Pedley: Is NASCAR Ready To Start Thinking Small?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
When unveiled two decades ago, the NASCAR series which races facsimiles of pickup trucks was greeted with a massive rolling of eyes. It seems that Jamie Allison, director, Ford North America Motorsports, is more than ready to face another round of eye rolling.
In a motorhome in the infield at Kansas Speedway last weekend, the excitable Allison got super excited as he talked about the possibility of launching a new, NASCAR-affiliated series which would race “small, fuel-efficient cars”.
That is; cars like so-called hot hatches, grand touring and rally-type cars.
“I think there’s one more platform that we, together with the sport (of NASCAR)” needs to explore, Allison said. That “is small, fuel-efficient cars The U.S. landscape, the buying public, is increasingly favoring these small, fuel-efficient cars.”
Because Ford is a major player in the production of the type of cars which Allison is talking about, it’s difficult to say if his enthusiasm for such a series is a response to public demand or an attempt to create more demand.
But not debatable is the increasing popularity of the small cars which Allison is referring to. They are indeed selling in large numbers and the people who own them have become quite enthusiastic about owning and driving them.
It was a similar enthusiasm back in the 1980s and ‘90s that led to the launching of the Craftsman Truck
Series by NASCAR. Young people were buying pickup trucks like crazy and then, some began modifying them with aftermarket speed equipment.
Soon, hotter versions of the pickups were being built in-house by the manufactures at Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge.
Prompted by the off-road SCORE racers, NASCAR launched the Super Truck Series in 1995. Several top NASCAR owners jumped in, Craftsman came on board in 1996 and the series has evolved into the Camping World Truck Series that still, of course, races at major tracks as companion and stand-alone events.
Many – in the grandstands and in the garages – think the trucks put on the best show in NASCAR. Television numbers remain strong for the trucks.
Allison thinks hot hatches have the same kind of potential and that a move by NASCAR to adopt small-car racing would help bring younger fans into the sport.
“I believe that it’s just a matter of time before this fan base would love to see that form of excitement within the space of NASCAR,” Allison said.
“We, as well as other manufacturers and I think as well as NASCAR, and as well as the fans because we do listen to our fans, they would like to see the kind of cars they see on the road, the cars they drive, exemplified in an exciting form of motorsports. We see what these kind of cars can do. Look at the X-Games, look at European rallycross, these cars are exciting. They’re rubbing fenders, they’re going in the dirt, they doing jumps. It’s like the good old days of racing.”
Not all manufacturers currently involved in NASCAR are as enthusiastic about racing small cars as Allison.
Asked if he would like to see NASCAR get involved in racing small cars, Lee White, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development, USA just stared at the questioner. For, like, 15 seconds.
“It’s not something we’re asking for,” White finally said. “If our marketing thought it was there, we’d have to see. It would depend on our marketing people.”
Also sounding none too enthusiastic about the pairing of NASCAR and a small-car series was Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR.
He was asked about it during a press conference at Kansas and the person who asked the question also got a sideways look.
“Well, there’s no update because that’s – I mean, we will look – we look at all kinds of motorsports, and sport for that matter, that we could have an impact in or a marketing opportunity,” France said. “You’ve seen some crossover drivers or riders in motorcycles and otherwise, so that’s not anything new, so we’ll continue to be opportunistic to try to see when we can expose NASCAR to a different audience. We do that racing and non-racing, and that’s just – there’s no plans for us getting in rally or any other business like that.”
White also noted that NASCAR is already involved in something like Allison is suggesting.
“It’s called the (GT division of the) GRAND-AM Series,” he said.
Allison sounds as though he plans to keep pushing the idea, however. Just as the pickup truck manufacturers pushed the Camping World idea almost 20 years ago.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments