What a Touring Car Series Could Teach NASCAR
Genuine stock-car racing exists in America, but only if you're searching for it.
NASCAR's most recent "Car of Tomorrow," a body template designed for safety, lowered the sport's heat even more than when it swapped the distinctive, production-based race car bodies to uniform composite molds and tube frames in the 1980s. That means the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing has not raced stock cars for the past 20-odd years. That also means there is practically zero "trickle down" innovation, where automakers can test parts in grueling track conditions and refine them for the street. Whereas Formula 1 introduced cutting-edge carbon fiber and LeMans is now testing the limits of diesel engines and experimental hybrids, NASCAR just started to use fuel injection.
Even NASCAR feels a little conflicted. So it has encouraged the automakers and teams to apply more headlamp decals and -- what a concept -- shape the bodies to reflect the production cars. But while Dodge sells rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered cars at the dealership, a Toyota Camry doesn't even come with a stick.
Real stock-car racing, like the Grand-Am GS and ST classes, looks like this:
And this, from the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship:
The British Touring Car Championship and German Touring Car Masters exhibit the same thing: average cars plucked from the showroom floor, bodies intact, and realistic, exciting mirror-to-mirror competition. (About that excitement: As seen above, touring-car drivers pull sabotage moves on each other with incredible frequency. It's the hockey of auto racing.) It also takes no squinting or imagination to see a Vauxhall Insignia go against a BMW 3 Series in Britain, or to watch Kia Fortes battle it out against MINI Coopers in America. In NASCAR, team rivalry boils down to Home Depot versus M&Ms. Even the Swedes do NASCAR better than NASCAR by racing stock Camarosin a special Camaro-only series for the past 24 years.
Perhaps, as with the return of a U.S. Formula 1 race, more Americans will tune in to touring-car series. The FIA World Touring Car Championship will race in America for the first time ever this September, alongside the lesser-known U.S. Touring Car Championship, broadcast only online or on a hard-to-find TV station in California. It would be wonderful if NASCAR could be completely replaced, or at the very least, renamed (how about NAMCAR for modified?).
Is NASCAR really that immune to institutional change? Is it truly deaf and blind to its past? I don't know those answers. Beer and cookouts, however, aren't NASCAR-exclusive. They pair well with every stock-based motorsport, whether the cars are production models or not.
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