Give the 2019 Rules a Chance
But Keep Pushing for STOCK!
I’m pretty sure there’s a global (intergalactic?) rule that says, if you’re a sports fan on the internet, with any interest at all in stock car racing, you are required to publish your opinion of the 2019 rules for NASCAR’s Grand National/Cup/Whatever-it’ll-eventually-be-called Series, so here goes.
I’m in the group that believes stock car racing should feature STOCK cars, not purpose-designed racing entities covered with skins covered with stock car decals. Therefore, I think these rules are headed in the wrong direction.
Check out this baby – real chrome, real headlight trim and even real windows. Isn’t this what STOCK CAR RACING should be about? Decals are for numbers and sponsors.
This is pretty, but it’s closer to what you’d find in Formula One than in the parking garage down the street.
HOWEVER, if I’m wrong about that, it seems that these rules go in the right direction for a series made up of sorta-if-you-squint-and-imagine stock-ish racing machines. Cutting horsepower is good, even if increasing dependence on aero isn’t. I’ll give ‘em a chance.
Let’s take a look at what MIGHT be good about this. Steve Phelps made a big deal of saying that the new rules should encourage new manufacturers to join the sport, but it also would seem that they won’t drive any current participants away.
That really stands out if you’re a geezer and remember 1965, when Big Bill France banned the Chrysler Hemi engine, and Chrysler took a hike. GM was already on the sidelines, and at smaller races there were usually only two or three “factory” Fords, so things could get nasty. At Spartanburg, with a starting field of only 16 cars, Ned Jarrett and Dick Hutcherson traded the lead in their big-buck Fords until Hutch broke, and Jarrett won by 22 laps! How many of the 5,000 fans in the stands that night thought they’d seen a great finish?
Early in the next season, Ford pulled out, and suddenly it was Petty vs. Pearson vs. the guys with beat-up old cars. When Dave Fulton, his Dad and I went to Beltsville, Md., the script didn’t play out: Pearson broke down at the green flag and Petty blew up while running away with the race, leaving Tiny Lund and James Hylton to fight it out, with Lund winning. (Bobby Allison’s new Chevelle made it interesting, but he wasn’t around at the finish, either.)
Tiny Lund in the car that won at Beltsville after the “factory” cars had dropped out.
Beltsville runner-up Hylton. How many engineers and marketing people do you think could fit into that rig?
For hardcore fans, a Lund vs. Hylton battle was pretty cool, but for the rest of the world, it didn’t help racing catch up to football. In 1964, there were 62 Grand National races (in the days before Winston Cup and a major-races-only schedule). In ’65, the number dropped to 55, and it was down to 49 for the next three years. A quick look at comparative crowd figures shows that many tracks also suffered in attendance. The manufacturer boycotts hurt.
You can argue cause-and-effect, but the manufacturer situation in the mid-‘60s definitely didn’t help NASCAR, and in today’s era of disappearing fans, sponsors and TV ratings, you don’t want to add that to the misery.
So give the guys in Daytona some credit. These rule changes address some long-range goals… if they work.
But here’s where my advocacy of bringing the STOCK back to stock car racing comes in. When Fulton and I left Beltsville that night in 1966, we thought we’d seen a great race, because we saw underdogs duke it out, with one of them getting the trophy. You’ve got to do a lot more with the rules than is being proposed for 2019 to help underdogs return to a sliver of competitiveness today – the team plays too much of a role for that. I don’t know if DiBenedetto, Cassill or LaJoie could be the front-running underdog on a slightly more level playing field or not, but it would be kind of neat to find out, and it would be even neater to have Bubba Pollard, Justin Bonsignore, Casey Roderick, Raphael Lessard or another local/regional star take a crack at the big time.
Ricky Rudd was just one of many Cup stars of ages past who took under-funded, family-or-friend-backed cars and ran them well enough to get attention and eventually a regular ride. Good luck with that approach today. It needs to come back.
With the current rules – and the charter system – I don’t see how that can happen, and without it, we still have a lot of the problems that are hurting the sport today.
Still, let’s see how it works. Better racing next year would be a start, and if it includes some bumping by the little guys trying to make it to the front, I’m guessing Tiny and James will be smiling – along with a lot of the rest of us – at what’s happening.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
A couple of my old photos this week came from past Tim Leeming posts online, so as a way of saying “thanks,” I used Petty cars for my NASCAR then-and-now illustrations. Of course, they’re mighty fine looking cars, regardless of the era.
Last week I wrote half-seriously about NASCAR starting a series for SUVs, but with Ford all-but ending production of cars (in favor of SUVS and trucks), maybe we should start taking that possibility seriously. After all, among the few people who actually need fast transportation these days, police are rapidly changing over to SUVs. Eventually, we may lose manufacturers because they don’t have a car model to compete.
If we make it easy enough for new manufacturers to get into NASCAR, maybe we could even get Jaguar back. Here’s Al Keller in the car that won a Grand National race on an airport road course in Linden, N.J., in 1954. Until Toyota came along, it was the only race in NASCAR’s top series won by a “foreign” car make. (Jag has an SUV, too.)
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the 1958 Grand National race on the old Riverside, Calif., road course in which contestants included two Citroens, a Renault and a Goliath (an Austin Healy failed to quality). Goliath was an obscure German import brand that went out of business a few years later. While working on this week’s article, I came across the ad below.
You probably can’t read much beyond the headlines, but this one – “Goliath Sensational” – is a masterpiece in exaggeration. “Out of 48 cars that started only 18 were able to finish… (the ad read) “among all cars that entered Goliath finished first in its class.”
I’m not sure what that means. The Goliath finished a couple dozen miles behind the two Citroens and the Renault failed to finish. NASCAR doesn’t usually list finishers by “class.”
The small print under the photo of the car notes that it had 279 miles on it when the race started and was “literally a car off the showroom floor.”
“Of particular interest to American imported car drivers will be the fact that the Goliath made only one pit stop in this 6-1/2 hour race and then only for gas… interesting too is the fact that during the entire race the hood of the Goliath was never raised once… a testimonial to a truly great engine and great performing car.”
Wonder what current Cup drivers would think of driving three hours between pit stops and more than twice that long on a set of tires. But then the Goliath might have worn the tires faster if it had gone faster – it finished in 27th place, 43 laps (around 110 miles) back of winner Eddie Gray.
Kind of makes you wish there was still a dealer around somewhere.
If you use a magnifying glass you might see that this car doesn’t say “Goliath” on the hood. The brand was also known as Hansa.