By admin | December 13, 2009
By Richard Allen
On numerous occasions I have had people send me e-mails or make comments regarding how much they despise the fact that Toyota is allowed to race in NASCAR. My response to that is, “What difference does it really make?”
After all, with the Car of Tomorrow the only real difference between the makes are the stickers applied to the front and rear of the cars to simulate the grill and the lights. Does it really matter whether the car is a Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota, Kia or a Jaguar?
Granted, there are differences in the engines, but even with that, there is only so much technology to go around with a carbureted, internal combustion engine. The bodies of the cars, however, are exactly the same so they will fit a common template, thus making it easier for the not always so competent NASCAR officials to validate each car.
And even worse than having each car look exactly alike, the sanctioning body now mandates so many parts and pieces on each vehicle that there is virtually no room for creativity and gaining a ‘competitive edge’. Shocks, springs, wing angles, camber angles, gear ratios and tire pressures are just a few of the components that teams have no control over. Each car has to be approved at the NASCAR R&D Center before it can be raced to see to it that NASCAR maintains complete control over every aspect of the sport and allows for as little team creativity as possible.
Again, NASCAR wants to control so many variables so as to make things as easy as possible for their inspectors, who might otherwise be easily fooled due to a lack of racing knowledge and experience. And, of course, there is always the factor of money. NASCAR actually sells, or leases, many of these components to teams for a price, or are compensated by the ‘official’ suppliers of certain products.
The result of all this sameness and the multitude of mandates is racing that is often times less than exciting. Due to so much conformity drivers are typically unable to pass and find themselves spending long periods of time following each other in a parade that often lasts for hundreds of miles.
To make the point of how this car lends itself to parade type racing one needs to look no further than this year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Juan Pablo Montoya clearly had the dominate car of the day. He lead the most laps and looked to be unbeatable. However, he was penalized for speeding on pit road which put him back in the pack. Even with a car that appeared to be the class of the field he was unable to pass and finished essentially in the spot he was penalized to. This car was made to run in a line, not to pass other cars.
NASCAR apologists will many times point to the number of cars running on the lead lap at the end of most events as a way of claiming the competitive level of the sport is higher than it ever has been. To some degree that is true. However, at the same time the question of what good is it for there to be so many cars on the lead lap if they can’t pass one another has to be asked.
The bigger issue with this machine is the fact that it has robbed the sport of one of its most endearing features, the rivalry among the brands. As was stated before, Ford vs. Chevy means nothing anymore. And, that previously mentioned creativity used to make for some interesting debates as to who was doing what to their cars to find more speed. Those debates are all but gone now. It is simply a matter of the teams with the highest budgets who can afford the most engineering which allows them to get ahead in the most minute of ranges that run in the front.
The days of an upstart group of brothers from the middle of nowhere in Georgia who suddenly showed up and beat the top teams in the sport are gone forever. A loner engineer from Wisconsin who wanted to do things his way would be left behind in today’s NASCAR.
This car along with other issues that have been addressed already or will be addressed in coming columns are robbing this once great sport of its soul. The sameness, or blandness, is driving fans away from the grandstands and their television sets in droves.
If something is not done soon, if the leaders of this sport do not wake from their collective fog, this sport as we have known it will die. Or, perhaps it has already for that matter.
If changes are not made to get NASCAR back to the sport it once was historians of the future will not have to ponder for long what went wrong as they stare at the NASCAR tombstone. For on that tombstone in place of the letters R.I.P. will be the letters C.O.T.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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