NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Chevrolet Dropping New Camaro & the Ball for Nationwide Series in 2010

The announcement that many musclecar and Mustang fans had longed to hear was made official yesterday, as Ford confirmed that it will be campaigning the 2010 Mustang next season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It is a welcome announcement for the NNS, which has been struggling to find its identity for about five years now: is it a stepping stone to Sprint Cup, or is it little more than batting practice for the likes of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch? Brian Wolfe, director of Ford North America Motorsports, made the announcement.

“Mustang is the most successful product nameplate in racing history,” Wolfe said. “It seems only right that it should be coming to the most popular form of racing in North America. We had been talking with NASCAR for some time about Mustang as part of its vision for a muscle car rollout in the Nationwide Series. We both saw it as a way of differentiating the series from Sprint Cup.”

Finally! Sane and rational thought from somebody involved in motorsports marketing!

Ford’s introduction of their iconic pony car coincides with the implementation of the Nationwide Series version of the CoT for 2010, before the new car is used exclusively in 2011 and beyond. While the Ford Mustang is expected to make an appearance as early as this fall (perhaps Ford Championship Weekend in Miami?), it will be compete full-time in 2010, along with another storied nameplate, the Dodge Challenger. Suddenly it’s 1970 all over again, the Nationwide Series going the way of the now-defunct SCCA Trans-Am series, which campaigned these pony cars during the hay day of Detroit dominance. While this is a welcomed change for the NASCAR’s junior series, there is a problem brewing:

Chevrolet is not going to race the new Camaro. They’re leaving it at home in favor of the Impala. Shocked? Don’t be.

Let’s remember what General Motors has become in the last couple of months: Government Motors. More than just a snide remark for Republicans or fodder for funny t-shirts, the General has been court marshaled, its racing budgets having been slashed quicker than allocations for the F-22 Raptor. If the most kick-ass airplane ever designed and put into service can’t get attract the funds to defend our country, what are the chances that more money will be granted to pedal a 426-horsepower hot rod? Could it be the green movement running roughshod and seeping its way into motorsports? After all, it won’t be long before those arbitrarily high CAFE standards take hold – so what good is moving more muscle into the garages of the American consumer? Or is it the built-by-the-lowest-bidder mentality that takes over when it comes to basic government contracts that is dictating policy?

When it comes to competition on the track or in the showroom, racecars are not government fleet vehicles – nor should they be treated like them.

When you consider how well the Camaro is selling (and how Dodge is going to run the Challenger), the proposition becomes even more asinine and incomprehensible. Two days I ago I posted a story for another publication I contribute to, Examiner.com, about how well the Camaro has been selling while GM has been muddling through bankruptcy – smoking both Buick and Cadillac – combined. At long last, something other than a truck has generated excitement for the beleaguered auto giant, a harkening back to its glory days, and a simpler time in America, when it didn’t seem like the guillotine was about to be tripped on all of us.

Not to mention, it is a superb vehicle that is capable of taking on domestics and imports. I guess in that sense, you could consider it a hybrid.

To put things into their proper context, the fact that Edward Whitacre, the man who was initially tapped to right the sinking ship that was GM, declared upon his appointment, “I don’t know anything about cars…” should be lost on nobody. Here is a perfect opportunity for racing to prove its worth as far as marketing and branding a product is concerned, building momentum with the hottest product that has come down the pike for Chevrolet since they redesigned the Corvette in 1984, and what do they do? Roll out that God-awful Impala. If they had a more tired and boring design to promote, they probably would have chosen that one, but seeing as nothing can out-jellybean the Imp, they went with what works.

Even NASCAR asked them to enter the Camaro – but they will be racing the Impala regardless.

Sure Toyota is showing up with the Camry; that’s all they have. Running a Corolla out there or a 10-year-old Celica might be an option, but it’s going to look pretty goofy and decidedly out of place compared to Bullitt and Vanishing Point out on the racetrack. Then again, it will look right at home next to the equally milquetoast and bland Impala. Hopefully they are all painted beige, because that will help them blend in even more with the surrounding obscurity. There is some speculation as to whether it may be the coupe version of the Camry, called the Solara. What is a Solara anyway? Something to do with the sun? Does it sport solar panels for T-tops?

Whatever. Does it really matter? Answer: No.

Frankly, I am shocked that the Camaro itself even got off the ground, since its launch coincided with General Motors’ collapse. The long-planned Z/28 model has been shelved indefinitely despite cries from hungry consumers who are ready to plop down cash for one on the spot if it existed. The Camaro is in effect a halo car for General Motors that could save the same purpose that the Dodge Viper did back in the early 1990s for Chrysler, when it was teetering on the brink of irrelevancy and insolvency. It helped to revive Mother Mopar into a profitable company with new and innovative products, until it was soon corrupted by the dark specter of perverted German science once acquired by Daimler-Benz.

I think we know how that little experiment ended up. You and are going to be paying for it for quite some time.

While I am hoping beyond hope that those who have a voice at General Motors (one of whom who is still Robert Lutz – albeit more muted now than in the past) will be heard in time to slap a Camaro nose and head light stickers on the front of this thing, I am not holding my breath. I am saying this only for the simple reason that running their hottest selling product that has graced the cover of every single automobile magazine on the planet, and is currently turning into an alien robot and saving humanity in movie theaters everywhere, is the most obvious thing to do. Therefore, they won’t.

Keep in mind, the same group in Washington that spends $1,500 for a toilet seat is now leaving its star player sitting on the bench and sending in a flabby middle-aged guy to win the game. The outcome as you can imagine is quite predictable.

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