The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: A Trojan Horse? by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday November 5, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: A Trojan Horse?

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday November 5, 2009


NASCAR officials are like brown recluse spiders in the basement. You can normally live with them… but you need to keep a wary eye on them. Those folks down on Speedway Boulevard in Daytona seem constantly up to some sort of mischief that starts out as innocent trial balloon, but rapidly inflates to their “Next Worst Idea Ever.” Over the last few years, NASCAR has rapidly built themselves a flock of zeppelins that could be called “The Next Worst Idea Ever Flotilla.” Oh, they won’t admit it. If the Chase were the Hindenburg, NASCAR would still be trying to sell tickets to board it while it burnt.

Oh, the lack of humanity.

In the meantime, NASCAR’s Truck Series sort of floats out there in the ether like your next door neighbor’s dog. It’s an affable enough beast, but you haven’t paid much attention to it since it was a puppy unless you caught it crapping on your lawn. The Detroit Big Three have pretty much written off the Truck Series, leaving Toyota to dominate, and I’ve lost interest in the series as a result.

Now, I dig pickup trucks. My lifestyle demands I own one. I think it’s been about thirty years since I haven’t had a pickup parked in the driveway. Almost all were Fords in the appropriate shade of Henry Ford black (well, one was yellow, but the less said about that the better.) They’ve ranged from Rangers to F-350s, and even in the ones that had air conditioning it never worked. The whole rest of the trucks did. Hard. The key to truck ownership is you keep what you got until it takes more work to keep it going then it does for you. Currently, I’ve got a GMC I got cheap that’s flirting with 200,000 miles. It’s a good truck, one that hauled home both this season’s wood pellets and the new dirt bike. The A/C works… I just never use it.

So whatever chromosome dictates truck ownership, I’ve got it. I used to watch the truck races religiously cheering for the Fords. When the Toyotas first started racing, I watched hoping to see them lose. Now that they’re winning, well, I take comfort in the fact when I drive to the local hardware store on Saturday morning or past job sites in these parts it’s still Fords, Chevys, GMCs, and Dodges I’m seeing actually being used as trucks. The Japanese are never going to get the concept of what an American wants a pickup truck for. It’s so ingrained in our culture and foreign to theirs they might as well try to rewrite the Star Spangled Banners using focus groups. Buddy, when I die, throw my coffin in the back of the GMC and haul it to my final resting place. I don’t stand much on ceremony.

The Camping World Truck Series has produced some of the most exciting finishes on the NASCAR circuit in recent years. But will the addition of a spec racing engine wipe some of that luster away?

I did take note of some changes that NASCAR is making to the Truck Series next year. It appears this whole experiment with not being able to change tires and add fuel on the same stop, originally devised as a cost-cutting measure, is over with because the fans hated it. They’re going to try out a new self-venting gas can, which means the teams will be able to have six guys go over the wall rather than seven by eliminating the catch can guy. OK, fair enough. I don’t know what a good catch can guy gets paid, but I imagine if it he’s at the top of his catch can game, it’s more than an Internet NASCAR writer. Also fair enough. I’ve never been run over sitting at this keyboard…

Teams also aren’t going to be allowed to run more than two straight races without using what’s called a “sealed engine.” (An engine that NASCAR places strategic seals on to ensure that it hasn’t been rebuilt since it was used in a previous race.) That’s said to be a cost-cutting measure. That’s a good thing, I suppose. With most of the big players out or on their way out, the Truck Series is struggling to fill their fields. There’s usually anywhere from seven to nine start and park teams that vacate the track before the first pit stop, and that’s in fields that never exceed 36 vehicles.

But sort of tucked in near the bottom of the PR memo was a note that starting next year teams will have the “option” of running a spec engine at all events held on tracks a mile and a quarter or less in length. A quick review of the 2010 truck schedule in its current form indicates that tracks of that length encompass 10 of 25 races. If, down the road, the rule were changed to allow spec engines at tracks of a mile and a half or less in length, that would swell the number to 19 of 25 races — or a clear majority of the schedule. That’s the thing about these trial balloons. While they seem to swell slowly, once they’ve got a foot in the door, they use the other to kick it in.

I mean, holds it right there, Bubba-louie. Spec engines? That’s unprecedented in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions. What, exactly, are the specifics here before we go dashing out onto thin ice covering uncharted waters? Who is going to build these spec engines? What are they going to cost? Is there going to be one Ford, one Dodge, one Chevy, and one Toyota spec engine, or will one size fit all? I tuned into the SPEED TV pre-race show to get a little insight. They were having a really bad costume party, so they didn’t say much. In fact, other than pantomiming making fists and trying to move my hands like a handcuffed midget driving a go-kart, I didn’t get a whole lot of insight into much Saturday. So I took off my superhero pajamas and did a little digging.

The new spec engine is a one size fits all design based on the (work it, work it, now) Toyota design, which is sort of unique in NASCAR racing engines as it has absolutely no relation to any engine ever designed to run on the street now or in the past. It was a clean sheet of paper design that NASCAR sort of rubber-stamped to get the once seemingly unfaultable Japanese automaker into the fold and writing the big checks. Presumably, if the teams choosing to run a spec engine already have an inventory of Rams, F-150s, or Silverados they’ll be allowed to run appropriate valve cover decals. Or I hope so. The first time I see a shot of an F-150 race truck with a Toyota emblem on its valve cover, I will officially quit being a race fan. Even the thought of a Silverado with a Toyota engine is troubling. (As an aside, does it seem since 1967 every new generation of Chevy truck is uglier than the last? But I’m cool with that. Trucks aren’t like women. They’re just supposed to work hard and get the job done, not look good in a Batgirl costume.)

As for price, nobody could offer me a clue. More than I’ve spent on my last four pickups combined, but less than I’d pay for a cherry GS455 Stage One convertible if I won the Powerball lottery was the range of guesses I got. Will teams own and rebuild the engines? Probably not. It will be a lease sort of arrangement. Who is going to build these spec engines and make sure they’re all equal? According to my Magic 8 ball, “Check back later… answer cloudy.”

Let me go on record without mincing words. I hate the idea of a “one size fits all” spec engine. NASCAR is famous for what we called “Mission Creep” starting back in the Vietnam era. Oh, sure, right now it’s an “option” for just ten races in the Truck Series next year. Then, the year after that, it will be those 19 races I mentioned. Then it will be mandatory in the Truck Series, and in the planning stages for the Nationwide and Cup series. NASCAR has already standardized the bodies on the Cup cars, and a spec engine is their next step in controlling competition. Down the road, if the car manufacturers decide to pull out of NASCAR racing, spec cars with spec bodies, spec chassis, and spec engines mean that NASCAR can at long last race what the clueless sorts at papers like the New York Times call “NAS-CARs.”

The fans haven’t reacted well to the McCars (COTs), McTracks (the cookie cutters), and the McPoints system (the Chase.) I think they’re going to hate a one size fits all spec engine almost as much. This trial balloon is just barely off the ground, so if you hate the idea as much as I do, now is the time to break out the darts. Like they used to say at weddings, “speak now, or forever hold your peace.” Or in this case, forever hold your piece.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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11/05/2009 08:43 AM

trojan horse??.. how about a burning rome? i saw this over at jayski… “NASCAR President Mike Helton will stop by SIRIUS XM’s Elvis Radio studio on the Graceland grounds to play his all time favorite Elvis songs” sound a little bit like Nero?

The Turnip!
11/05/2009 11:24 AM

Ahh, so much out of a very fun article to read, a real writer with real words, really put together!

But with that said, your “in the appropriate shade of Henry Ford black (well, one was yellow, but the less said about that the better”!!


Isn’t that what we would call a “compensator”?

And why demean Toyota about the trucks it builds? My wife, bless her soul, went out and bought a new F-150!

CRAP! (best I can say about that American piece of trash)!


Oh, and so she comes home, (it’s this independent wife thingy) with this F-150! With a 4.6 something or another under the hood, 4-wheel drive (with street tires yet), trailer towing package, and all the bells and whistles FoMoCo sells along with their “trucks”, and you know what??

Don’t even TRY to tow a trailer with it, cause it simply ain’t goin’ up a hill!

Why would “Ford”, put what equals the horspower of a small 4-cylinder in a BIG F-150?

Maybe to dupe the females, (sorry honey) into buying this crap!

So lets not rag on Toyota for selling P/U’s here in the good ole’ USA, cause we ain’t got it “down pat” yet! (and I ain’t Richard Nixon either, although he was a relative of sorts).

And why not a spec engine? everything else in NA$CRAP is “spec”!

(don’t get me wrong, I detest the very word ‘spec”, but we is there right now)!

11/05/2009 12:42 PM

Great article and lots of fun to read. Since NASCAR doesn’t listen to the fans, contrary to the award they just got for their “survey” prowess for the fan council, I’m sure that they will just go ahead and do whatever Brainless and his minions dream up. All the while, the fans continue to just drift away – from the track and from the TV. Spec engines — yeah and the IROC series runs a lot of races these days doesn’t it?

