The Frontstretch: Voices From the Heartland: KISS solutions for restrictor plates by Jeff Meyer -- Wednesday May 4, 2005

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Well, it’s been 4 days now since the latest ‘Big One’, and I’ve had plenty of time hear everyone else’s theories on what to do or what not to do about the ominous and evil restrictor plate.

Suggested solutions have been; smaller engines, less banking, putting a chicane on the backstretch, doing nothing at all, take the plates off altogether (hey, if ya can’t handle going that fast, stay home!), and even Lexan type ‘bug shields’ on the front to ‘punch a bigger hole in the air. Still others take the standard NASCAR approach of saying that while unfortunate, the ‘Big One’ is inevitable and, while we are looking into it, there isn’t a better way to do it.

One point that should be made is that NASCAR has little incentive to change things at all. They like the ‘Big One’. They count on it at every Talladega and Daytona race. That’s what sells the tickets. Crashes always have. Ticket sales in the only thing that matters.

Dale Sr. didn’t die in the ‘Big One’. Had he, I wouldn’t be writing this particular column right now. NASCAR would have said, “After ‘looking into’ alternatives to restrictor plate racing for 12 years, we’ve finally found a magical solution!” No, Dale died in a ‘not so spectacular’ crash into the wall, and NASCAR’s magical solution was the long overdue, low tech SAFER barriers. We still have the plate.

Of all the suggested solutions, my first impulse is ‘take the plates off altogether’ and let em go. NASCAR however, says that for safety reasons, that will never happen. Speeds are just way too fast, they say. They say they are protecting the fan more than the driver, from errant airborne parts should a crash occur. Gee, thanks NASCAR. NASCAR is all about safety. Why just last year, from events at the very same track…

“Here and Daytona, we’re not going to run a one-lap shootout just because of safety,” NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said. “We feel like here and Daytona, those just aren’t places to do that.”

That quote was from April of 2004, after fans threw everything but their mothers onto the track at Talladega in frustration of another yellow flag finish. Suddenly, in July of ’04, it became magically ok for a green-white-checkered finish at all the tracks. Since NASCAR never did tell us what super-secret safety innovation they suddenly invented that made a g-w-c finish safer, one must assume they were worried about a possible fan revolt and lower ticket sales. Can’t have that now, can we?

There will always be drivers willing to push the speed envelope. Just because Rusty Wallace said there wasn’t enough money in the world to get him to race unrestricted with 42 others at Talladega (Rusty tested unrestricted and hit 228mph in ’04), there are plenty of young guns who would. I guess Rusty would have just been retiring a little sooner. Whatever, it’s really a moot point. NASCAR will not simply remove the plate and let em race.

And what does smaller engines with less horsepower do to solve the problem of staving off the ‘Big One’? Nothing! So you have the same tightly packed group of cars going around the track at 170 mph instead of 190. You’re still going to have the ‘Big One’. They’ll just leave shorter skid marks is all.

Less banking? Forget it. ISC (the conjoined twin of NASCAR) will never spend the money. (“Ok boys, turns out Lake Lloyd is way too big! Put some of that dirt back.”)

Chicane on the backstretch? Yeah right! Let’s avoid the ‘Big One’ by having 43 speed junkies all trying to go through 3 small corners all at once.

Actually, the ‘bugshield’ idea is sort of on the right track. Like it or not, NASCAR will impose ‘the car of the future’, which is currently in development, onto the stock car scene. If, (and I wouldn’t hold my breath) they do it right, they might actually solve the problem.

The new cars are reportedly taller and boxier and punch a bigger hole in the air, much the same as the trucks. This puts more of an emphasis on handling and less on aerodynamics. Cars would not be dependant on the pack and could actually pass one another without help.

Remember, NASCAR created this whole mess to begin with, in the interest of parity. Even Larry McReynolds admitted that “The Nextel Cup Series is pretty close to being a 43-car IROC field.” (Notice they don’t race 43 IROC cars at the same time!)

The Jeff Meyer KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) solution? Make a new uni-body (hey, it’s going to come, nothing will stop it) that is way less aerodynamic than the current ones. All cars will have the same body, but leave the engines (unrestricted of course) alone! Now for the real kicker….at Daytona and Talladega, in lieu of a plate, impose a speed limit!

So what if Rusty hit 228 with no plate. That’s one car with no one else on the track. Actual race speeds are lower. What if the speed limit is, say 205 at Talladega? You could let the guys run unrestricted (with the new bodies) but, just like pit lane, you go over, you gotta do a ‘pass through’. Remember, the new bodies alone, if done right, would break up the packs. Let the guys have the horsepower at their disposal when they need it. Just because your car can go 205 doesn’t mean you are going to all the time. You still got fuel mileage to deal with. Go faster, eat more fuel.

With any race, it is inevitable that you will have crashes. Race-car drivers skipped Physics classes. They are forever trying to get two separate pieces of matter to occupy the same space at the same time (whilst going really fast, like they think that will help). And what are the results of such physics experiments? Ticket sales! The only thing that really matters!

Stay off the wall (at any speed),

Jeff

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