How to Make NASCAR Mean Something Again


NASCAR is meaningless

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. That was the mantra of stock car racing, which once-upon-a-time pitted Fords, Chevys, Buicks, Hudsons, and Plymouths not all that dissimilar from what you could buy off the showroom floors against one another in epic displays of speed and daring. Racing improved the breed, with aero tricks and the latest engine whiz-bang kit eventually seeing its way from the race track to the show room. That was the justification of racing. That was its purpose.

Following that logic, we have to sit down and finally accept that NASCAR is a racing series without a purpose.

Consider that the series only recently adopted fuel injection- a technology that has been around for six decades now (the first car to use fuel injection was the 1954/1955 Mercedes SL).

Consider, also, that the cars racing in NASCAR feature solid axle rear suspensions- a feature shared only with the techno-throwback Ford Mustang, and even that car has done away with the horseless wagon-era design for 2015.

Consider that the NASCAR stockers don’t have anti-lock brakes, traction control, or active aerodynamic shutters to reduce wind resistance- all of which are available on even the most common, entry-level Fords, Chevys, and Toyotas of today.

Consider that the NASCAR Chevy, Ford, and Toyota racers of today all run antiquated pushrod V8s that would have been considered technological throwbacks twenty years ago, too.

Once you’ve considered all that, you sort of have to admit that NASCAR does nothing to improve the passenger car breed. You have to admit, also, that- with so little in common between the race cars and street cars they’ve been made to loosely resemble- a win on Sunday doesn’t a sale on Monday make.

You could argue, of course, that NASCAR is doing good work, promoting E15 and showing that the homegrown, renewable, low-emission biofuel is far from the engine-destroying devil-juice that the big oil companies would have you believe. Still, this is NASCAR we’re talking about here- the WWE of motor racing- and the Tea Party wingnuts who urge the American Ethanol-sponsored no. 3 Chevrolet on with shouts and yelps and fists pumping in the air are more likely to head home and vote Republitard than Demorat, so who is all that ethanol money really helping?

No one, that’s who.

That said, it doesn’t have to be this way. NASCAR doesn’t have to be useless, and the leap from “WWE of motor racing” to “the World’s Premier Oval Racing Series” might be shorter (and cheaper!) than you might think.


How to Make NASCAR Meaningful Again


NASCAR Needs Modern Engines

Big, pushrod V8 engines are dinosaurs. Don’t get me wrong- they certainly have their place, but that place is not on a race track. The track is about pushing the envelope and improving the passenger car breed, and today’s passenger car breed is all about small, turbocharged 6-cylinder engines. Engines like the Ecoboost V6 in Ford’s (NASCAR-owned) Daytona Prototype race cars. Engines like the twin-turbo V6 Indy engines fielded by Chevy and Honda. Engines like the twin-turbo V6 being developed for Toyota’s new Supra and BMW’s new 3 and 4 series cars.

See? That doesn’t have to expensive, since a lot of the R&D has been done already. Further, you can forge a more relevant link between race car and street car with an engine than you can with, say, headlamp stickers, you know?


NASCAR Needs Modern Fuels

This one becomes far easier after you’ve introduced modern, turbocharged engines to NASCAR. Simply, the nature of turbochargers and advanced engine management software would allow race teams to truly optimize their engines for alternative, homegrown fuels like bamboo-sourced E100, corn-based E85, or even compressed natural gas. You could even envision a NASCAR series that allowed multiple fuels on the track at once, with the E85 guys racing the pump gas guys racing the CNG guys for dominance within the same hardware and engine controller limits. Heck, why not allow hybrids into the mix, as well? It worked for Formula 1!

For sure, that fuels idea needs tweaking, but if NASCAR want to stop being the dino-series du jour, they’re gonna have to stop depending on dino-juice.


NASCAR Needs to Race in the Rain


It may surprise people who think NASCAR drivers are among the toughest, bravest, red-bloodedest Americans out there to learn that NASCAR is just about the only major racing series that doesn’t race in the rain. Now, I’m not saying it’s because the sport is currently filled with a bunch of sheltered, manicured, PR-driven wussy millionaire cry-babies … but I am wondering why it is that other series with more horsepower, lighter cars, looser safety regs, and higher top speeds than NASCAR race in the rain, and NASCAR doesn’t

This is where NASCAR can really push the envelope of passenger car design and improve the breed. With their high weight and passenger car-ish bodywork, NASCAR stockers most closely resemble the rain tire needs of the typical American family sedan. Yeah, yeah, “GT racing”, I know- but nobody watches that, so stay with me. (Guess I’m nobody. – DeMorro)

If NASCAR made its premier series race in the rain, we’d quickly see highly efficient rain tires moving gallons of water from the track while, at the same time, maximizing lateral grip at high speeds and in close formation- exactly what the psycho maniacs do on Chicago’s 290 during thunderstorms. The windshield wiper companies would have a whole new R&D field and NASCAR teams would have a whole new group of potential sponsors.

