It’s no secret that NASCAR has been struggling with their audience lately. With ratings down and speedways literally tearing down grandstands that will never be filled again, NASCAR has tried lots of different things to keep things interesting, but nothing seems to be working. While the glory days are probably gone, one famous driver is proposing that stock car racing should go back to actually being "stock" — and it sounds like a fantastic idea to me.
Recently, I drove a ridiculously fast and totally terrifying 1999 Ford Taurus — except it wasn’t actually a Taurus. The car was raced by Darrell Waltrip as a Ford, but it had zero Ford parts that I could see. The tube chassis was powered by a Chevy V8, with power going to the rear wheels (the real Taurus in 1999 was front-wheel drive). These race cars are reportedly very expensive to build, with competitive teams spending millions per year on them. Only the thin sheet metal surrounding this race car, along with plenty of stickers, makes it look somewhat like an actual Taurus. So there truly is nothing stock about a modern stock car — but that wasn’t always the case.
The "Taurus" I drove was part of the Midwest Dream Car Collection, a car gallery opening soon in Manhattan, Kansas, where they also had another stock car racing legend on its hands: A 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Back in 1970, manufacturers were way more involved in NASCAR, and in the case of the Superbird, they were required to build a certain number of cars that resembled what was being raced. The Superbird is totally ridiculous looking — but the civilian version I drove was surprisingly smooth and comfortable. I could actually see myself growing a Joe Dirt mullet and driving one daily, although it’s doubtful anyone is using these highly collectable classic cars as drivers anymore. The 440ci V8 model I drove can trade hands for over $250,000 these days, while the Hemi-powered cars have sold for over a million.
Back in 1970, these cars were cheap new and not nearly as expensive as today’s NASCAR to modify for racing. Racing teams didn’t require millions of dollars worth of sponsorship to stay afloat, which has been another major struggle for NASCAR as of late. In the aftermath of another major brand withdrawing their sponsorship from a successful racing team, famous NASCAR personality Michael Waltrip took to Twitter, stating: "Listen people closely and I will tell why making a @NASCAR team work financially is nearly impossible. NASCAR stands for National Association for STOCK Car Auto Racing. The Stock piece of our name is gone. Bring back Stock and you might fix a broken business model."
This prompted me to wonder, what if NASCAR actually went back to stock? What if manufacturers actually provided the platform for the race car? Much like the Superbird, the car would, of course, have to be heavily modified for safety and track performance — but can you imagine how epic that would be, especially if the manufacturers had to offer a limited number of these cars in a more civilized civilian form to the public?
Porsche has created a frenzy recently by selling their own civilian version of race cars with the GT2RS, and even the Dodge Challenger Demon has shown that domestic-based factory racers can have that kind of demand as well. For NASCAR vehicles, the rules should be similar to Formula 1 — a sport where car manufacturers are still very involved. These teams can build whatever design they see fit, but are limited by a number of requirements including weight and engine displacements. In the F1 scene, the manufacturers have a more loyal fan base than the drivers themselves, and that certainly helps sell their street cars.
For NASCAR, I think the base chassis of the race car should be derived from a 4-seat car in a current manufacturer model lineup as well. This would be easy for Ford and Chevy to provide with their current Mustang and Camaro. Even Toyota could stay involved by dropping a V8 in their 86 (formerly Scion FRS) model and finally give it the horsepower everybody has been screaming for. If sold in limited numbers for the "Stock" car requirement, I imagine even at a 6-figure MSRP there would be a demand that exceeds supply.
NASCAR has always had great personalities with their drivers and presenters, but a bunch of identical cars going fast and turning left will never hold a millennial’s interest — especially since we can catch the race highlights on YouTube afterwards in two minutes. Even catching the highlights is tough to fit in between checking out all the latest quirks and features — and the endless amount of funny cat videos — with Doug DeMuro.
Despite a growing chorus of supporters for this idea, it’s doubtful this will ever happen. Going back to "stock" would be a pretty shocking and risky change. Still, it’s nice to dream about.