeing what new engineering idea would show up. Today we have one engine made by one manufacturer, Honda. Gone are the days of seeing every conceivable combination of engine and car layout. All cars today use the same chassis made by Italian manufacturer Dallara. There is no variation of the theme. There are no more side-pods, front engines, or wild wings. Now it is just the same ole engine, chassis and body. What has happened to stretching the rules and the controversy that was always a part of the Indy racing series? Dull, boring cars and in most cases predictable results are the norm. What are these people thinking? Why has the premier racing series gone to pot? Now NASCAR is bigger than the IRL/CART and now even the good ole boys seem to have missed the message. The same car, racing the same car is boring as hell. Can we all say IROC? Please bring back the innovation. I want to see stock block engines run against the purpose built specials. The one off car a mechanic built in his garage running against million dollar prototypes. I want diversity and I want it NOW.
As a young man, I was a regular participant in NHRA drag racing. I drove our family Stock and Super Stock cars. I was there to see the concept of and the actual beginning of Pro Stock. It was conceived with the idea of putting the baddest factory engine available into the best currently offered body. The first year saw the Camaros with the 427 Chevy Rat engine going head to head with the Plymouth Cuda with its 426 Hemi. I watched in wonder, Ford Mustangs with Boss 429 engines and AMC Javelins against Pontiac Firebirds. It was a wonderful idea and I absolutely loved it. Here were the best available factory engines in any combination of the current body styles. A race fan could watch a race between a compact Chevy Vega with the Chevy small block engine matched up against a Ford Pinto with a Cleveland, or a Hemi in a Duster against a four door Ford Maverick. It was a real hot rodders dream series. The culmination of all the old factory Super Stock race teams racing heads up against each other in a no-holds barred slugfest. Now skip forty years into the future and we have a fiberglass body that doesn’t resemble a factory offering and running engines never offered to the public at any time. Chevy entries now run a Hemi derived engine just like the MOPAR and Ford entries. They are built with a tube chassis, a fiberglass body and a race only designed engine that allows them to run faster than the funny cars of my day. Where has my Pro Stock gone? I want to see a true factory representation with a factory based engine. I want to experience the excitement of a win or loss by my favorite brand. Now I don’t really care who wins, as they are driving the same car.
What idiot comes up with the idea that equal everything means excitement? Why are the sanctioning bodies pushing the equal is better idea? NASCAR and NHRA Pro Stock began as an outshoot of fans wanting to see their favorite factory based street car on the oval tracks and drag strips. Somewhere along the way, some misinformed people that had an influence over the rules allowed the change from stock to happen. The Indy situation is even worse. There the rules have been implemented to curtail any innovation what so ever. It is a sad state of affairs when a wide open innovative series becomes a faster, pricier clone version of somebody’s idea of exciting. Maybe the IRL should take a real hard look at F-1 and see how innovation and challenging the rules have made that series so exciting this season. Something as simple as a rear air diffuser on these cars can make a huge difference in who is on top. Last year’s champion Lewis Hamilton is barely in the points. The reason for this is a brand new team, Braun GP, which pushed the definition of a part of the car. Braun and McLaren use the same engine package so they should be equal. Innovation allowed a usual back runner to win four out of five races this year and will allow Jensen Button to win his first championship. Now that’s exciting to me.
So what is wrong with the American racing series? In my opinion, it is as exciting as watching two identical objects dropped from a building. Who cares which gets there first as they are the same. Identical is boring, innovation is exciting. It is as simple as that. It doesn’t take a college degree or a multi-million dollar research firm to come up with an answer. Just talk with a true auto-racing fan. We do not want any more IROC series. One was a failure enough.