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Various Other Articles

The Paradox that is NASCAR
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By Dave Clark | 05/08/2016
Category: Various Other Articles
 

I had the unexpected pleasure of spending a few minutes with racing’s undisputed king, Richard Petty. Because of a miscommunication, I had no idea I would actually be asking questions. I believed it was more of a photo-op. Much to my delight, the fan-favorite and seven-time champion, was amiable and an easy interview.  

As we chatted, I was struck by the paradox that is NASCAR. I asked for The King's thoughts on the changes in the sport over the past 20 years.  Petty quickly replied, "You have to be aggressive, you can't go back to running the cars we had 20 years ago.” He went on about the new innovations in car design, refined electronics and the like. I followed up by asking his thoughts on the new aero package that all the drivers seem to love. Given his previous reply, I was a bit surprised by his answer. "They didn't go far enough for me. I think they should do away with all of it...that's the way I came up, I guess."

And there you have it, the paradox. Much more than just car design and the rules governing the sport, it’s a microcosm of what seems to be the Achilles heel of NASCAR. It’s the need to be a modern, cutting-edge entity, without losing the sport’s history and roots. Take a look at any social media site regarding NASCAR and the echoing moans are that the sport has become too corporate, too regulated and frankly, too manipulated. Fans cry out for “the good old days”, while at the same time, they also demand safer, more competitive racing with all the high-tech bells and whistles we’ve all become accustomed to.

There have been a lot of changes over the nearly 6 decades King Richard has been in the sport. What will be interesting to see is how NASCAR continues to stay relevant and how they will try to recapture the feeling of “the good old days” that seems to be sorely missed by the fans.

As for the King's empire, it’s been a tough year so far at Richard Petty Motorsports. Petty observed, "It seems like everything that could go wrong has. At some point you hit a low point. After that, then you start to go up.  We have the right equipment, the right drivers. I feel good about the rest of the year."
   

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Comments:
possum
05/09/2016 4:41 pm (1)
Not sure why you would be surprised at Petty's comment - I can't think of anyone in the sport who isn't saying they need to go further in reducing aero (Carl Edwards being most vocal).

Now, if you ever get the chance again, ask if he thinks there should be more freedom in the rules for the teams. That is the big change over the last 20 years, more so than the technology, and that is what I think everyone (except NASCAR) would like to see change.

Don't be surprised if Petty gives a "politically correct" answer, tho.

John
dj88law
05/09/2016 5:06 pm (2)
A few custom car makers found ways to use body panels/fenders/hoods etc. of vintage Corvettes to make templates for stretched panels & parts made from modern materials, to use with new custom chassis, computer controlled engines & instruments, modern transmissions, suspensions, safety equipt., etc. I've seen these new 'old cars' on Mecum and Barrett-Jackson shows.
NA$CAR fabricators and other staff do similar work. So fabricators, crew chiefs, shock & chassis specialists, engine mechanics, computer staff, body hangers, and other staff, could use their skills to adapt their processes to come up with templates for older NA$CAR style bodies that would fit modern safer chassis and other components. Result: Hudsons, Rocket 88s, Galaxie 500s, Pontiacs, Shoe Box Chevy, etc. look-alikes.

a different Bill
05/10/2016 6:27 am (3)
I can point to 1984 as the year NASCAR began to decline. Prior to that, and even several years after, the cars were made better at the factories in Detroit, not the garages in Charlotte. Everyone remembers the 1970 Plymouth Superbird that dominated the tracks (mostly helmed by Richard Petty) for several years. In response, Ford and Chevy made their cars better without adding a winged spoiler to the back.
In 1983 however, Ford introduced the new Thunderbird with a sloped rear window that created such an aero advantage it dominated the mile and a half and bigger tracks. The response from Detroit was to add a sloped rear window to their NASCAR entries for 1984, copying the idea Ford had. This led to the introduction of templates and the beginning of cars that no longer bore much resemblance to their namesakes on the showroom floor.
At the same time, NASCAR began an expansion that saw the building of several cookie cutter mile and a half tracks. These tracks took dates away from smaller tracks where horsepower and driving skill were more important than aerodynamics...places where you could win a race with no front end on the car, places where the racing was exciting. Now, even Bristol is background noise for a nap and you can't tell which manufacturer won the race without a nameplate.

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