Race Weekend Central

Potts’s Shots: Thoughts on Innovation in Racing

I do a lot of surfing on the web, and as you might expect, most of it involves discussions about motorsports on Facebook, etc. Those who have read my stuff for a while no doubt realize I’m something of an old fart and I miss those days when things were simpler. I’ve realized I’m not the only one.

It’s become apparent that lots of folks wish stock cars still looked like stock cars and we didn’t have so darned many “spec” series. Even worse, in my opinion, is that they try to call these cars something they aren’t. My old Dodge van looks as much like a Camaro or a Mustang as those things running in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series right now.

And I’ve seen all kinds of complaints about IndyCar. People want to see a variety of cars, not just a difference in paint schemes and numbers. Myself, I’m still waiting for them to put the engines back in the front.

Very fondly, I remember the days when the USAC National Championship consisted of dirt and paved ovals, and a driver had to be proficient on both surfaces to be successful. I suppose we have to realize that this specialization of the cars is a result of the sport getting so blasted sophisticated and expensive, and the sanctioning bodies have come to this point in an attempt to level the playing field and try to control the costs.

The rulebooks get bigger and the restrictions get tighter, and a mechanic’s ingenuity goes by the wayside.

I was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Smokey Yunick unveiled his “sidecar” back in the 1960s. Somebody observed that it looked dangerous for the driver, and Smokey replied, “If you want to be safe, stay in the garage. But you could drop a hammer on your foot back there.”

That particular idea of Smokey’s didn’t work out so well. Duane Carter tried it out and didn’t care for it, and then Bobby Johns backed it into the wall trying to qualify the thing. That was just about the time the rear engine cars were changing the picture of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, and you were likely to see any number of designs.

There were Jim Hurtubise’s “Mallard” roadsters, the four-wheel drive Novi, etc. There was still a lot of innovation. There was even, at one point, a car with one engine in front and one in the rear (push-pull, Porsche-Porsche).

Then along came Andy Granatelli and his turbine, which nearly made a shambles of the 1967 race. I had a friend who was a helicopter mechanic in the Army tell me that the part which failed was well known among his kind, and they had a quick fix for it. The next year, the “wedge” turbines were just as dominating until it came to completing the 500 miles. Even so, it didn’t take long for the powers-that-be to squelch the turbines.

At the time, a driver told me he thought it was ridiculous to allow the turbines in the first place, because, in his words, “We’re testing cars, not airplanes.” I told him if that was the case, maybe they should disallow anything that came out of the aircraft industry – like balloon tires and disc brakes. I’d heard that racing “improves the breed,” and how do you do that without trying something new? Sometimes I wonder if Brock Yates wasn’t onto something when he suggested they lay out a box made of 2x4s, eight feet wide and 15 feet long and say, “If it fits in here, you can run it.”

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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