The Frontstretch: Believe It: A Generic Race Engine Will Come To NASCAR by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday June 25, 2009

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Believe It: A Generic Race Engine Will Come To NASCAR

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday June 25, 2009


The ‘shoe’ continues to fall in what this column has foretold will be the future of NASCAR racing with the news that NASCAR and folks from Detroit have discussed a generic ‘spec’ engine or ‘crate’ engine that would, if reports are believed, be used at least initially in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. GM, Ford and Chrysler previously had cut all but the most meager engineering and technical support to their respective teams in those two series, with Toyota reported to follow suit by year’s end.

NASCAR insider Mike Mulhern reported Monday that talks have taken place amongst the racing heads for the four participating manufacturers and NASCAR to develop a single, low-cost engine to be used by all teams. However, Mulhern reports that NASCAR has showed little interest in the idea as presented by the group of manufacturer representatives. Possibly NASCAR has qualms about the proposal by the consortium as presented, but it is beyond the pale to believe that a cost-cutting, non-factory dependent engine is not on the minds of NASCAR executives.

As Turn 5 has on numerous occasions pointed out – the advent of the present racing platform [formerly known as the CoT] developed at the NASCAR R&D facilities scratched another “big itch”. Besides creating a safer, more economical fleet of racecars to team owners, it has allowed the sanctioning-body and team owners to become far less dependent on factory support to compete on the track.

In fact, besides actual cash infusions from the automakers, which has become scarce and seems very likely to dry up completely, there is little left in way of factory support that is essential other than the very expensive engine parts and research and development thereof. Engines are the last vestiges of the present factory-support era that reemerged in the early 1970’s. For all intent, dependence on a decimated Detroit can be severed with the implementation of a singular racing engine specific at least to Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams to plug in with the already ‘spec’ chassis and bodies that are now being used.

Though the always exciting Camping World Truck Series does not have a common-template designed race truck, it undoubtedly would benefit more from a low-cost, one-supplier ‘crate’ motor than any of NASCAR’s top three racing divisions. The three American branded manufacturers have significantly, or entirely, completed their withdraw of support for truck teams and the paltry payouts offered in the series make a low cost, competitive engine a particularly appealing thought.

Camping World Truck Series teams would benefit the most if NASCAR was to adopt a ‘crate’ motor rule.

The basic difference in a ‘spec’ vs. a ‘crate’ engine is in how the power plant is acquired. A ‘crate’ engine would be built by an approved builder that then ships the engines directly to the teams. The engines are sealed and its internal parts are not allowed to be accessed or tampered with. Such engines, built with durability and cost in mind, are sent back to the supplier for refreshing / rebuilding. ‘Spec’ engines are built in-house by teams or an engine builder of their choice, but to very specific specifications and with parts that cannot be detoured from. Compliance to the rules with ‘spec’ engines is verified through ‘tear-down inspections’ conducted randomly by the sanctioning-body.

To be sure, there is a tradeoff in performance with the one-engine-for-all concept. For those that follow NASCAR racing strictly for the engineering innovativeness, there will be little to cheer about. The engines, though stout, do not stretch the limits of mechanical imagination. Furthermore, a drop-off in overall speed can be expected – though only a slight decrease as dependability trumps exceedingly high RPM’s.

Okay, time for the smug remarks that NASCAR is becoming more and more like the now-defunct International Race of Champions (IROC) series. There is no way around it, yes it is…albeit, IROC on steroids.

However, as anyone that truly followed the under-funded, and under-promoted series can attest to – the racing itself was pretty darn exciting. The equally prepared racing machines left little advantage to any one competitor except for any edge that a driver’s own abilities afforded him. As stated in this column in the past, “the only thing IROC truly needed is more cars on the track”—43 relatively equal, full-bodied racecars chauffeured by drivers experienced with the cars is a recipe for some great door-to-door racing excitement.

The concept of the ‘crate’ engine is one that, in the last several years, has gained popularity among lower tier race organizations and local tracks on both asphalt and dirt from coast-to-coast. Late model divisions throughout the country, faced with fewer car counts and escalating engine costs that caused a serious divide between the haves and the have-nots, opted for the single-engine concept over the last handful of years and have been rewarded with an increase in the number of competing race teams and more competitive shows.

