Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Come on already, the 'car of tomorrow' isn't a Pinto

I saw the other day where NBA commissioner David Stern said that he doesn’t care how much players gripe about the new basketball being introduced into the league this year, the decision to use it is not going to change.
The ball isn’t made out of leather, like the old one was, and some of the players think the new “composite” ball will be too slippery or feel too different or something like that. As far as I know, though, the new ball is the same size and it’s also still round.
Now you and I both know that every player who’s made it all the way to the NBA has spent his whole life shooting any kind of basketball he could get his hands on into any kind of hoop he could find while he was honing his skills. They’ve played with balls that had too little air in them and too much air. They’ve played with balls that got soaking wet every time they rolled off the end of a schoolyard blacktop into a puddle or got dirt all over them when they were dribbled off a root that worked its way up through after the grass got killed on the backyard court they first started playing on.
In case you can’t figure out where I am going with this and how I am going to get it over to NASCAR, think of the new NBA ball as the “car of tomorrow.”
Nextel Cup drivers have almost all raced somewhere in go-karts or midget cars or short-track late model junkers assembled under a bad fluorescent light in some buddy’s garage. They helped spend every dime their parents could muster or went around begging for a car to drive just because they wanted to race.
Now, they’ve reached the pinnacle of their sport and few of them have the time to touch a car any more. A team of engineers and artisans take cars from a computer screen and turn it into steel and rubber and speed, then paint it up and roll it out for these guys to do what they always dreamed of doing.
In a way, you can understand why somebody who gets to do that would be leery of the kind of change that’s coming to NASCAR beginning next season. The drivers aren’t stupid. They know how much money, time and sweat have gone into the cars they drive today, and when they hear that NASCAR is going to basically make that car obsolete over the next two or three years, you can’t blame them for not jumping up and down with glee.
I completely understand the resistance to NASCAR’s plan for implement the “car of tomorrow.” And there’s no way I can tell you right now that the new vehicle, which is taller and wider and boxier than the current car, won’t be a total disaster after it’s rolled out.
It very well might be too ugly for anybody to love. It very well might do the opposite of what it’s intended to do and make it more difficult for drivers to race in traffic, in dirty air and side by side. I might very well be the kind of mistake that “new Coke” was, for all I know, but there’s no way that I or anybody else can say that right now.
For the better part of a couple of years now, NASCAR has been telling its teams this car is coming. From the very first time they heard about it, many race teams decided that the car is a bad idea and that NASCAR would eventually “come to its senses” and abandon the project. They decided that it would be a waste of time of effort to worry about it and prepare for its arrival.
But NASCAR hasn’t backed down, and now some of those teams are in a panic.
The car of tomorrow is, beginning at Bristol in the spring of 2007, going to be the car of right now. One thing I can guarantee you is that NASCAR will run a race that day, and if teams want to be part of that they’d better be there with a car that fits the templates to NASCAR’s satisfaction.
NASCAR is going to have to do a much better job than it has of getting the rules for the new car set and let teams start building the cars with confidence they’re not going to have to start completely over at some point down the road. NASCAR also needs to get its inspection process for the new car lined up in a way that makes teams believe things will work with reasonable dispatch when it comes time to put them on the track.
But NASCAR is also going to have to be willing to listen to withering criticism from people who don’t like change, from inside the garage and from the grandstands, and be willing to stick by this project. At the same time, it also needs to listen to the people who race the cars and make reasonable changes that might need to be made once the car is actually in use. These changes can’t be knee-jerk, either. This project is to important to the sport for it to not to be handled well.
There are going to be some spectacularly bad races in the first couple of years the new car is being used. Some teams are going to be ahead of others in figuring out how to make the new car work, and the people who’re getting beat are going to scream bloody murder. But you know what, that also happens right now. There are bad races and good races with the same cars the sport has basically been using for, what, 20 years? And there are days when one team whips everybody else’s butt.
That’s called racing. I will leave you with the answer Jeff Burton gave when he was asked about the “car of tomorrow” at Martinsville over the weekend, because he’s exactly right.
"I think there's going to be a learning period,” Burton said. “I think there's going to be things that happen with the car of tomorrow that we don't know about. I think some of those things could affect the quality of racing early with the car.
“But at the end of the day, this is what I truly believe. If you give Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing, (Richard) Childress Racing a Pinto and said 'Here's a Pinto. You guys are going to go racing.' There'd be a heck of a race here Sunday. That's what I believe.
“I believe the race teams will figure out how to make it work. We're all worried about it and talking about it and we're all flipped out about it. A year from now it won't even be a conversation. Is the car safer as intended? I believe it to be. Do I think competition will be better? I don't know. Only time will tell.”

25 comments:

okla21fan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
okla21fan said...

Am i wrong in thinking that the most vocal owners with negative comments of the COT seem to be coming from owners who have not built many (if any) cars and tested?

# 5 outspoken critic of the COT said...

It is SAD that our sport is no longer STOCK or National, Todays cars are merely a glorified "Legends Car" or IROC car! With the "Big 3" hemmoraging money I don't expect them to be backing this Circus much longer! And the COT...is an indy car with a body on it! Everyone say "You can't put all the saftey features of todays Cup cars in a stock configuration"...I ask WHY NOT? are we re-inveting the wheel?...building a better mouse trap?...it seem to work for the first 40 years, but for the last 16 years NASCAR has looked like a monkey F@#&%$g a football!...and their brainwizards wonder WHY rating are down!

Thurman1515 said...

Those cars haven't been "stock" in decades, and there were good reasons for that. Not only for safety but the because of the loopholes in the rules that were opened by production tolerances of stock parts, as well as "special optional equipment" (AKA: racing parts) offered by the factories.

And the sport went back to it's "non-national' roots of the 50s when foriegn owned Dadge came back into the sport.

Rating down? thays a good one, see ANY sport and the ratings are down. Thank Cable and Satelite TV for the endless channel choices for that.

StewartFan said...

The car of today is a sleek, good looking race car. The COT is a wart on a witches nose. Besides that, they could have just made the cars bigger, reshaped the nose, made mandatory grill openings, and slowed the cars down that way, without this whole mess. It was an easy fix, and this is what the bureaucracy of NASCAR has (over)done with it. It is the new Coke of this sport. treat it the same way Coke did. Scrap it and never speak of it again.

Monkeesfan said...

okla21fan,

Some of the most negative comments have come from the Hendrick drivers, who have built several COTs and tested them.

David Poole,

NASCAR may talk tough about not backing down, but the fact that the Car Of Tomorrow has been a decisive failure in testing shows that they know they do not have a workable concept here. They may talk about "the COT will run 16 races in 2007" but the failure of the COT in testing is something even the most pigheaded supporter of the concept cannot ignore. It will be a shock if the COT ever runs a competitive lap.

Jeff Burton is putting an optimistic spin on a situation where the sanctioning body has no clue what it is doing.

Monkeesfan said...

thurman1515,

NFL ratings aren't down. NASCAR ratings are down because the sport has overmarketed itself, has not fielded a competitive product, and in the process has alientated too many fans, and it's coming back to haunt the sport.

David Poole said...

Monkeesfan -- The COT tests have "failed?" How so? My guess is that a driver who doesn't think his car is superior to the others thinks his car stinks. Tell a team you're testing and they're all about gathering data. Tell them you're racing and they start trying to beat people. If the COT makes this sport more about one driver being better than another, isn't that a big gain? It's always going to be about dollars to some degree, and early on I think the teams with the most dollars will adapt the fastest. But they will adapt. They have to. And that's what racers do.

okla21fan said...

Monkeesfan

I based alot of this on RYR and more specificly, Roberts comments about the COT this past season, when it was just not until recently that RYR built a car. Robert has pushed back from this concept for the past year. Which is ironic for a team that has struggled with chassis setup and handling since '04. I would think they would imbrace a level playing field, but i could be wrong though.

okla21fan said...

David,
Once again I think you and I are on the same page. 'Iroc' racing is not a taboo or a bad thing. If the COT in the next few years is a step in the right direction to put the 'driver back in the car', then this can only be a good thing. It may not change overnight or in one complete season but like we saw after the 'aero wars' in the late 80s, the racing was better and not just which car make 'driver X' was driving.

Give me a common template, and even a common motor and let the driver, engineers, and crewchiefs find the fastest way around these tracks. if that is not "racing", what is?

Monkeesfan said...

David, the COT tests have failed in that the car has consistently proven three things - inability to pass, greater aero-push in dirty air, and generally poor drivability. Not one driver has said the car runs well or can pass. The COT cannot make the sport more about one driver being better than another, because the fundamentally unsound design is worse than what the sport presently has. "They will adapt." They'll adapt, but the fundamental unsoundness of the design means they won't be able to overcome the weaknesses inherent in the design. Which means, far from making the cars less dependent on aero, NASCAR is making them more so.

The other problem is what I call the NASA approach - take a simple solution and complicate it beyond all reason, the raison d'etre of NASA and why that body is in need of disbanding. NASCAR's goal is to take aero out of the equation, but before you do that, ask what "aero" is doing to the racing. The cars do not run well in dirty air - well then, what to do about dirty air? Cutting downforce is not the answer - the sport has repeatedly proven that with its numerous variations of the 5&5 rule. So why not attack what dirty air is actually doing to trailing cars? i.e. why not make the draft work better? After all, the draft used to be an important factor even at places like Charlotte, never mind bigger tracks like Pocono.

The COT doesn't do any of this (especially when it runs a wing instead of a spoiler), but NASCAR runs an aero package on its Busch cars at the plate tracks that eliminates impediment to passing because it makes the draft kick in, and it is a simple bolt-on addition. Why this is not tried on the Cup cars on non-plate tracks I have never been able to figure out. It's a simple solution that can actually work as opposed to the car-by-committee project of Gary Nelson and company.

Monkeesfan said...

okla21fan, some Hendrick quotes after the Michigan COT test.

On Yates, my guess is they delayed building a COT prototype because the organization has been in chaos almost all year.

SNAFAM said...

Actually, I get the idea that NASCAR is loving all of the negative comments. They may think that it will help boost interest, and ratings, for next year.

I think that, just like every year since NASCAR started, someone will get it figured out, and several others will complain, and even fire off allegations of cheating! The wheels keep on turning!

bloqcm said...

okla21fan,
They ALREADY have 2 series like that...F1 (worldwide) and the Legends cars Summer Shootout series @ Lowes Motorspeedway...and or I can watch the go carts at the NASCAR speedpark @ Concord Mills, or if I'm really really bored...I'll set a chair up on an overpass on I-40 and watch rush hour traffic, 'Bout the same affect

Anonymous said...

May I ask why NASCAR always insists that their life-changing adjustments always be done at the CUP level? Why wasn't the Chase, the new spoiler height, and the Car of Tomorrow tried in the BUSCH series first?

Look at NASCAR with the Chase now. People employed by NASCAR are trying to run it down our throats how much more exciting it is, meanwhile they're looking at all kinds of ways to "tweak" it!

Imagine the COT in the Chase races. What a friggin' mess that's going to be. Maybe I'll start watching Busch races, at least there the rules aren't changing every friggin' week!

clemenson1 said...

Monkeesfan, I would not agree your comment about the fundamental unsoundness of the design. But I do agree about making the car more aero dependent. These cars are about letting dirty air though the car onto the next car. The current problem is there is simply not dirty or clean air behind the cars now. This forcing teams to use more mechanical grip. And we all know what happens to the right front tire when we start to use front-end geometry to turn. At least some air will allow downforce to help turn these cars. I think you find the smart aero teams (Hendrick, DEI, and Childress) loving this car after a year. The teams that are more about engineering of chassis such as Roush, Penske, and Evernham will have trouble with the COT. It will only be a matter of time before teams learn how the aero will to turn these machines. As I listen to Jeff Gordon talk on Wind Tunnel last week he commented that Hendrick has already learned some things form the COT that they will using at Atlanta and Texas on there 1 ½ program cars. This means Hendrick has already found out how to get the front end to the ground on the COT. In closing if they can get a stealth plane to fly they can make these cars stick to the ground in dirty air. The problem is it will only cost more money which I though they were trying to save.

Monkeesfan said...

clemson1, you raise good points all around, especially on R&D on the COT defeating the whole "cost savings" argument.

One area of R&D I wish to add here - NASCAR believes the use of interchangable wings instead of fixed spoilers will allow teams to use the same car on different types of tracks, but with the way the bodies are going to be altered - supposedly at least some teams already have "cheater" model COTs built to beat NASCAR's new inspection rules - that fantasy will disappear rather quickly.

Gvav1 said...

I drove a Pinto, I knew Pinto! You're no Jack Kennedy! ha...

rax262 said...

David, I think you are right on with your assessment. COT will likely change the rules but the game will remain the same. What I am curious to see is if this new vehicle will bridge the gap that has forced teams to maintain stables of specialized cars. Can a car suitable for Talladega truly be competitive at Bristol or Sonoma? We will have to wait and see.

Monkeesfan said...

Gvav1, LOL

Actually the references to Pinto have some historical relevence to this controversy - remember the Pinto revolution on the NASCAR Modified Tour.

Monkeesfan said...

rax262, teams will never run a Talladega car at Bristol unless NASCAR makes them. The COT won't change any of that.

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