Harris: Welcome To Populist NASCAR
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Concord, N.C. – It seems there is some kind of populist movement under way in NASCAR.
Over the years, the wheels of NASCAR’s hierarchy have tended to turn a lot slower than the wheels on its race cars.
Part of the reason for the sanctioning organization taking its good old time making changes was because those in charge – notably Big Bill France and his son Bill France Jr., who succeeded NASCAR’s founder – were very conservative in the way they approached change. Any change.
And, folks, NASCAR was no democracy under those two.
Each change over the years has come after long deliberations and, often, without consulting anyone outside of NASCAR headquarters.
And a lot of things have remained the same because NASCAR felt it was a way to keep things under control.
Case in point, the fact that NASCAR still uses carburetors instead of electronic fuel injection, which has been around for decades. Low-tech carburetors are considerably easier to police.
Brian France, the latest leader of the stock car sport, is in the process of changing that kind of thinking.
Citing meetings with drivers and owners, as well as responses from NASCAR’s fan council (a group of about 12,000 of stock car racing’s most rabid supporters) as the catalyst, France and the rest of the sport’s leaders announced a series of significant changes and decisions for the 2010 season Thursday during the final stop of the annual NASCAR Media Tour sponsored by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The purpose of the changes, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said, is “To get the car to drive as good as it can.”
NASCAR, France said, is a “contact sport” and leadership intends to let drivers, “mix it up”.
“We’re going to open it up. We want what you want,” France said to fans.
Those changes, revealed at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. by series vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, included:
* Elimination of bump drafting rules. “Boys,” Pemberton said, “have at it, that’s all I can say.”
* Larger resrictor plates will be in place at Daytona. The size of the holes in the plates will be 63/64ths of an inch, which makes them the largest since the 1980 Daytona 500 and gives the drivers more horsepower and better throttle response to go with some announced aerodynamic changes.
* Rear wings will disappear this coming season and blade spoilers will reappear. It is hoped that will be accomplished in time for the race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 18.
* Beginning with the Feb. 13 season opener at Daytona, NASCAR Nationwide Series teams will be limited to 15 crew members, including the driver, crew chief, spotter and seven over-the-wall pit-crew members. Teams also won’t be required to provide a scorer. Last year teams had no limit on at-track crew members.
* NASCAR Nationwide Series teams may run no more than two races in 2010 without using an engine sealed by series officials. Last year they could run three races before using a sealed engine.
* NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams will use double-file restarts “shootout style” in 2010, making restart rules uniform across all three national series. Teams also will return to traditional pit stops, eliminating last year’s procedure of refueling and changing tires on separate stops. Teams also may use a new, vented fuel dump can, eliminating the need for a catch can.
Not changing will be the existence of yellow no-passing lines at the plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.
Pemberton said the erasing of the yellow lines was discussed with teams and drivers and the reaction was, don’t do it.
“We threw it out there,” Pemberton said. “I wouldn’t say it was 50/50. Probably not 70/30. Most drivers said we’ve got enough changes” for the upcoming season.
The announced changes stem from a desire by NASCAR to start “Putting things back into the hands of the drivers. We intend to loosen up,” France said. “We want to make very good racing, better.”
As for the change from wings to spoilers, he said, “They want to go back to a more traditional handling car, and that’s what we’re doing.’’
NASCAR president Mike Helton said that the series will allow drivers more freedom to express themselves in 2010.
“We will continue to let the drivers be themselves,’’ Helton said. “It means we are encouraging the people in the sport (to show) their characters and personalities, but we have to be sure we don’t step too far in that direction.
“We know today the car is safer than it was five years ago – much safer – and the racetracks, too.’’
France said NASCAR got a tremendous amount of feedback from its town hall style meetings with owners and drivers last May, but got even more at smaller, team-by-team meetings in recent weeks.
“What surprised me, if anything, was there was a lot of opinion,” France said. “In the town hall meetings, a lot of people didn’t want to speak up when there were 12 other drivers or something like that, and they didn’t feel comfortable. There was a lot more of an exchange of what we had to say to them and their reaction to that.”
As for the fan council, France said NASCAR is listening.
He noted that reaction from the fan council and other research has been at least partly responsible for the advent of the double-file restarts last season, the upcoming swap of wings for spoilers on the Cup cars and the uniform race starting times that go into effect this season.
“We’re listening to what our fans are saying,’’ France said. “The way you communicate with people is different now, and we have to change with the times.’’
Want more proof?
Pemberton said NASCAR is even studying a change from carburetors to electronic fuel injection.
“We’re already testing fuel injection systems,’’ he said. “Some teams already have prototypes in testing and our goal is to shoot for 2011.’’
Times have certainly changed.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments