Here’s How I Would Change NASCAR

When NASCAR head Brian France stepped down in early August due to DUI charges, my stepson suggested that I should replace him as Chairman and CEO. But the powers that be disagreed, and they promoted Vice Chairman and Executive President Jim France to the role instead. But it got me thinking about how I would run NASCAR if I was in charge.

Despite being a commercial success, the racing series has become a bit stale, with almost exclusively left turns and a playoff format that more closely resembles a football league than a racing series. I believe a major shakeup would be in order to rejuvenate interest in NASCAR, making it appeal to an even wider audience than it has now. So out with the ovals, and in with the new.

By "new," I mean "old." Retro is all the rage these days. It wasn’t always tube-frame, rear-wheel-drive, V8-carbureted Toyotas, Fords and Chevys. They called it "stock car" racing because the cars used to be nearly the same models that you could buy. It’s where the saying "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" came from, as buyers would tend to buy whatever car won last weekend’s race.

But even the first stock cars weren’t exactly stock. Instead, they were modified for more power, more speed and secret storage of illegal liquor. These are the true origins of NASCAR: Bootlegging. The cars weren’t originally built to win races. They were built to outrun Johnny Law in the days before spike strips, air units and Motorola. The days of Prohibition led to a dramatic rise in the production and transport of illegal alcohol. One of these bootleggers was none other than Big Bill France, who would go on to found the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) in 1947. In many ways, the fun of modifying and driving the cars began to eclipse the alcohol-running aspect, and NASCAR was a way to organize and legitimize the, ultimately, more interesting part of moonshine distribution.

To shake things up, I propose a return to its bootlegging roots. Actual liquor transport would not be required, but rather than driving around in circles for 500 miles, races would involve recreating the challenges that the original drivers faced. Rather than well-manicured paved tracks, drivers would face a variety of racing surfaces ranging from tarmac to dirt. Courses would more closely resemble the twisty back roads of the American South, including the elusive right turn. Existing tracks could be converted into this new format by adding a road course section to the infield (or outfield, like New Hampshire Motor Speedway), but perhaps some actual roads could be shut down and used as well.

Today’s circle track racers would obviously be inadequate for these conditions, so we would return to using production-based cars (Oversteer’s Tyler Hoover has a similar but slightly different take on this). In keeping with the original spirit, these cars must look relatively stock (aside from sponsor stickers, of course), but would have few restrictions on modifications under the skin. And forget rain delays. Bootleggers didn’t give up and go home because of a little water on the road. Weather would just add to the wide variety of conditions the new racers would have to endure.

One of the only restrictions would be that the cars must be and remain RWD. This would limit speeds and help prevent NASCAR from becoming a Group B rally disaster as far as speeds and safety are concerned. It would also put on a good show for the crowds, with cars power sliding through the turns as only RWD can. The Big Three American manufacturers already build powerful RWD sports cars. We could let Toyota run the 86 to stay in the game, which may help encourage a horsepower upgrade to keep up with the Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers.

So far, this sounds more like an Americanized version of rallycross, with production-based cars racing each other on mixed surface tracks. To distinguish itself from its European cousin, I would draw yet another element from its bootlegging past: The Fuzz. This would be a group of three official vehicles driving behind competitors. Their job would not be to compete but to put the pressure on competitors to stay ahead of them. If a competitor gets passed by any of the Fuzz cars, they are immediately out of the race! This would add the element of hot pursuit to races, putting the pressure on competitors to stay ahead of the Fuzz and not get caught.

These changes would not only shake up the sport for the competitors, it would also give the fans a better show. Instead of driving around in circles with the occasional crash to shake things up a bit, it would be all action, all the time. There would be no more 200-mph conga lines at Talladega. Even half this speed through twisty sections, surface and weather changes and the constant pressure of the Fuzz would ensure exciting racing, drifts and crashes. I think this transformation of NASCAR could make the sport more interesting for competitors and fans than ever before.

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