Furthermore, let’s allow traction control and anti-lock braking in NASCAR, since those have already become prevalent in passenger cars. With rain tires, advanced wipers, and traction control for wet races, even the most safety-conscious NASCAR drivers should have no trouble chasing each other around a damp track.

Those are my ideas- and, I think, they’re good ones. If they were implemented tomorrow, you’d immediately be able to start wooing Honda, Nissan, and BMW into NASCAR- and all of those companies build scads of cars in the US, so no “‘MURICA!” shouts, OK?

Still, I do- now and then- get ahead of myself. What do you guys think? Would changes like these help to make NASCAR meaningful again, or is NASCAR doomed to remain the backwards, inbred, hill-jack cousin of real motor sports forever? Let us know what you think in the comments, below. Enjoy!


Original content from Gas 2.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • Bi-Polar Bear

    Well, Jo, you make some good points. However, you must bear in mind who the NASCAR audience is. They are people who live in the past, think in the past and worship the past. They tend to think they are “real Americans”, they think Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman make sense, that Obama was born in Jerkajerkastan and that God really did tell George W. Bush to invade Iraq.

    Once you understand who the fan base is, it makes perfectly good sense that the race cars are more closely akin to a 58 Oldsmobile than a modern competition machine.

    NASCAR isn’t about racing. It is about making the cars rolling billboards for those who wish to advertise their products to a certain segment of society. That is its primary mission in life and until the advertising dollars dry up, it really has very little incentive to change.

    And don’t forget that Chevrolet makes some very sophisticated V-8 pushrod motors for the Corvette.

    • rofl

      You’re retarded

      • Bi-Polar Bear

        I rest my case!

      • No, he’s bi-polar. Can’t you read the username? 😉

    • Wil

      No, actually the average NASCAR consumer (I.E. the people that buy the tickets) are upper middle class. They can’t be shoved into the stereotypical box that they fit so easily into in the 1990s because they come from a myriad of socioeconomic backgrounds. If you notice, almost none of the drivers carries the characteristic southern drawl anymore, and all of the sponsors are completely mainstream.
      The only thing living in ignorance is this article which is a regurgitation of a misunderstanding of the sport. If you actually took the time to study NASCAR engines, you’d realize that they are actually pushing the technology forward as they have to make more power with less tech. If you study the aero, once again, they have to do more with less. And again with the chassis, and components.
      NASCAR is absolutely about racing, as much as F1, Rally, IndyCar, and TUDOR. And if you think it isn’t, I defy you to even hit 200 mph on an oval.

      The only ignorance I commonly associate with NASCAR is the opinions of those outside of it. Especially with regards to F1.

      • ProTip: you can have money (be upper-middle class) and still be a backwards, racist, inbred, cousin-f***ing hill jack. Go check out Nikki Haley or some of the more recent NC laws and you’ll see what I mean.

        • Wil

          Nice rebuttal. You spoke to none of my points. And just went for the insult. And for the record, you don’t have to be southern to be a racist either, oddly, you don’t have to be a classist to be an F1 fan, but apparently it helps.

          I know you wrote the article, so maybe you should have some kind of thoughts beyond the general. Or at least be able to support your points.

          • Fair enough- although I think I did address your comment about NASCAR fans being “upper middle class”.

            That said, I still hear a thick drawl from most of the drivers- and certainly from the fans and announcers- I find it very familiar, having been exposed to it everywhere I went as a kid who spent a few summers around Mooresville’s race tracks. The drivers that don’t carry it are there, sure (see above, where I write “the sport is currently filled with a bunch of sheltered, manicured, PR-driven wussy millionaire cry-babies”), but the sport remains a Bible belt phenomenon, in terms of its core, and its national (and international) audiences are shrinking as the sport “retreats” back to its roots … so let’s go back to its roots! Stock cars that are, in some real way, related to stock cars.

            As for “not understanding” the sport, I think you’ll find that I understand it all too well- and that I know where Awesome Bill is from, can speak eloquently about Swervin’ Irvan, would lament the late start/unfair shake the great Steve Kinser got, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

            As for hitting 200 on an oval- been there, done that. Thanks for playing.

          • Wil

            Well, I apparently missed this month old explanation.

            You don’t hear accents. You hear prejudice. Not in the way you think in your addled head, but in the way pre-judice actually works. A pre-judgement. You assume that things don’t change from where and when you grew up.

            You’ll probably also be belaboring the decline of social culture endemic to your era in a few years. Don’t worry, you are very much part of the common. And you can die off like all the other men that think the 250 GTO was the pinnacle of cars.

            As for sheltered, manicured, PR driven drivers… oh.. wait.. that’s how ‘sport’ sells in all incarnations. If you don’t understand that this is all about MONEY than you are more deluded than you come across.

            All of this; the NBA, NFL, NHL, NCAA, NASCAR, etc. sells on the basis of interest. Which means it only sells so long as people pay attention.

            The fun part for me every time some jackass decides to attack NASCAR? I can’t lose.

            Your happy little road course sports not run by Bernie “media” Ecclestone, are dying. Without state funds that are praying for new state funds, they’ll die. They have, and if you argue I’ll just point out Tony George and the debacle or the TUDOR merger (HEY LOOK! NASCAR!).

            You can hate on what you don’t quite get. You see it as simple. “You just drive in circles right?” But your best and brightest can’t do it successfully (Juan Pablo Montoya), and they also can’t compete commercially without the rights that were founded decades ago.

            You don’t know the sport, you don’t know the marketing, you don’t know the game, and you do not know sport. Have a nice day.

          • LOL … glad you can bury your head deep enough in the sand to assume that any attacks on your beloved NASCAR must only come from people who don’t get it. Have fun learning nothing in life.

    • b3lrod

      NASCAR is absolutely about racing- You can’t say it isn’t just because the cars have advertising livery on them. That’s standard for most racing types, the money has to come from somewhere.
      And you can’t just make broad generalizations like that- not everyone in the south is stuck in the past, and not all of us vote the same way. I’m from North Carolina, from the near where NASCAR was born. The city I lived in, Charlotte, is a remarkably liberal town, and tends to vote blue. The only people I’ve met who genuinely thought Bachmann or Palin were good options were my grandparents.
      NASCAR hasn’t changed, because it hasn’t had to. We’re getting to the point now where the technology is so outdated it HAS to be replaced, but before now, it hasn’t been that pressing an issue.

      • Being from Florida, I thought NASCAR was born on the beach at Daytona. 😉

        • Bi-Polar Bear

          OK, B3, I plead guilty to being a smartass, but Jo started it! I just cannot get interested in 47 cars snarling around an oval sniffing each other’s tailpipes. Whenever I need a nap, I check the tv listings for a NASCAR race. {yawn…} But I do enjoy the heck out of watching those 3400 lb behemoths hurtling around a good road course like Watkins Glen.

          I recognize that in the amateur ranks, roundy round racing provides a creative outlet for lots of folks. There is a NASCAR North track near my house and the folks there take their racing very seriously. And probably any one of them would whup my ass if I went out on track with ’em.

          Interestingly, Formula One is wrestling with some of the issues under discussion here. Of late, the races have been boring processions and the sport is losing viewers in droves. To stop the bleeding, the sport has undertaken a whole range of new technical regulations to “spice up the show, but there are lot of unhappy fans.

          Motor racing is in crisis. Thanks to the internet and the fans voracious appetite for titillation 24/7, there are more racing “products” available for viewing than at any time in history. So each series is desperate to attract and retain viewers.

          Imho, what race fans WANT to see is close, wheel to wheel racing with lots of passing and a result that is in doubt until the final lap if not the final corner. And they want it done without a lot of gimmicks like “push to pass” buttons, tires that rip themselves to shreds after 10 laps, drag reduction systems or any of those kind of gimmicks.

          They are paying to see a show and that’s exactly what they expect. They want the teams free to innovate but they don’t want the same folks a lap ahead at the end of every race. They want lots of passing but not a lot of gizmos and gimcracks to make that happen. They want close competition but don’t want spec racers. What’s a poor race promoter to do???

          Do we want a series where a visionary like Andy Granitelli can bring a 4wd turbine powered car to a race and walk away from the rest of the field? Do we really want innovation like ALMS is experimenting with?

          Opinions vary. I suppose in a way, good racing is a little like pornography was to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who famously said “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” : )

          Your mileage may vary. See dealer for details.

    • Good point! Chevy should, BY ALL MEANS, continue to advance the pushrods- but they should be allowed to do so. I’d love to see the Chevy V8 run against the Ecoboost Fords!

  • daibutsu

    What inane drivel!!!

    • Bi-Polar Bear

      Wow! Such penetrating insight! What clarity of thought! What awesome powers of persuasion! Your parents must be very proud.

    • I’ve called you names before, haven’t I?

      • Bi-Polar Bear

        I certainly hope so! : )

  • Lee Thomas

    While they might not be doing much to “improve the breed”, you can hardly state that as their goal on which they should be judged. Stock car racing’s roots go back to hot-rodding with existing parts and providing entertainment (and jobs, revenue, etc.) and NASCAR is more than just Sprint Cup racing, it’s also the guys racing friday night’s on small town tracks doing the best they can with relatively affordable 30 year-old tech. Improving automotive technology is further down their list of priorities.
    I think Sprint Cup could and should do more to improve technology but, it’s hardly their primary goal. I do think a move to six-cylinders, greener fuels and traction-control/more complex differentials/racing in the rain would be some good steps in making their tech more relevant.

    • I’m pretty sure NASCAR’s roots go further back than that- like, back to the old moonshiners and boozerunners, in fact. Then it picked up steam with the guys coming back from the war.

      That said, 100% agree with you- but I also think that the move to more relevant tech and more similarities to production models would improve THE SHOW, as well as provide more win/sell Sunday/Monday goodness.

      • John Baechtel

        Jo, I can see and understand where you’re trying to go with this, but you have to understand that the fuel issue is purely political as we all know ethanol fuels are bad for most cars and the offer far less energy content. And if you’re comparing Formula 1 technology that advances the science you might find an interesting comparison between a Formula 1 engine (normally aspirated) and a NASCAR engine done a few years ago by a highly qualified aviation engineer. Here;s the link.
        If you look a little deeper you’ll find that NASCAR engines actually run higher peak piston speeds than a Formula 1 engine even though they only rev half as high. NASCAR engines are a technological tour de force if you know what you’re looking at. Particularly in terms of specialized materials, engine airflow, bearings,coatings and much more. It’s not just the rednecks you seek to insult that disagree with you. Any qualified automotive engineer will tell you that there is much more high technology in NASCAR than meets the average eye.

        • No, John- we don’t “all know” that. In fact, I’d say you were 100% WRONG about your ethanol claims, and say that they were purely politically based.

          Further, I know about the piston speeds- they’re not relevant or interesting. That’s like arguing that the advancements made in lightweight materials and low-rolling-resistance bearings are so interesting that chariot racing is now “just as advanced” as F1. It’s a nonsensical comparison.

  • Rowland Williams

    I was a huge NASCAR fan when I was a teenager in the 70s. But NASCAR lost me when they shifted to racing chassis, and they would win me back tomorrow if they raced real cars.

    That said, with cable TV we’re starting to see great racing more and more. Rally racing is starting to be shown, as is Baja racing. The first uses cars we can actually purchase. The second puts men/women into tough environments they and their cars have to survive. (And, hell, even F1, which is here in Austin where I live, forces the drivers to do more than turn left!)

    NASCAR is part culture, part tradition (like pro football with its over-juiced, overly-padded millionaire babies), and so it won’t be going anywhere soon. Luckily for some of us, other options abound, and more will arise. (Can you imagine how cool if would be if old school stock car racing made a comeback with the Americans, Germans, Japanese, and Koreans all duking it out on the track in small or mid-sized cars?! Actually, why isn’t somebody doing that?)

    • Jo Borras

      100% agree on all counts.

  • Burnerjack

    Some relevant points to be sure. Those engines may not be the engine options available to the consumer but there is a certain excitement to have those thundering beasts run. Call it nostalgic romance that reminds some of us that that’s how “real cars” used to be made (to a small extent, to be sure).
    I do disagree with adding traction control, ABS, electronic transmissions, etc.
    In short, IMHO, anything which reduces the importance of driving skill and replaces it with “engineering magic” diminishes the relevance of the entire event.
    Ideally, the cars are all identical and only the driving and pit crew decide the outcome (remember IROC?). But hey, that’s just me, to each their own.
    I suppose road rally events with WRXs and the like would be better suited to your taste. No?

