Saturday, September 27, 2014

NASCAR Bans Innovation

Maybe NASCAR should bring back Petty, Superbirds
NASCAR released its 2015 rules package on Tuesday, bragging about more than 60 “enhancements,” primarily aimed at reducing horsepower and downforce and – most of all – saving money.  All in the name of better racing.

One thing NASCAR didn’t mention.  The new rules also ban innovation.

For nearly two years NASCAR had talked about a new “Engine of Tomorrow.” Everything was supposedly being considered, including V6 and even V6 turbo engines.  It was an opportunity to make NASCAR relevant again, to put it at the forefront of the development of not only tomorrow’s racing engines, but also tomorrow’s passenger car engines. 

The auto industry will undergo the biggest changes in its history during the next 10 years as a result of mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that are set to nearly double by 2025, to 54.5 miles per gallon.  That’s easily the biggest increase in standards since they were first established in the early 1970s.

Currently only the Toyota Prius and similar hybrids, meet the 2025 standards.  The V6-powered Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Impala or Malibu will have to nearly double current mileage ratings.  V8 engines such as the one in Chevy SS will disappear.  The manufacturers say they will make extensive use of 4- and 6-cylinder engines and turbocharging to meet the standards.  You may be able to find a V8 engine in a Corvette in 2025, but you’ll pay a huge premium for it.

To meet the new standards, the industry will undertake a decade of development and innovation unmatched in its history.  One Toyota executive says the industry will see more changes in the next 10 years than it has in the previous 100.

But instead of being part of this development and innovation, NASCAR has decided to take a back seat and watch the world pass it by.  The series is going with the “Engine of Yesterday,” taking a page from its truck and Nationwide series by adding a “tapered spacer” to the existing 1970s-era V8 engines to cut horsepower from about 850 to about 725.  If you like restrictor plates, you’ll love “tapered spacers.”  Gear ratio reductions will limit engines to about 9,000 RPM.

We may never see another engine failure.  And that’s good, because the only V8 engines you’ll be able to find 10 years from now may be those running around in circles in NASCAR races.  It will become a form vintage racing.

And just to make sure some team doesn’t get ambitious and actually try to develop an edge on the track, NASCAR banned all testing.  Teams will be hard-pressed to develop something new during one or two test sessions the day before a race.  To enforce the ban the organization put in place its most stringent penalty ever, a loss of 150 points, minimum $150,000 fine and six-week crew chief suspension.

The series made it clear the new rules were developed in collaboration with “the race teams, the drivers, our manufacturer partners and Goodyear” and I don’t doubt that for second.  I was hoping NASCAR, the race teams, drivers, manufacturers and Goodyear might dip into that $8+ billion treasure chest of new TV money in the name of moving the series forward, but I should have known better.  It’s all about maintaining the status quo.

It’s pretty much impossible to find anyone in the garage area who isn’t raving about these “enhancements” for 2015.  Unlike the botched rollout of the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR obviously did its homework with the teams and had everyone signing from the same hymnal.

Maybe, just maybe, NASCAR is on to something with the retro engine package.  Afterall, vintage racing is the hottest form of motorsports at the moment.  The next step is to bring back the body styles from the ‘70s; the Super Birds, Talladegas and the Chevelles.  Heck, maybe we can even get Petty, Pearson, Allison and Yarborough back in the cars.

Now that would be a race worth watching.


  1. Excellent article. Which prompts the question, of why the manufacturers went along with this? Seems to me that they would see this as not in their best interest given the direction of the automotive industry. F1 has gone to hybrids, why not Nascar? There has to be a reason.

  2. There is no road relevancy in racing, despite what the PR machines would like you to believe. Not in engines, not in tires, not in chassis. Never has been, never will be. And more often than not the innovation has *always* been in the consumer market, where there's vastly more time, money, and people for R&D. That then trickles down into racing, not the other way around.

    So while I personally think it would be *cool* to see alloy wheels and more "modern" engine topology in stock car racing - it's really arbitrary and has no bearing on anything outside of the sport.

  3. NASCAR has been anti-innovation for years, and is now essentially a spec racing series. And its time for the "journalists" and fans to admit it. Could you differentiate one make from another when the COT was introduced? Why did it take NASCAR years to approve fuel injection? What about "NASCAR approved" parts. Real NASCAR racing disappeared decades ago, and the 3 Stooges of Racing, France, Pemberton and Helton are driving the final nails in NASCAR's coffin. And looking at the thousands of empty seats, how did appealing to Northern yuppies as your new target audience work out for you?

  4. Maybe NASCAR should appeal to the traditional NASCAR country again. My favorite Nationwide driver, Trevor Bayne's hometown of Knoxville, TN's a hot market, if we go by TV viewers. I don't live in the South, but I see the Nielson top-10 NASCAR cites and Knoxville cracks it, even with T-Bayne in the race. I did a Google search and there really is vintage racing. Maybe folks like my parents' age like it. My mom's 65 and my dad's 58. I'm 24, 25 in November. Dad and me love NASCAR. I caught it from him. I watched races on TV with him in elementary school and do that now. If it's on cable, I follow it online.

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