11/05/2009 12:53 PM

Matt, you said “Buddy, when I die, throw my coffin in the back of the GMC and haul it to my final resting place.”

When my grandmother passed away in 1981, she was to be buried in a cemetary deep in the Virginia mountains. It has rained the previous couple days and the road up (and I mean up) to the cemetary was a mudslide that didn’t happen. Her coffin was pulled out of the hearse an she ended up taking her last ride in the back of a rusty blue 1974 Chevy C10 4×4! And she got there in one piece. Gotta love them trucks.

11/05/2009 01:20 PM

Sounds like someone got a hold of the plans to save the ASA. To be honest, I’ve loved the truck series idea from the start – no plates, slingshot passes (for real), low entry cost, race on smaller tracks that required plenty of driver ability. For the first couple of years, any team that needed to could arrange with the local Sears to use their facilities to work on their truck while in town. It looked like NASCAR totally understood this grassroots racing thing. They tweaked it to where it was a great show by adjusting the pit stops and race lengths – giving it a ‘big deal’ feeling, with minimal cost increases

Then they went to larger tracks. And diluted the talent pool with Cup drivers and large teams. Then the television package moved to Speed. That’s part of the digital package in my area (and has been for years), and I’m cheap, so I haven’t seen a truck race for 4 or 5 years (when I saw one live at NHIS). The issue isn’t the costs of racing, necessarily (although thats symptomatic). Its the economic viability of the sport in general. The sponsorship dollars required to run the show at the big tracks has to be astronomical compared to a comparable event at a track like Evergreen Speedway. The trucks have been asked to be a top tier ‘event’ without being a truly top tier series – even though it seems NASCAR has tried to present the trucks as being practically equal to Cup and NW events. The relationship is much more like comparing Major and Minor League Baseball, and much less like comparing the National to the American League.

Don Mei
11/05/2009 01:31 PM

You’re right of course. If a spec engine is ever adopted in the truck series, it will eventually make its way into the Cup series. Obviously, most of us are not stupid so the last traces of brand loyalty would go the way of the dodo. Im not surprised that Nascar is heading this way. I spoke to an old friend of mine from Connecticut who is a retired Nascar crew chief a few days ago and I learned from him that Nascar now mandates engine dimensions, i.e a spec bore and stroke. Before that, teams would run torquier long stroke motors at some tracks and higher rev short strokes at others. Not anymore. So now as Matt suggests, we will get rocker cover decals to match the grille decals. Its time for someone to start organizing real stock car races again.

11/05/2009 02:04 PM

Jesus Christ! What’s with the slap at toyota for? So it’s OK for chevy to win damn near everthing all the time but whoa! let toyota do good and BAM! we’ve got to do something.

Thank God for the truck series because nascar won’t allow toyota to win in cup. When they did nascar took the engines to the dyno, took them apart, and showed everybody what they found.

But whoo hoo chevy and Jimmie are going to win again and all’s well in nascar land.

11/05/2009 02:14 PM

Ya’ll ever notice that nascar acts JUST LIKE the democrats? They get their foot in the door with an idea, then take over, and run it into the ground. Little by little, slowly, over time. While raking in the money.

I’ve been watching over the last few years, nascar slowyly killing the truck series with their STUPID ideas.

It’s too bad we can’t vote THEM out of office.

11/05/2009 02:24 PM

This long time fan has already quit watching the races on tv until something is done that returns things to sanity. I agree on the thought of toyota emblems on a silverado engine. If the future holds spec engines along with spec bodies and no affilation with chevy, ford, or dodge, I will never come back. It’s already turned into either IROC OR f-1 clones. What happened to our “American” sport. If nas$car keeps heading down this slippery slope they’re on, stick a fork in them. Good column. “no parity, just parody” should be their new logo. I’m feeling heart break like I’m witnessing the death of a long time friend.

Joe W.
11/05/2009 04:33 PM

Well this idea of a spec engine SUCKS!!! I will never watch a series that is all Toyota. I don’t want them in Nascar at all and now they will completly control one series. They will then try to control the other two and when everyone stops watching they will pull out like in F-1. Then there will be nothing left. Those of you supporting Toyota keep saying they have nothing to do with the drop offs in attendance and viewership, but you are wrong on that one. Is it all Toyotas faul? Of course not, there are many problems in Nascar at present (which we discuss on here all the time), but if you think that Toyota is not one of them, you are mistaken. And Turnip/Douglas, I have also driven many Ford trucks from Rangers to F-350s and they are very good trucks. I must admit I never had a yellow one though.

