1. Let someone else design the cars
A couple things here. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was NASCAR brought down overnight. In other words, there is no quick fix here. New cars, new venues and new ideas all take time, and lots of it, to do right. But it may just be time to try some seemingly huge undertakings, starting with the racecars.
It’s no secret the current car doesn’t race as well as NASCAR and the fans would like, but the sanctioning body and the manufacturers are seemingly unwilling to make the radical changes needed. So, here’s an idea: let engineers, shade tree mechanics and anyone else who thinks they can do better take a crack at it. Impose a few simple rules: certain areas of the production template must also fit the racecar, including the body shape nose to tail while others, such as ride height, are not; all current safety features must be a part of the design; and room for teams to work in certain areas (suspension, gear selection, some geometry).
From the submissions, have a panel of engineers choose the five best in terms of the racing they’re likely to produce, and build enough of them – say, 10 – to test on the track, including a full-distance race. Of course, test at Charlotte, the type of 1.5-mile track where the cars need the most help. Get driver input, heck, get fan input. And when all is said and done, choose a car that works the best. If nothing works, nothing is lost except a few days of test time. Sounds crazy, right? But maybe it’s the kind of innovation the sport needs.
2. Cap the spending, not the innovation
Some parity in the sport is a good thing. While some underfunded teams will never be frontrunners, they should be able to be a part of the sport and have a chance to be competitive if they can get things right. And to NASCAR’s credit, they have tried to equalize things by reducing choices teams can make and what they can do on race weekend with the cars. The problem is, it’s the wrong approach.
When NASCAR was booming in the late 1990s, dollars weren’t quite out of control yet, and the difference between the haves and have-nots wasn’t quite as great. When UPS came into the sport and overnight nearly doubled what a full-season primary sponsor was spending, the big teams and big sponsors found the money to keep up. In the process, they priced many teams and many sponsors out of the game completely, and that’s overall detrimental to the sport.
Capping spending and sponsor dollars wouldn’t be easy. The big teams would protest. They don’t want anybody to be able to compete with them. And the small teams wouldn’t be instantly better off because the big teams would still have equipment they don’t. But over time, cutting spending would bring things into line and give back something the sport is missing: the idea, or at least the illusion, that almost anyone has a shot at a win or at least a good finish on any given Sunday.
In the late ‘90s, part of the appeal was that feeling/illusion that no matter who your favorite driver was, he might be able to pull one off. As a result, there were fans pulling for everyone and the general feeling that they could relate to just about anyone in the field. You could go to a race and see a fan with paraphernalia of every driver in the field. Reducing the gap while allowing teams to choose where to cut costs for themselves and to work in more areas on their cars is perhaps the one thing that could bring new sponsors into the sport.
3. Saturday night short track, All-Star style
Fans have been asking for more short tracks on the schedule, and there’s a perfect opportunity to give it to them with the All-Star Race. But wait, there’s more. Why not have a one-day, tripleheader of All-Star races for the Cup, Truck and XFINITY series run similar to a local short track? Each series gets a short practice session, then a last-chance heat race, qualifying and then the Truck, XFINITY and Cup All-Star events. Perhaps the winners of the Truck and NXS races could run the Cup event if they could find a car and someone who missed the cut would likely oblige as it means sponsor exposure.
Both Martinsville and Bristol are close enough to the teams’ home base in Charlotte to keep that home race feeling and make it a one-day show. Again, it would take some tweaks and some time to sort things out, but it could also put some spice back in the All-Star event that has gotten all too mild over the years.
Tying in with the idea of a spending cap, it’s time for NASCAR to relax some of the rules that were implemented for cost savings that never materialized. Teams once had a choice on things like gears and suspensions that meant both an advantage on the track if they could find one and a greater risk of an early exit if faster proved less durable and more likely to cause trouble.
If a team wants to race a gear or suspension part that makes the car faster but increases the chance of a failure? Let them do it.
Engine failures have been cut dramatically because of tighter gear rules, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for the sport overall as unpredictability is all but gone in the wake of teams no longer having the choices they once did.
While there are some areas of the car that should be sacred, such as body, engine and safety features, there are some that teams could work with to find their own advantage.
NASCAR has tried to create parity, and while it’s necessary for many reasons to keep teams in the fold and with a chance for a good finish, mandating too many things isn’t the way to do it. Cap how much teams can spend, but let them choose how to cut the spending.
Here’s the problem: fans want racecars to look like streetcars, and they should. After all, it’s called stock car racing for a reason, but they also want them to race like a 1982 Buick (or fill in the car of your choice here). So, why not create a series that runs cars with the body specs of a given time frame and today’s safety features? Perhaps as a 10-race companion series to the Cup Series, which would have the added bonus of creating more stand-alone weeks for the Truck and XFINITY series as well as allowing the Cup drivers to compete.
Obviously, the hard part here would be to get teams to take the plunge in a new series, so keeping costs down would be at the forefront. But if tackled from the start, that’s manageable. Beyond that, keep the rulebook as close to the one from whatever year is chosen as possible in terms of engines, body templates and everything else. Alter only what must be altered to accommodate today’s safety innovations and go race. Would it take off? Maybe, maybe not, but it might put some fans in the stand on Saturday to see what the racing might have looked like back in the day with today’s drivers.
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