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Gen 6 Cars: Very Pretty, But Can They Race?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 17 2013

Tony Stewart in a 2013 Chevrolet. Are good looks enough? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Cleary)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The theme which emerged from last weekend’s three-day Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway was impossible to miss or misinterpret: The Gen 6 cars look great.

And in announcing that view loudly and constantly, NASCAR and its teams and its drivers and its manufacturers also were issuing a subtle hope: The Gen 6 cars are so good looking they will play a big part in reviving the sport.

Well, yes, they are great looking; but no, they will play a near-zero role in reviving interest in Sprint Cup racing.

The purpose of the redesigned metal work of the Cup cars – a redesign which represented a concerted effort between the three carmakers still in the sport and, even, the one which dropped out after the 2012 season – was to make the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry look more like their showroom namesakes.

And from the grandstands, they kind of do just that. They share enough esthetic characteristics to where you can sort of tell the difference between them. At least at caution-lap speeds.

And that’s cool. And it should go down as a good move by NASCAR.

But, will it help sell tickets to races? Will it spur a climb in the Nielsens? Will it help sell hats and t-shirts and will it revive “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” for the manufacturers?

Just don’t see it happening.

A lot of things have changed since the days when stock cars were actual stock cars; since the days when the brand of stock car that a NASCAR driver drove mattered almost as much as all else to race fans.

To understand why it once mattered so much, one also has to understand the American car culture during the time when American cars ruled the streets.

It was a time when little kids bought plastic Revell models of Chevrolet 409s, teen-agers went to bed dreaming of Pontiac GTOs and young adults slapped down their first paychecks from their first jobs to get a “440 Six Pack”.

Young people in those days were not just boys and girls. They were Ford guys and gals, Chevy guys and gals and Mopar guys and gals. They argued the cases for their cars from the parking lots at Dairy Queens to the grandstands at Daytona.

They did it as teens in the ’50s and ’60s, then as adults from the ’70s to the ’90s.

And it all made race days so much more interesting.

The thing, is, their children and grandchildren never became immersed in American car culture. Certainly never became passionate about it. For them, cars became simple tools. They got you to the mall parking lot and through the fast-food drive-up-window lines.

Those who did follow their older relatives and friends to race tracks, pulled for drivers, not brands. It’s the on-track action that sells the tickets and human stars which empty the shelves of the trinket-trailers outside the tracks.

And for the thinned-out masses of gearheads who did retain interest in the sport for nothing more than the sport’s own sake, well, they knew/know darn well just how badly and completely the link between showroom and track was/is broken.

The bottom line is this: Today’s NASCAR fans and the young people NASCAR wants to make NASCAR fans are not having their souls stirred by Fusions, SSs and Camrys. They aren’t standing in Wal-Mart parking lots arguing that their Fusion would digest and excrete the other guy’s Camry. They aren’t buying Impalas because Danica drives one.

Many of the people who lived and died with their favorite automaker have left the building precisely because the COTs were not really Fords or Chevys or Camrys in the sense that they were the result of thinking and innovation Dearborn, Detroit or even Costa Mesa.

The COTs were, and the Gen 6s are, basically, cars built to specs supplied by NASCAR.

The Gen 6 cars are the result of cooperation – not competition – between the car companies and even, the rulemakers.

No, it will not be the looks of the Gen 6 cars that will help revive NASCAR. Looks alone will not attract the younger demographic which the series craves but has not been able to capture en masse.

The new cars must prove to be more racy than the COTs. It’s action on the track that fills grandstands and, for better or worse, it’s the personalties of the drivers which cement fan loyalty these days.

If the Gen 6s can conquer aero push, if they can somehow help the 42 cars not leading the race overcome the debilitating effects of dirty air, if they can facilitate passing for the lead, then they might play a role in reviving the sport.

And while many drivers at the Daytona test did suggest that the new cars could end up doing exactly that, it was evident by their actions that much tweaking of the Gen 6s is needed – especially for superspeedway races. At DIS, most seemed hesitant to drive in big packs. And when they finally did, a big wreck occurred, putting an end to pack testing.

The new cars will be back for more testing this week at Charlotte. Here’s hoping that afterward, those in the garages are talking more about the raciness of the new cars as their looks.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 17 2013
One Comment

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  • Cole says:

    I am just about to turn 30 and have been a fan since I was about 5. I still remember my father telling me that one of the saddest days in his life was having to see Fireball Roberts drive a Ford. See my dad was a Chevy guy like you talked about in your article – which by extension meant I was going to be a Chevy guy too. I consider myself one of a dying breed in America as you talked about that still has that attitude about NASCAR. For years I couldn’t stand Jeff Burton – then he started driving Chevys for RCR and he wasn’t such a bad guy. Same goes for Mark Martin. Today, though it is more difficult, I still cheer for my favorite driver – a Chevy guy – and if he can’t win it better darn well be a Chevy that takes the checkers! That’s how I was raised and that’s how I’ll raise my kids. Bowtie for life!!!