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NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Car of Tomorrow

NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow

Bill Crittenden
The Crittenden Automotive Library
September 9, 2006

To hear some people tell it, NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow is the beginning of the end, the death of big-league stock car racing.

My question is, why?

Some question the car's looks.  Yes, I admit, it is a strange looking car, especially with the front end braces and spoiler that looks like it was lifted from the set of "The Fast and the Furious."  Actually, the whole car looks like a Japanese tuner or Le Mans version of today's Nextel Cup car.  But today's stock cars are rather odd, too, when you compare them to the street cars they are supposed to resemble.

Those aero pieces seem to be the points of focus for much of the criticism.  But they're there for a purpose.  The new design makes the cars more stable, especially running next to one another.  This makes running side-by-side and passing easier, which translates into more of the action that has made NASCAR America's most popular motorsport.  My bet is it's that action that has sold the sport, not the cars, or else the Barrett-Jackson auctions would outdraw NASCAR 10 to 1.

Another selling point in NASCAR is the stars.  NASCAR fans are fanatics about their favorite drivers.  After seeing how fans still follow their favorite NASCAR stars getting into other race cars, from endurance Corvettes to Daytona Prototypes to sprint cars, I think it's safe to say that as long as the big names of NASCAR stay in the Nextel Cup, most fans aren't going anywhere.

Some criticisms come from the standardized design of the cars, making the Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and now Toyotas essentially the same cars with a few different parts.  What this does, as NASCAR has been making the cars more and more similar over the years already, is ensure that there is parity.  That driving a particular brand of car doesn't give an undue advantage or disadvantage.  That one year one manufacturer doesn't run away with 30 wins and leave the others questioning their investments in the sport.  Because when that happens, as it has in other motorsports, usually one manufacturer is all that remains in the sport, such as the IRL (Dallara-Honda) or Champ Car (Panoz-Ford Cosworth).

From a sport where at one time "stock car" really meant a stock car, it must have been hard to transition from increasingly modified street machines to the current tube-frame purpose-built racing machines.  It doesn't seem to me that NASCAR has suffered, and I don't think the next set of car changes is going to cause a mass exodus from the sport.  Just remember, today's Car of Tomorrow will be the car of the past in a decade.  Who knows what's next?

©2006 Bill Crittenden

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