11/05/2009 06:05 PM

Matt said – “The fans haven’t reacted well to the McCars (COTs), McTracks (the cookie cutters), and the McPoints system (the Chase.)”
LMAO Matt, but you missed your chance to complete the joke, “And now for your viewing pleasure, we have the McEngines(Spec engines)!!!” Also don’t forget the McTires.

The Turnip!
11/05/2009 06:16 PM

Hey Joe W. WHEW!

Stay away fom those yellow trucks!

Glad to know you didn’t “need” one!

And seriously, this F-150 has major problems!

I’ll spare the details!

But truthfully, I would never, ever, fess up if I had ever owned a “yellow truck”!

Matt at least has the “ga’noogies” to admit same!


11/05/2009 07:29 PM

Here in PA, Penndot paints all their trucks yellow. When they reach a certain mileage they auction them off cheap. So I got a long deal on an F350 regular cab duslly Power Stroke because the AC didn’t work in that unit. I figured I’d bring it to my to my body guy and have him blast it a more subdued shade, a cheapie production job. He got one look at it and turned the job down. He explained Penndot safety yellow is like John Deere Green, “There ain’t no paint in the world that will cover it….” He said the truck would need to be sealed, primed, then painted in some color on the hotter end of the spectrum. I figured the one thing worse than a bright yellow dually, was a red dually with a paint job that cost more than I paid for it. So I figured I’d drive it. I did. When I wasn’t working on it. Which I did, a lot.

See when you drive down the road and see a Penndot crew filling pot holes you’ll see ten guys, one one of them filling the pot hole (poorly) and nine of them leaning on shovels watching him whhile making union wages. What you don’t see is six other union guys inside and under each truck beating on delicate bits with hammers to cause parts to break thus keeping Union mechanics back at the barn employed.

In addition when whoever installed the required emergency lighting and radios he apparently used a weed whacker under the dash to cut the factory harness then drove it to a kindergarten sandbox and had the dumbest kid there splice in the wires while blindfolded.

Ol Yeller was a nightmare. I compounded the problem by taking out the tranny and rear diff trying to drag a tractor stuck in the mud out. I was really determined to get that tractor out. That tractor was really determined to stay put. In retrospect, engaging four wheel drive low, revving it to 3500 and hammering it into low was a mistake. It got the tractor free. Repairs on Ol Yeller weren’t free. Eventually a buddy at a wrecking yard hooked me up with a roll-over 350, the same year as mine. You get em cheaper if you don’t mind hosing what’s left of the previous owner after the ME is done out of the interior. The trans and diff were good, it had big tires and a lift kit, so I went ahead and lifted my truck then sold what was left of the donor truck. (Then had to buy the front diff out of the wreck from the wrecking yard I sold it to because the swapped in diff had different gears then my existing front axle.) If the truck looked stupid in yellow it looked worse sitting four inches higher in yellow. So I got another truck and used Ol Yeller to kill a patch of grass on the front lawn with a for sale sign on it. Eventually in desperation (and rather lit up if I recall) I hit the thing with six or seven cans of flat tan primer which turned it that curious shade of yellow that was so big on early 70s Malibus we call “infant crap yellow.” I sold it to some kid who presumably is still trying to figure out why the instrument panel lights go out when you use the left turn signals.

The Turnip!
11/05/2009 08:51 PM

Matt! All I can say is your to darn good with the words and descriptions, I’m still laughing!

Thanks for the “explanation” (on why anyone would drive a “yellow truck”!)

(Unless it’s of the HUMMER variety, then I REALLY question their manhood!)

Your off the hook this time!

The Turnip!
11/05/2009 08:56 PM

I’m off on yet another tangent!

Do you remember, course you would have to be my age or so, and that’s old for sure, but mid/late 50’s I believe it was, on certain Chrysler products, if you turned the left signal on, and hit the brakes, the radio would turn on! Something like that anyway! Sure surprised a lot of people when the radio blasted away!

11/05/2009 09:06 PM

I do recall that in Mopars (including my two Road Runners and one Rust Rotter) that if you put on the four ways and put your foot on the brake even with the keys out of the ignition the radio worked.

11/05/2009 09:40 PM

Turnip, you hate it when Brian blames everything but himself for NASCAR’s decline, right? Don’t blame anyone but yourself for buying the 4.6 with the weaker tranny and smaller rear axle instead of a 5.4 with the tow package for your truck.

All over the internet are posts from people who say the 4.6, designed for the ton lighter Explorer I believe, makes a severely under-powered truck. You didn’t listen to the fans and you got burned. Don’t blame Ford for it.

