I stopped watching Nascar about the same time I stopped working for a Nascar team. A brief peek under the hood and it was hard to not be disillusioned about the minute role of the automobile in the sport. Nascar tries very hard to make sure all of the cars are the same. And if all the cars are the same, then the sport can only be about the personalities behind the wheel, and I don’t give a crap what Dale Jr. had for lunch, no matter how many times they talk about it during the race.
I showed up on the team the same year as the Car of Tomorrow. The CoT had a separate front splitter that was just a flat ledge hanging off the front of the car. The first year there were only a few rules regarding the splitter: it must be this shape and this material and be supported by five supports in these locations. One team showed up a few races into the season with carbon fiber supports, and were promptly told to GTFO with that fancy carbon shit. Nascar does not want innovation or deviation, and they don’t need the rulebook to enforce their inflexibility at inspection. We figured out at the wind tunnel that larger supports would block airflow and limit the parachute effect of the front splitter, so we bought oversized rod ends and fasteners and played dumb, which helped us ever so slightly at the big tracks until they changed the rules to specify the dimensions and material of the splitter support. That was the extent of our racecar engineering; spending tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours doing analysis and testing, and then fabricating the resulting design so that it looked like it was assembled by a shade tree mechanic with parts he had lying around.
We had other ideas, but they were mostly cheating. We considered making the truck arms out of titanium and coating them with a magnetic steel coating. Not because titanium is lighter, but because it would be less stiff and would allow the car to sit lower at speed. We calculated it out and it would have given us a 17 lap advantage over the race, so we figured we couldn’t pass that one under the radar.
I love cars, and Nascar just doesn’t have anything to do with cars. The team I was on was young and had a lot to learn, but I was already burnt out. Partly because I did not have the passion to fine tune the few microscopic areas of possible development on that pushrod turd of an engine, but also partly because I was tired of the just do what the leader is doing attitude and the culture where the Crew Chief felt comfortable referring to the engineers as “math fags.”
I get that modern automobile racing is hard; people die when cars go too fast, and if you’re not careful with the rules it just leads to a money=winning game and there’s not competition. Making de facto spec cars is one solution. Another solution is to franchise the teams. Like truck arm suspension and throttle body injection, this idea is far from new. Nascar started this process last year with the carter system, about which I know nothing because I still don’t watch Nascar. But, I think this is a step in the right direction, a step towards fully franchised teams. With a full franchise system, there will be a specific number of teams, and only those teams can compete in the races. People seem to freak out about this, pointing out that you would no longer be able to just show up with a car that meets the rules and try your luck. I don’t see the issue with this; you can’t just show up to an NFL game with a team and expect to play. Sponsorship would be auctioned off and the money paid directly to Nascar who will divide it up evenly among the franchised teams. This will be an issue for Furniture Row Racing, who is owned by their sponsor, but I’m sure some accommodations could be made.
Now the teams are all equally funded, so we can open up the rules and the cars can be different again! But what if one team figures out some clever thing that nobody else does, or what if they get some outside funding from a supplier or parent company and dump a bunch of money into research? Easy: Claimer class Nascar.
At the end of the race, with the winning car still in the winner’s circle, anyone else who came in the top 5 can trade cars with the winner. There would have to be some way to keep the car from being messed with at the end of the race. Let’s say if the driver over-revs the engine after the finish line, the driver of the trading team gets to punch him in the face as hard as he can. I don’t know, I don’t have all the details worked out.
There are reasons why this wouldn’t work that I’m sure a lot of people have thought about. But the truth is it isn’t likely to happen anyway, because Nascar is extremely averse to change. They all kind of wish it was still 1980.
And to be honest, I don’t actually care. There are other racing series with interesting cars. I haven’t cared what Dale Jr. had for lunch for a decade. I’m not going to start watching because there added a couple halftimes with different checkered flags or some race for the chase playoff bullshit. Nascar sucks because it’s not about cars. And if it’s not about cars, I might as well be watching golf. And I hate golf.