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Motor Portal

Editorials

3/12/00

The Racing Formula

Formula 1 has been suffering from it for years.  CART might be in slightly better shape, but not by much.  Now it appears that NASCAR is also heading down the same road.

The problem is an inability to actually race...yes, you might remember this...head-to-head, intense competition, rubbing fenders, the ability to outbrake and outpower and make the pass, row through the gears, opposite-lock steering, showing the true skills involved, even necessary, in driving a race car.  Today's fastest and most elite classes in motorsports are fast losing this image.  The image of racing today is fast becoming one of four-wheeled billboards spinning in a 400 mile circle freight-train formation for four hours at a time.

How do we bring the sport back to the time when fierce competition and skill was more important than whether or not a team has a sponsor?  We may never go back to the days when the only graphic on cars besides numbers were rubber streaks and dinged sheet-metal.  I think that, for the most part, all of the sponsorship has been good for the sport, although its been carried a bit too far.  I really don't believe that the drivers always like to keep having to say things like "That Chevrolet AC Delco Goodwrench Delco-Remy Plus Burger King Winston Coca-Cola Monte Carlo sure was a handful today" every time the press asks them a question.  That's ridiculous.  

What we can do, however, is look to the amateur and grassroots classes for clues to bring back the competition and skill factors.  Have you ever watched one of these races?  These racers have a competition that makes the pros look like the amatuers.  It seems to me that one answer is simple.  Slow down the cars.  And this doesn't mean with restrictor plates, either.  Do it with engine displacement.  Cut the cubic inches and the litres down.  Cut them to a point where the top speeds are down by about 15 or 20 mph, especially on the high-speed tracks.

This would have several benefits.  One, it will slow the cars so that the speeds will be a little less intmidating.  Lets face it, no one in their right minds really wants to hit one of those concrete walls on the ovals at 190 mph.  Therefore, the racing will be safer, for both the drivers and the fans.  Secondly, slower speeds mean that it will not be so difficult for one car to race closely next to another.  The aerodynamics of the cars will become a much less significant factor, and the rule-makers won't have to deal with so much whining from the drivers of the various makes.  

As it is now, the aerodynamics of the cars are so sensitive that one little ding in the front slows will render a race car instantly un-competitive.  It may even be advisable to purposefully make the cars less aerodynamic (hey, how about a rule that the car bodies must conform to factory dimensions!!).

Also, especially in Formula 1, CART and the IRL, bring back the manual shifter.  How much skill does it really take to flick a paddle next to your steering wheel without even mashing a clutch?  At least NASCAR has this one right.

Another critical factor is the multiple-car teams.  Allowing this all but shuts out the teams which have only one car.  This is not only true due to the advantage the multiple-car teams have in helping one another during the race, but also in the ability to share the various ideas and setups between drivers and cars.  To me, the advantage of multiple-car teams is as obvious as would be allowing a boxing match where one owner has two boxers allowed to gang up on one.  Another problem with this concept is that it reduces the number of available racing spots.  But for these multiple-car teams, some of those Owners having less big bucks might make the starting grid.

The leaders of Formula 1 and CART are recognizing the need to make changes.....NASCAR appears to be moving in the opposite direction from correct progress as of late.  Lately, there is even talk of making every car body the same!!  The SCCA has already done this.....its called a Spec Racer.  But, at least in that SCCA class it was done this way for a reason....a reason which I don't believe is consistent with the NASCAR heritage.

 

 

2/27/00

Did Jarrett Lie to Martin?

Those of you who follow Nascar Winston Cup racing will know what I'm talking about, especially if you watched the closing laps of the Daytona 500, and even more if you are a Mark Martin fan.  Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin, and their respective spotters, discussed a plan to get around the then-leader, Johnny Benson.

Mark Martin was running in 2nd place behind Benson, and Dale Jarrett was behind Martin.  It appeared that the only way in which Martin could successfully pass Benson was with some drafting help.  Martin and Jarrett agreed, through conversations with their spotters, that if Martin went for a high pass around Benson on a certain lap, Dale Jarrett would follow Martin and they would both slip by.

The lap came, Martin went to pass, but instead of drafting with Martin on the high side, Jarrett went down low when Benson went up to block Martin, and passed Benson and Martin with drafting help from Jeff Burton, who had been running in 4th place.  Mark got shuffled way back because now he was out of the racing line.  Jarrett ended up winning the race, with Burton 2nd, and Martin 5th.

Did Jarrett Lie to Martin?  The evidence appears to be overwhelming in favor that he did.  Martin said Jarrett lied to him.  Jarrett has spoken enough about the situation so often, over and over again that it appears that he is riddled with guilt.  According to reports, they did agree to make this move on a certain lap, that is the lap that Martin went for it, and that is the same lap that Jarrett left Martin high and dry.

Poker playing is one thing, but this was not a poker game.  This is Nascar racing, and Nascar racing has historically involved a great deal of trust between racers.  In most cases, when a deal is made, the promise is kept.  Favors are traded. 

An excusable change of heart would have involved a safety issue, say, if making the pass together would have placed Martin or Jarrett in and unsafe situation, it would be reasonable not to make the move.  It would also have been excusable had Jarrett informed Martin that he had changed his mind.  At least then Martin would not have moved from his position, and would have had a good chance of winning or remaining in second place.

I hope Jarrett did not lie to Martin, however I cannot help feeling that he set Martin up and planned this stategy.  Whether Jarrett did or not, it appears that most people believe he did, and I imagine that he has lost much of the critically important trust he needs from other racers.  They may not be so anxious to make deals with, or help, him in the future.  

It will be interesting to see how the next restrictor-plate race at Talladega plays out.

2/20/00

The Car of the Future

Have you ever wondered what the car of the future will look like?  Well, here we are, in the year 2000, the new millennium, and maybe you can think back to 10, 20 or more years ago, and wonder what you thought the car of the future would be by this time.

 

Personally, I am disappointed.  Who would have ever believed that it would have been a pickup truck or a van?  And, besides getting smaller and more luxurious, they just don't look a hell of a lot different than they did in 1960.  Let's face it, there is only so much that one can do with a box on four wheels.

 

What ever happened to looking outside of the box?

 

One thing's for sure...  those vans of the 60's are still around...well, some of them anyway, but I suspect you won't see many 2000 vans around in 40 years because cars today, more and more, seem to be built to be disposable.  But that sounds like a different topic!

 

Back to this van thing, however...and then, consider the amount of traffic we have on the roads today.  Think of all of those hundreds of thousands of baby boomers all having kids at the same time and then suddenly they are of driving age.  Along with the, the baby boomers are living longer and will be driving longer...I know I will.  So, its getting to where, at least in an around all of the major cities, that those who work and commute for a living spend most of their time sitting still in their automobiles stuck in traffic.

 

Maybe the word "automobile" itself will need to change to keep up with the times someday.  Maybe...."autocamper" will be the term....come to think of it, maybe the van is the car of the future...in fact, maybe that original mini-van, the Volkswagen Bus, the camper version, was the car of the future, well ahead of its time....because, you could cook dinner in it while you're stuck in commuter traffic.  The wealthier folks may start driving their Coleman Catalina's to the office.

 

At least a lot of those kids are driving hot Honda Civics....maybe there's hope after all!

 

the Editor