11/05/2009 10:44 PM

Now now everyone. Calm down. Danica will be here soon and all will be well again in NA$CARland.

11/05/2009 11:20 PM


Tears in my eyes, reading your response to Turnip. I love your articles, but this is a first for crying.

I did like ASA racing in the day, so I gotta be on the fence here. Jimmie-mania makes me sick, getting lets so, oh 25 of the 43 drivers to have a shot at winning any given race, hey I might actually tune in again then. I despise any over-rate junk…Cowboys, Yankmees, and of course JJ. Gordo same in the 90s, he made me stop watching then, same as JJ now. Puke wonderboy jr. What about 80% of engine being spec, little bit being Chevy, Ford, etc, then still seal the engine? I am not a big engine type of a guy to really know.

Wait and see…just wait. Obama admin pressuring Chevy and Dodge to duck out of nascar? Oh boy, how things could change. While I realize the venues have a different economic model, this thought process that we are going to pay someone millions to drive a Chevy, on top of their sponsorship money is really crazy. Can’t the economic model of the sport be tweaked to not even need sponsors? It would be interesting to see an article about this, contrast to other major sports. I think most folks don’t realize, or at least stop and think, just how many stinkin revenue streams there are into the nascar economic model, I would think many more revenue streams than most other sports, so lets start drawing a line in the sand. but if they can not flex to the times, if chevy would pull out, think about that affect.

This is a different world today, the American Dream is a stretch, and I think we will all work harder for less money more and more, due to global economy. If I don’t, the guy in India will. Sorry for the rant.

11/05/2009 11:22 PM

Danica is a sweet thang, that’s all I can say about that. yeeehaaaaa.

Bad Wolf
11/05/2009 11:39 PM

They are all running spec engines now, but designed by each manufacturer. After Toyota was given the pass to create a new V8 from a clean sheet of paper (and given Ford, Chevy and Dodge engines to reverse engineer for speed secrets), the others were also given that option.

All Nascar engines now are designed and built to a Nascar specific spec sheet, and have nothing in common with production V8’s other than having 8 cylinders and 4 strokes.

11/06/2009 12:46 PM

The truck series is still the best of the 3 series but aren’t they running spec engines already? Didn’t they institute this this season because the trucks were running faster than the Cup cars? And we can’t have that. That was just about the time where the racing has started to suffer.

Matt, tell us how you really feel about Toyota and the Speed prerace show. I actually liked the prerace show and I hardly watch any of them. They were having a good time with Halloween and they 10 times better than any ESPN broadcast I’ve seen this year. Of course ESPN can’t get out of their contract so they are going to make crappy races even more crappy with their telecasts. Jeez, I’m starting to sound like Matt now.

Kevin in SoCal
11/06/2009 01:08 PM

Leo, isnt it Ford’s fault for putting such a weak engine and suspension package in a truck and then marketing it to the public as being able to tow effectively? I remember UHaul putting out a notice saying not to rent trailers to Ford F150’s because they were so bad. Yes its Ford’s fault.
And getting back on topic, it sure would be nice if the Cup series had 10 events at short tracks, instead of only 6.
So what makes the Trucks race better than the Cup car? The trucks have a splitter in the front like the Cup cars. Perhaps its the truck spoiler instead of a wing? Maybe the truck front suspension allows for more movement than the Cup cars? Or maybe its the previously mentioned number of short tracks that allows for closer racing?

11/06/2009 01:15 PM

Trueman, I’ve actually been paralleling NASCAR to the Democratic party in my head for awhile but thought it was too crazy to ever mention. They both want to control everything and destroy what they want to control in the process by “leveling the playing field”.

11/06/2009 11:42 PM

Kevin in Socal, if you want a bigger truck for the room and safety aspects, could use the $2K in savings on the sticker price, a slight gain in fuel mileage, and never plan on towing anything more than a small bass boat, dirt bike, or load of mulch, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting the lower model F150. It has its niche like anything else.

Same with businesses that need transportation for tools and municipalities for emergency gear.

Ford never the marketed the low-end truck as being able to tow efficiently. If you look up the ratings on the entire model line you will see they only rate it slightly better than the best Ranger.

Kind of like only the wimpiest of wimpy models is actually rated at 20+ MPGs. The devil is in the fine print and being that the world has worked that way for my entire lifetime (30+) its only the buyers faults for not reading it.

Obviously, I’m the proud owner of a trouble-free ’06 5.4 with tow package because I did my homework before buying it.