The fractionally slower lap speeds are unnoticed by fans—the engines provided to competitors are sure-enough genuine, high performance machines and the significant improvement in the parity in power has brought fans, in many instances, back to the grandstands.

Today, NASCAR teams are almost in a state of chaos as news and rumors of further cutting and shifting of manufacturer support finds some teams still supported and others not so much. Many team owners are in limbo as manufacturers currently in or emerging from bankruptcy court are less certain of their future. Ford and Toyota, the two car builders not in bankruptcy, are likewise reeling from, in Ford’s case, years of financial losses, and, in Toyota’s, coming off their worst financial performance in 70 years.

Look for NASCAR to become increasingly more autonomous as far as its relationship with the changing automobile industry is concerned. Reports of preliminary discussions in respect to a single-engine series is just the first of what will eventually become reality for not just NASCAR’s lower divisions, but the Sprint Cup Series as well.

In October of last year, in this column titled As News From Detroit Worsens, Changes For NASCAR Are Inevitable, the topic of a generic NASCAR engine was suggested:

“The demise of the American auto manufacturing industry has clearly been on the radar of most racing organizations for quite some time. It is no accident that the racecar of today can be called a Ford one week and a Dodge the next; because the truth is, they are neither. They are NASCAR racecars; throw a few stickers on that chassis and drop a motor of any manufacturer in it, and you can go racing. Fact is, should the worst occur and manufacturer support leave, teams will be installing NASCAR-specific engines in the chassis and bodies, allowing the racing to continue.”

Perhaps not the most prophetic words ever written, but as events continue to unfold for owners and the sanctioning body with their ever-changing relationship with the car builders, it is clear that “the worst” is occurring and “manufacturing support” is, if not leaving, certainly becoming less dependable and plentiful.
In the same article as referenced above, another observation that still rings true was offered. “Change is tough. However, NASCAR is not responsible for the dying U.S. auto industry. What will be of interest is how the organization manages the inevitable changes…and how accepting fans of the sport will be to those changes once they become reality.”

Sometimes the “good ‘ole days” of NASCAR racing were not quite as good as folks want to believe. There has been a constant struggle to keep some semblance of a level playing field between the manufacturers that has been difficult at best. One brand and team or another has, at different times, dominated on the track. Charges of favoritism and graft have always been a topic of conversation. It is very possible that a NASCAR without major involvement from the manufacturers could be more competitive and entertaining.

Regardless, it will not be long before we find out.

And…that’s my view from Turn 5

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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MJR in Springfield VA
06/25/2009 07:17 AM

Just wait. With the speed and direction in which NA$CAR is heading, it won’t be long before they just hook the cars up to machines and computers, and shakers and wind tunnels and simulators and tell us on Monday who won the race. Cool…no muss no fuss…NA$CAR won’t have to worry about lagging ticket sales or subterranean TV ratings or even those pesky unhappy fans. Gosh, I sure I hope I didn’t just give them an idea….. Last man out, turn off the lights and bring the flag.

06/25/2009 08:26 AM

You do remember that TRD built all of the Toyota engines ( except for Gibbs ), sent them to the teams , they were not touched by the teams , and then the engines were sent back to TRD for rebuilds . Its already been done .
But more to the point , let me direct your attention to the idea of saving money for the teams . Racing is expensive . It didn’t just become that way . Its always been expensive . Teams who compete at any level already know this when they get into the sport . It would be nice if NASCAR rules made it possible that every single person who wanted to could compete , but that would make for a very long qualifying session at each race . It costs a lot of money to race , and even more to win . But people getting into the sport are well aware of that . Racing isn’t equal . Track and Field isn’t equal . Football , Baseball , Skeet shooting . None of them are resricted so that everyone has the same chance to win . The fastest , the strongest , the best prepared , the hardest working , the smartest , and yes , the ones who spend the most will always win . And as teams compete , learn , improve , and adapt they will become better . This idea of a level playing field in auto racing is killing many facets of the sport .