    • The problem is that all those “real cars” were crap. They were slower, heavier, clumsier, and less efficient than modern cars. Consider those 60s Muscle Cars that would get blown off the road by a lot of today’s MINIVANS. It’s a rose-colored vision of a world that never existed- and, believe me, my 5.0 Mustang and I made some great memories, but I know that the wife’s mommy mobile would crush it in a straight line, in a corner, under braking, *AND* get 50% better MPG.

      • Burnerjack

        “Regular cars were crap”. Absolutely! But the “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday” wasn’t about ‘regular’ cars.
        Show me a stock minivan that beat a stock Boss 302 anything, a Charger, 440 Demon, Hurst Olds, Pontiac S3, Camaro SSRS, etc.
        Those were the kind of cars that were somewhat identifiable with the track. Should NASCAR be racing minivans? Would that make it more relevant?
        As far as relevance goes, think about this: many of us watch sports, be it football, baseball, etc. Some fans are are absolutely foaming at the mouth rabid in their enthusiasm.
        It would seem that by your criteria we shouldn’t be interested unless the team members were actually from the region represented and they used the same training and resources as our high school (for example) teams. That would extend the relevance to be sure, but its really not essential as evidenced by attendance and viewership.

        • The Shinoda ’69 and ’70 Mustang 302 Boss was rated at 290 Gross HP (, which is comprable to about 230 modern HP. 0-60 times published in magazines like Car and Driver and Road & Track put 0-60 for the car at about 6.9 seconds, with a 1/4 mile time in the mid-high 14s at 95-98 MPH.

          While the current Honda Odyssey is about a second off of that 0-60 mark, it’s making more power, gets better MPG, and catches up in the 1/4 mile with a trap speed approaching 90 (from the same sources). If you concede that the Ford Flex is a minivan with conventional doors (it is, IMO), your argument really goes to s***. 0-60 of a bone-stock Flex is just 5.7 seconds in the Flex, according to Motor Trend. A full 1.2 seconds faster than that crap 302 Boss.

          Sorry to shatter those rose-tinted glasses for you. In fairness, they made you look ridiculous.

        • I just compared that 440 to the Flex. The 440 was quoted by Super Stock magazine (in the 60s) at 13.7 @ 106 MPH … a full SECOND slower than the mommy-mobile Ford Flex. That’s with no cats, on leaded gas, crap MPG, almost no safety considerations, certainly no WiFi, and emissions so toxic that you’d die in a few minutes locked in a garage with one.

          Still feeling nostalgic, amigo? LOL

          • Burnerjack

            While I do know it is fact that there were truly awesome cars made that the rated horsepower was way understated I suppose for insurance reasons, they were sold to the public to qualify them for the Manufacturers Cup racing. My buddy had a Mustang rated at 290 hp and we were puzzled ’cause is screwed like a raped ape! Come to find out it was really about 375(?). Much more in line with our expectations. Must admit though that it may have been modified before he bought it. Didn’t sound ‘lopey’ but it went like it should. “Results not typical,blah, blah…”
            Certainly can’t argue 0-60/ 1/4 mile times though.
            As far as handling goes, I couldn’t agree more, they cornered like Clipper ships and braked like, well, the floppy, overweight drum brake equipped beasts they were. Sadly, I always thought European cars were always lightyears ahead in that department.
            Back on topic: So should we be racing minivans? Sounds exciting enough…Can’t wait to get my tickets.
            As far as what would be relevant and return to the Darwinian relevance of racing, I would like to see open rules EV racing.
            Any motor(s), any battery, any tech.
            This would push the envelope both in terms of performance and duration.
            Truly, NASCAR lost it for me when they allowed manufacturers to race rear wheel drive versions of their front wheel drive cars. Most egregious departure from reality for me right there. Not even ‘highly modified’. Just a completely different machine.

    • Also, IROC was fantastic.

  • Lpsided

    NASCAR cannot race in the rain because they only have slicks at their disposal while F1 has treaded tires

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  • Bryan D. Edgar

    Here is my proposal to make NASCAR more in line with what they used to be…
    1) make the cars be as close to production models as possible, e.g- mandate use of production car body panels and dimensions wherever feasible, similar to V8 supercar in australia. If NASCAR wants to even the playing field, use standard c.d. , curb weight, and weight distribution that all manufacturers must meet, using movable weights and aero devices, rather than dictating a common profile with decals on it.

    If NASCAR wants to limit speeds, make the carmakers use a production engine, no exceptions. Modern hi-po street cars have 600hp now, no excuse to have specialized engine that have nothing in common with a production model (no current NASCAR racer even comes close to this)
    Even better, make it a stock replacement engine…
    This engine would maintain stock power output and redline.