TITLE There's No "Stock" in NASCAR and We're Racing the Wrong Cars
Of course, it doesn’t have a V8 engine, either.
But its headlights are real, not just decals. Hyundai doesn’t compete in NASCAR, but if it did – and if it raced the Elantra – my guess is that I could park mine next to a Cup Series race car and have a pretty hard time finding similarities.
An Elantra in racing trim
But then the last half of NASCAR’s history has seen the term “stock car racing” come to mean little more than a symbolic bow to the distant past. Nevertheless, it seems that the “stock” in our past keeps getting more and more distant, and the cars that race today keep having less and less to do with anything seen on the road. I’m no genius, but I’d think somebody would look at that drift and wonder if it has anything to do with the sport’s decline in popularity.
What follows deals with just a little piece of that overall picture, but I want to talk about which models we race. Let me give a little background first.
In 1950, the first full year of racing for what we now know as the NASCAR Cup Series (previously Strictly Stock/Grand National/Winston/Nextel/Sprint/Monster), a total of 17 different car makes/models raced, if you include the Tucker that was entered at Canfield, Ohio, but broke its axle and didn’t start the race. The others were Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Plymouth, Chrysler, Dodge, Hudson, Nash, Kaiser, Henry J, Packard, and Studebaker.
This is from 1951, but that’s when Studebaker got its NASCAR Grand National victories, including two by Frank Mundy (and I think that’s Cannonball Baker, NASCAR’s “commissioner,” in the black shirt).
The one obvious omission was Chevrolet, which didn’t have a V8 engine, and unlike today, NASCAR didn’t allow something under the hood that couldn’t be bought from a dealership. Otherwise, though, that list includes just about everything American that you could buy (Chrysler’s DeSoto was the next most popular car not racing, followed by Kaiser’s little sibling, Fraser).
How different 2020 will be. According to a couple of sets of statistics available online for 2019 car/SUV/truck sales through August, the most popular vehicle racing in NASCAR next year will be the Ford Mustang, which – as of now – ranks a rip-roaring 75th in model sales, with 45,000 Ponies sold in the first eight months of the year.
Yeah, I know, this is the wrong Mustang, but I like it better
Just for the record, the Toyota RAV-4 SUV sold more vehicles than that in August ALONE.
The Dodge Challenger ranked 84th, and the Chevy Camaro was a smashing 91st. The Toyota Supra is brand new (FYI, it’s also the mechanical sibling of a BMW, which shows how little country-of-origin means anymore.), and August was its first full month on sale. It racked up August sales of 963, about 31,000 less than its predecessor, the Camry.
When the COMBINED sales of all the vehicles we’ll see race in NASCAR Cup next year add up to less than that of the Tesla Model 3, somehow it just seems to me that “win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday” has kind of fallen by the wayside.
Time for a NASCAR electric car division?
NASCAR obviously doesn’t see that as a problem. I just as obviously do.
To me, here’s the corner NASCAR has painted itself into. First, it insists on racing cars in an era when eight or nine (depending on which list I use) of the top 20 vehicles in 2019 sales are SUVs, five are trucks, only five or six (depending on which list) are cars, and one is the Jeep Wrangler, which is sort of in a category by itself.
One of the cars – the best-selling, in fact – is the Camry, which races in NASCAR for now but will disappear in favor of the Supra next year.
The second problem is racing with an engine that bears absolutely no resemblance to anything in a passenger car. I don’t think any of the cars in the sales top 20 even offer a V8, nor for that matter do any but the largest SUVs. How has this technology-from-the-past stretched its life out this long?
The third problem is that NASCAR has created such a high barrier to entering the sport. Five or six (depending on which list) of the top 20 vehicles are made by Honda or Nissan, which don’t compete in NASCAR. If you go to the top 30, you also pick up Subaru, Hyundai and Mazda. (And for the record, none of Chrysler’s top-20 placements is a Dodge, only RAM trucks and Jeeps. Dodge’s best-selling vehicle is a minivan.)
Uh . . . maybe not
So while NASCAR built its brand in the days when there was a pretty good chance that you could see the car you drove to the track actually race AT the track, today there’s a decent chance you won’t see your brand and an overwhelming likelihood that you won’t see the model you drive.
If we want stock are racing and not Indy-cars-with-big-clunky-bodies, something’s gotta change.
Please note the real chrome, real windows (including vent windows and rear windows) and the appearance of a real stock car. I could stare at one of these cars all day . . . and wonder how NASCAR lost its way. (It’s also cool to show a museum Roger Penske PONTIAC.)
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
This is being written before Talladega, a race I hate, and I want to tell you what I’ll be doing instead of watching that freak show.
On Saturday, October 12, the PA Sprint Series holds its biggest event of the season, the 8th Annual Keystone RaceSaver Challenge, also known as the “Blue Collar Classic,” at Port Royal Speedway.
Port Royal Speedway in Central Pennsylvania, midway between Harrisburg and State College.
RaceSavers are 305 cubic inch engine sprint cars with a strict set of rules to hold down expenses. The concept was developed about 25 years ago by racer and mechanical innovator French Grimes and first tried out successfully in Virginia. Pennsylvania and Texas were the next states to see the wisdom of an economy sprint racing series, and today more than 700 cars race in 17 regional groups across the country.
(There also are smaller stock car racing groups that try to do this sort of thing – one of them, the Mason-Dixon Limited Late Models, also are scheduled at Port Royal Saturday – but my loyalty for local racing these days is with the sprinters.)
PASS scheduled more than 40 races this year, with about one-quarter of them also involving other RaceSaver groups. More than 120 drivers have competed in at least one PASS race. They range in age from 16 to 85.
Ken Duke (#67) is a 10-time winner in RaceSaver sprints this season and will be among the Keystone Challenge favorites.
The purse for a PASS race is small – typically $350 to win – but the structure requires that last place pay one-half what the winner gets. This is intended to keep competitors from spending “big bucks” to chase large payoffs. The Keystone pays $800 to win, $400 to start. Additionally, since about 60 cars are expected to arrive at Port Royal Speedway Saturday, the consolation race for non-qualifiers is run as the Founders Cup, paying $300 to win and $150 to start. A car that can’t make the Founders Cup field still takes home $100.
This takes care of everybody, at least a little.
To me, this is racing as it should be. People run with PASS because they love to race – except for some students, they all have fulltime jobs away from their cars. Also, PASS has no employees; everybody is a volunteer (including me).
PASS isn’t perfect – as some competitors will tell you quickly – but generally its car turnout has been by far higher this year than the more expensive sprint car classes running in the area. On October 5, Williams Grove Speedway hosted the World of Outlaws-sponsored National Open for 410 sprint cars, paying $65,000 to win. In all likelihood, the Keystone RaceSaver Challenge will draw more cars for $800 to win (out of a total purse that’s about one-quarter of what the Williams Grove winner got) than the Grove drew for $65K.
More important, the fans on hand at Port Royal Saturday night should have seen some really good racing, and that’s what it should be all about.
You can have the racing on the left. I’ll take what’s happening on the right.
(Check out www.pasprintseries.com or the PA Sprint Series Facebook page to see how things turned out.)