Matt McLaughlin · Thursday July 3, 2008
OK, I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance. Sunday’s race at New Hampshire was so terrible, I’ve finally given up on NASCAR ever being able to fix things. First and foremost, there doesn’t seem to be anyone within the organization smart enough to realize they have a real problem on their hands with this new car, the new points system, and some of these new tracks. And if they aren’t even smart enough to sense that there’s a problem, they certainly aren’t smart enough to solve anything.
But that leaves me with a problem; I still love the sport of stock car racing, even as I give up on the current chief purveyors of the sport. I’ll always be fascinated by the concept of stock-appearing cars with engines, based on something I might build out in the garage to power a hot rod. But NASCAR has strayed so far off that trail over the last decade that a pack of bloodhounds couldn’t find them. Thus, I’ve decided its time for somebody to start a rival stock car racing series that returns the sport to its basics; not this glittery, unsavory, contrived spectacle of a monotonous parade of truly ugly cars that is passed off as stock car racing today.
Obviously, designing a rival stock car racing series is a huge undertaking, and for the new series to beat the odds and become viable, it needs to have clearly defined goals.
First and foremost, the guiding principle is to return stock car racing to the fans as an exciting and affordable alternative to the current Cup series. A second required goal is that no race sanctioning body should be involved in designing cars like the current “Car of Horror” being foisted off by NASCAR on the fans right now. But no foreign car makers need apply; we’re going to race what Detroit builds, nothing more, nothing less. The sanctioning body can still mandate the necessary safety equipment — in the cars and at the track — but we’ll let the Big Three do what they do best, come up with vehicle designs for these drivers to use. Ugly cars don’t sell, so all approved models for the new racing series will be based on two door, V-8 powered, rear-wheel drive coupes like the Mustang, the Challenger, and the upcoming Camaro. No deviations from the stock body design will be accepted.
The engines in these approved cars will finally join the 21st century, featuring fuel injection, alloy heads, electric fuel pumps, and computer controlled ignition systems. Very few deviations from stock will be acceptable, but our new race cars will feature true headers, open exhaust systems, and dry sump oiling systems in light of the demands that will be placed on the engines in oval track races. (And in case you’re wondering, all our events will be run on the ovals…no road course lunacy, thanks). But other than safety equipment, wheels, tires, and the above mentioned power train modifications to the cars, the new series will race what will indeed be “stock cars.”
That sort of car will greatly reduce the costs involved in racing. My goal is to allow a team owner (and no one will be allowed to own any more than two teams) to compete for a season at a cost roughly 1/10th to 1/20th of what the Big Boys spend in the Cup Series these days. That will allow new team owners and new sponsors a seat at the table that’s been taken away from them in recent years.
In another cost-saving measure, the new series will feature 20 race dates a year, starting in early Spring and ending in the Fall, with no more than three races run consecutively without a weekend off. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, races will be held on Friday nights to free up the weekends for fans to pursue other pleasures. Our events will be single day shows with practice in the morning, qualifying in the afternoon, and the races in the evening to cut down on the costs of attending an event. To better suit the needs of TV, lower costs, and to keep the fan’s interest, our target race lengths will be 200 to 250 miles, or about three hours of racing — including the post-race interviews. The two exceptions would be 500 mile long events at the open and close of each season.
As for the points structure, we’re going to have to radically revamp the system to get drivers back up on the wheel for the season championship. Winning will pay 500 points, second place will earn 250 points, and third place will be worth 125. Positions from fourth to tenth would then pay from 70 to 10 points, going down in 10 point decreasing increments. In addition, a driver would earn a point each time he made an on-track, green flag pass of another Top 10 car. I want to see drivers racing again — not riding. I want to see fenders crunch, tires smoke, and tempers bubble over. I want to see the fans back on their feet, cheering and loving every minute of the show they paid their hard earned dollars to see. As a result, no less than eight of our 20 races will be held on short tracks, and two more will be held on dirt tracks. Ideally, I’d like to see the season open and close at Darlington, though that’s unlikely given the current owners of the track. But you know what? Harold Brasington built Darlington on his own in the late 1940s. Certainly, we can replicate that layout and abrasive track surface somewhere else in the Carolinas ourselves. If the folks up at Bristol would be kind enough to have us, we’d race there twice a season as well; but no other track would have more than one race date, and no races would be held west of the Mississippi. Remember, we’re trying to control costs here.
Right from the get go, we’d awarding franchises to teams that choose to run in our series to give those teams an inherent value. But they’d have to play by our rules, the most important being that no one would be allowed to have any more than three race cars. In fact, we’d be so strict on this rule a car would have to be deemed unrepairable by the sanctioning body to allow it to be replaced.
And while we’re blue-skying ideas, I’ll add some new ones. Pits would be awarded by random draw — not qualifying position — to put the real race back out on the track. And no more than five individuals would be allowed over the wall during a pit stop to slow the stops down and make pit road safer. While we’re at it, let’s go all out on controlling costs, mandating that all cars must arrive on open-wheeled trailers towed by one ton pickups. In contrast, motorhomes and big rigs would be banned from the infield — after all, this is going to be a workingman’s sport once again.
At the end of the season, our champion’s check would be limited to 1/10th of the amount of the race purses for our 20 events. After all, we want drivers who go all out every week to make money, not earn a big check for points racing. And if that method was good enough for Richard Petty… it’s good enough for today’s drivers.
Is my new form of stock car racing likely? Hardly… I’m long on ideas but short on cash. Still, it could happen if someone like Bruton Smith decided it was time. The beauty of the plan is the powers that be at NASCAR have become so arrogant and stupid, the war could be won without a single shot fired. They’d never know what hit them before it was too late, since NASCAR officials are convinced that the fans will accept whatever crap they decide to present.
Some might call these ideas a little far-fetched; but if the sport of stock car racing is to be saved, it’s going to take some radical thinking. And the idea of Brian France actually thinking is more radical than anything I’ve proposed.
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