06/25/2009 09:42 AM

If we’re going to use identical generic engines in generic identical cars to see who the best drivers are, we can just race with simulators and save the cost of building or buying cars. A simulator would do the same thing but with greatly decreased cost or risk. You could probably do it on TV and people wouldn’t know the difference. I enjoy the racing less and less each year with robot acting drivers driving almost identical cars.

06/25/2009 10:26 AM

The result of all of the cars running the same engine will be all of the cars running the same speed…complete with colossal wrecks, aero package meaning everything and the driver meaning nothing, and the winner being a crapshoot on any given week. In other words, 36 IROC races a year. And NASCAR probably heading for the same fate as IROC.

On the good side, the government can see it as a perfect example of why making everyone equal doesn’t work.

06/25/2009 12:22 PM

if you want to convert NASCAR into Indy Car, complete with the empty grandstands and 20 car fields, this is the way to go. has everyone frogotten IROC?

06/25/2009 12:28 PM

A few problems with your article…. I work for a CUP team. The COT is costing us more, not less. Anytime NASCAR says they are doing something to save teams money, it costs us more. We are in the third year of the COT and it has cost a ton more to maitain. Regardless of what you believe from NASCAR, we cannot take our speedway car to martinsville. Front end geometry alone is completely different. You also state that short tracks around the country are prospering because of crate motors. Check your stats… More local tracks have shut down in the last 3 years than any other 3 year period on record. And I don’t see a whole bunch of new local tracks opening up.

06/25/2009 02:05 PM

They have generic cars now why not the engines. Which basically are all the same anyways.
NA$CAR has them all running the same bore and stroke. Even the cam to crank centerlines are the same.

NA$CAR really needs to change their name to Spec car racing because thats all it really is.

06/25/2009 04:28 PM

Check around your local series about the cost and honesty with spec engines. Better yet ask Matt Kenseth, he just did an article on that in “Bergies” magazine.

Has everyone forgotten the IROC series?

The COT is a flop, spec engines would be worse. NASCAR is as much branding as anything else.

06/25/2009 04:49 PM

Proffesional racing series survive and prosper based upon their ability to attract fans. Despite often running on the Saturday of a big race weekend, the Iroc stands were oten empty. It was boring and it was simplistic. IROC could not attract fans. It failed. Duh. Sprint Cup will fail if it continues down the road to specification cars. That is the kiss of death.

06/25/2009 06:45 PM

Nascar is forgeting what they stand for, and so are we race fans!

The competition between the brand of cars is what made Nascar!

I have not see a “spec car series” work, IRL, CART, IROC, ASA, etc!

The brand of car has its fan base no matter what Nascar wants you to think!
I am tired of Nascar wanting to help save millionaire car owners money! They would probably want everything alike to save money!
But that is missing what Nascar is about! Having car fans and driver fans both is what helped the sport, now by only having ‘driver fans” then well, thats all they will have! More empty seats!

06/25/2009 07:15 PM

Crate engines are not nearly the panacea you make them out to be.I think you need to do alot more research on what they have done to the short track series all over the country.
If na$car does go this direction I,as I’m sure many others,will discontinue any interest in such a racing(and I use the term loosely)series.It’s just not what racing is about.

Big Jon Medek
06/25/2009 08:54 PM

Two Points: First, if these are “stock cars” then having old design V8’s with carbs makes no sense (but I do love them so!). Save money and make the cars more like ours by spec’ing a new standard engine that is a overhead cam fuel injected V6; plenty of people get well over 500 horses out of these type of engines and the throttle response would improve passing greatly. Second, limit the team personnel to something reasonable, like 100 people or less. Old teams used to build cars with a half dozen guys and win races; the cost of having massively large teams has got to be huge (with health insurance and all). Having staffs the size of large corporations is killing the business model and cost structure for teams and is why the biggest boys win the most titles these days.

06/25/2009 11:18 PM

A spec/crate engine doesn’t have to have lower power to be economical and durable. It is engine RPM that cost money and reduces the longevity of engines and that can be avoided by icreasing the engine displacemnet(cubic inch). A high displacement engine of 427ci along with a chip to 7500rpm will develope similar power of todays engines at a fraction of the cost and with better longevity and durability.

Walt B
06/26/2009 10:31 AM

I am a long time subscriber to four different races with large blocks of seats. Generic crate motors will end that!!

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