NASCAR doesn’t want any difference between the cars on the race track next year and the ones out in the parking lot with hopes that brand identity will create more interest among car enthusiasts.
Instead of all four models looking alike, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Dodge were told to create new cars that won’t fit in the current one-size-fits-all template. The current generation of cars essentially is defined by decals, not defining shapes.
That will all change next year.
For the first time in years, the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing actually will have cars that are closer to being “stock.”
All four manufacturers have submitted their new cars for approval. Chevrolet will switch to an Australian car called the Chevrolet SS, Ford will stick with the Fusion, Toyota will stay with the Camry and Dodge will continue with the Charger.
The only difference is they actually will look like a Chevrolet SS, Fusion, Camry and Charger.
A final decision by NASCAR is expected as soon as this week.
“NASCAR and all four manufacturers were brought together to guide the direction of the new cars,” said Lee White, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Research. “We all worked together to put the ‘S’ back in NASCAR. We all wanted cars that look more like our stock, production models. Together we accomplished that.
“Everyone at Toyota is eager to have our drivers in a race car that more resembles the street Camry.”
The current race car, known as the Car of Tomorrow, was designed to enhance safety, while making it easier for NASCAR to enforce the rules. That eventually led to a common template where all four manufacturers basically have the same-shaped cars.
While it will be more difficult to reign in engineers because there are four different set of templates, NASCAR decided the extra work was worth winning back fans that are loyal to their car companies.
“They wanted a production car look,” said David Bailey, Dodge’s senior manager for SRT Motorsports Engineering. “Dodge showed basically a production Charger sitting on top of a Cup car chassis.”
Chevrolet was pressed to switch to the Camaro or stick with the Impala, but it decided to go with the Australian Commodore and rebrand it on the race track as the Chevrolet SS. The Commodore is expected to be in American showrooms in late 2013.
Drivers are more interested in how they perform. The sanctioning body already has raised the height of the sides of the cars twice in the past month to make them more dependent on the driver, not engineering.
“There became a point when we started realizing how important the downforce thing was, we started twisting the bodies, we started gaining all this downforce; sealing the car down to the race track and pitching the car to get the downforce and we started going really, really fast,” Jeff Gordon said. “And ever since then is when the trailing car started becoming a bigger disadvantage and being out front became a much bigger advantage. And so it’s great that they are understanding that, and addressing that, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Manufacturers want cars that can win on Sunday and be sold on Monday. That’s why there’s been a lot of work trying to find a balance between race speed and consumer appeal.
Ford unveiled its new race car last January, but the car company already has made adjustments to it before submitting it for final approval.
“We had an opportunity to add more personality and detail to the race car,” said Garen Nicoghosian, who was in charge of the NASCAR project for Ford. “We took advantage of this opportunity and sculpted a more aggressive front end and we added grille bars that are identical in design to the production car.
“Our race car is even closer in design to the production car now.”
Howard Comstock, SRT Motorsports engineer, “We didn’t want to do it just with decals. We wanted a real identity, real features on the car that you see on the street car.”
It’s taken more than a year to design all four cars. The switchover will be costly as teams switch to new car bodies. Most, however, feel it was a necessary expense.
“I think it’s going to be great for the fans,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “We are going to have a production car that looks just like it.”
Hendrick not only owns four Chevrolets in the Sprint Cup Series for drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, he owns dealerships across the country.
For Hendrick, it is a change that will help him in both worlds – on the race track and out in the parking lot.