Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Heartland: NASCAR & Automakers Still Beating a Dead Horse

Let me set this straight right off the bat. It is OK to beat a dead horse. Pointless, yes, but not socially unacceptable. Beating a LIVE horse is when people, not to mention the horse, get a little pissy.

Now that we’ve cleared that up…

The horse in question for the purposes of this article is, once again, the old adage of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.” This carcass rears (if a carcass could “rear”) its ugly head once again due to NASCAR’s recent announcement that they are looking to revamp the Cup cars… again.

“The point we’re at right now is trying to get feedback from all four manufacturers,” said John Darby, Cup Series director. “The fact is that, No. 1, 2013 is the right year to do this as it aligns with new models, and secondly, there’s interest from all four makes.”

So, just exactly what are the changes that are on the table, you ask?

“We had really positive feedback when we released the new Nationwide cars this year, Darby said. “The fact that undeniably, the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Mustang are really good-looking racecars. We’re not talking about a new racecar. We’re talking about body modifications and making model changes that will help the identity and the look of the cars. It’s all from an appearance format, not to change the racecar itself.”

Let’s take a logical look at that last statement and review a few things from the past. First of all, “back in the day” when “stock cars” were mostly stock cars modified for racing, you had no problem telling the Chevys from the Dodges from the Fords, etc. Back then, the adage actually held water. You could easily tell a Challenger from a Camaro from a Mustang from an Impala, so on and so forth.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the automakers homogenized their cars or even dropped certain models altogether, everything looked the same. Customers have been bitching about this problem for years, but due to supposedly superior business acumen (that means “smarts” for some of my local readers), the bitching fell on deaf ears. Well, we’ve seen what happens when you don’t listen to the customer and just how “smart” the automakers really were.

So to get things back on track, do you remember – besides asking the government for money – what the automakers did? Yes, that’s right; they started making cars that the customer really wanted. A few cases in point are the Challenger, Mustang and Camaro.

Why do you think the new Nationwide cars look so good? Why do think they get good, positive feedback? Because they almost LOOK like the old muscle cars so many of us grew up with! Holy cow! You mean to tell me, if we pack a car with all the new technology of today and make it look like the car of yesteryear, it will sell?! Well, duh!!! I’ve been saying that for years.

Unfortunately, while NASCAR and the automaker’s hearts are in the right place, (or is it a move of desperation?) I still say that society has changed to the point the horse is still dead and cannot be revived no matter how hard you club the darn thing. Nowadays, I assert that only the shallowest of people will run out and buy a brand new Impala just because they saw Jimmie Johnson win with one on Sunday.

Yes, the new Nationwide cars do look pretty nice, I’ll give you that. The sad fact remains that for the practical customer, new Challengers, Camaros (yes I know Camaros aren’t even racing yet, but they have gone retro, too) and Mustangs are priced way out of the new “casual fans” range. And remember, casual fans are about all NASCAR has left. So except for the new “old” muscle cars that the automakers are now producing, let’s face it; if you see a new design or cool looking ride on the street nowadays, you still have to get close enough to the nose or tail to see the emblem and have a clue as to who makes it.

Another factor to be considered in today’s NASCAR is safety. Yes, the new CoT is safer, and since they have gotten rid of the wing and worked out a few bugs, they actually have produced some pretty good competition, depending on the track (one of the biggest factors!) I am all for more safety, but again, as I’ve said many, many times, they could have improved the “safety” aspects on any of the cars all along without having to go to the “pre-fab” racing body we’ve got now. Darby’s continued statements proves my point:

“The cycle that we’ve been in – which started actually back in the ’90s – of focusing on aerodynamic parity, we’ve now been able to take to the next level of what matters and what doesn’t,” he explained recently. “The fact is, there’s a lot of design features and sculpturing and things that you can put into cars that aren’t aerodynamically sensitive enough to worry about. That’s where we’re headed now, is really allowing the manufacturers to focus on those spots to bring out all the identity they can because that’s the value to the manufacturers.

“As we were going through all our aerodynamic challenges, the manufacturers fell into that stagnant period where all the cars looked the same in the showroom, too. There’s been a trend now to where manufacturers are working really hard on new models that don’t look like everyone else’s. I think that’s evident in what’s starting to enter the showroom today and will be evident over the next few years. We’ll do everything we can to help them with the process.”

So what is NASCAR saying? All those little body lines and curves which they so meticulously got rid of over the years suddenly don’t make a difference? Oh, so we are going back to “stock” cars? That would be all good and well if NASCAR would allow it… but they won’t. You know it and I know it, so why blow smoke up our skirt!

Personally, I am all for going back to the days of using each manufacturer’s stock body with the innards modified for racing, but it is never going to happen. Here’s what NASCAR ought to do; keep the cars (without the “splitter”) the way they are. Maybe a few minor tweaks here and there, but nothing major. Meanwhile, get the automakers to quit worrying about looks on the race track and go by the “powered by” angle! After all, a Chevy man will always be a Chevy man, a Ford man a Ford man and of course, your Dodge men! (A Toyota man is just too weird to type!) People just don’t run out and buy a certain model just because it won a race anymore.

Another adage comes into play here as well: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” ‘Tis the same in today’s NASCAR: you have to raise the hood. After all, it is what’s underneath that makes your car really go… the “horsepower” that makes the difference between first and 43rd.

But I’m not gonna dig any big horse-size graves just yet. There’s too many “smart” people out there that enjoy the act of beating!

Let us know your thoughts, but meanwhile…

Stay off the wall!

Jeff Meyer

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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