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A Short Rant On The Eve Of The Shopper's First NASCAR Race . . .

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On: Fri, Jul 2, 2010 at 4:27PM | By: John Welch

A Short Rant On The Eve Of The Shopper's First NASCAR Race . . .

NASCAR is not a topic we devote a ton of time to (well, no time at all, yet) because, like Formula 1, it is heavily copyrighted and there are billions of other places to get info on either series. We like to stick to our favorites, if we can, series such as the ALMS, Grand-Am, and other assorted North American racing. Drifting, rally, and random sports cars can all be found here, but generally NASCAR is left to Speedtv.com, NASCAR.com, and everyone else with an affinity for turning left. That is, until we get a dedicated NASCAR writer, which we are currently attempting to obtain.

Slow going on that front, the human race is becoming disenfranchised with rolling billboards that have absolutely zero relevance to the autos being sold by today's manufacturers. Exactly which Toyota is it that is powered by a push-rod actuated V8 again? That's right, there isn't one! Which means Toyota developed the engine just for stock-car racing (and Tanner Foust's wicked Scion tC, which, itself, has little, if anything, to do with an actual Scion tC), thereby proving what is already obvious: developing new methods of brake cooling is the only thing NASCAR does for the auto industry, as a whole.

Seriously, the justification for racing is the development and implementation of new parts and systems in road cars, not a circle jerk for Cheerios, Pennzoil, and freaking cell phone companies. All other racing employs sponsorship; don't get me wrong, but other forms of racing are directly responsible for traction control, self-tightening belts, Rain-X, HID lightning, variable valve timing, suspension lightening and strengthening, and suspension design, on the whole. Carbon fiber, carbon Kevlar, dual-clutch gear boxes (Porsche 962, loogitup!), methods of engine cooling, passenger cooling, aerodynamics, methods for testing . . . this list could go on for days. NASCAR contributes tiny 15-inch rims that limit brake size. They then go to short tracks and road courses and run those brakes into the ground. The research done at the track has directly affected brake development at many companies, Brembo and Stop Tech being two of the biggest and most recognizable. Compare that with the developments and advancements achieved in Rally, sports car, or Formula 1 racing, and one might think that NASCAR is doing the rest of the racing world a slight disservice.

In no way am I stating any sort of hatred for NASCAR, just a disgust at its popularity relative to its competitors. NASCAR absolutely has its place. Think about what is going on out on the track: a Sprint Cup stock car is heavy, really heavy, 3,400 lbs. to be exact. There is no other serious race car on this planet approaching that sort of mass, not even close. Even dirt modifieds weigh a thousand or more pounds less. That heavy car is fitted with a fussy, nearly six-liter V8. These engines wind out to more than 9,000 rpm, and stay there for 350 to 600 miles. Pegged, at redline, for three hours. The technology may no longer be relevant to anyone other than Chevrolet customers, but the fact that these engines can squish on push-rods for that amount of time is just an astounding feat of engineering. It is a total shame that that engineering doesn't matter to anyone other than Corvette, Bentley, and truck buyers.

So, we take this nearly two-ton missile and we sling it around a cereal bowl that could measure anywhere from a third of a mile to almost three miles. We are also going to stuff the track full of 42 other 3,400 lbs. missiles, and we are going to use the media to essentially stir these mechanized hornets into pure madness. There are no "team orders" at a NASCAR race. Kyle Busch even wrecked his own teammate in practice yesterday! So, rabid drivers who hate each other, coupled with ancient technology and sustained, ultra-high speeds. All on skinny, 8-inch wide tires.

"But they only turn left," you say. This is true, but it has a purpose. A Prototype car has clever aerodynamics and big, meaty tires with which to keep it firmly nailed to the tarmac. A NASCAR has neither. Prototype cars are paid for by people with European interests—strategy, technical accomplishment, beauty of form, perfection in function. Crashes are less than important and avoided because Prototypes are not disposable. America's favorite, on the other hand, Sprint Cup cars, are extremely cheap and disposable in the grand scheme of things. An unforeseen benefit of archaic technology, but the ability to have a high car-count and thus, a constant, multi-car battle are what most Americans want out of their four-wheeled entertainment. We like to go big, and we like to be kept in the loop. Because of this we like huge speedways that provide a decent view of the action from any seat in the grandstands. We also want that action in front of us the entire race, so road racing is less than popular with most Americans. If we add right turns into the equation then we slow down the action, risk taking it out of some viewer’s line of sight, and piss off "Joe-NeeditNow-American" in the process. Joe-NeeditNow-American pays the bills, even more than the sponsors, so we don't want to do that. Add it all up and you have six unpredictable passes a lap, followed by a multi-car pile-up every 50 laps (on average.) I am an unabashed Euro-phile, but I cherish my Americanism more than anything. I may prefer Prototypes and open-wheel cars, but they do not provide the action-movie escapism that a NASCAR race does. You have to pay close attention to any sort of road-race to really know what’s happening, but with stock cars you can drop in and out of the action at will and still be completely in the loop come the last five laps.

Before I start essing all over NASCAR again, which I will do, I have to point out two more things that solidify NASCAR's legitimacy, to me. You may not agree, or you may already be so angry that I labeled NASCAR "simpleville." Neither of those things are my problem.

1.) The "rules of engagement" are wyyyyde open. Earlier I mentioned that the media likes to poke and prod the drivers until they're ready to eat each other. In years past, they would still drive as if neutered, because they would be severely penalized for doing anything "unsafe" with their cars on the race track. Starting this season, NASCAR has completely relaxed this arbitrary rule. In other words, if you wreck somebody it's probably going to screw up your race as well. So, wreck whoever makes you mad at your own risk. This makes for exciting, rough racing, and keeps the fans (namely me) around for the post-race show because we 'Murrikens want to see the war of words and possibly crew members' fists that will take place, on camera, after the race. Brilliant move on the France family's part, as Sprint Cup cars are almost safer than the family sedans they mimic. In a time when the entire world is obsessed with keeping each other safe, ruining fun in the name of relative comfort, NASCAR waves their rule book in the face of Liberals, Europeans, and talking-head media types everywhere. I love that.

2.) These are, in fact, the best drivers on the planet. A Sprint Cup car is saddled with the worst suspension you could possibly imagine. What amounts to a tube frame wrapped around a bunch of cast-off, technologically-devoid control arms, the NASCAR suspension would be scary if utilized in conjunction with 30 horsepower, needless to say 850 horsepower. (I hate it when ESPN says things like "Jeff Gordon's 750 bhp Stock Car" . . . Gordon doesn't race in the Nationwide Series and those cars are the ones with a measly 750 bhp. Big-dick Sprint Cup cars have 850 or more before restrictor plate strangulation . .. ) The ability to keep this rolling calamity under control at over 190 mph is absolutely astounding. Twice a year these cars have to be wrestled around road courses, an activity that is even more astounding considering how much effort it takes to make one of these cars change direction. Jeff Gordon could hop into an F1 car and out-pace half the field if it is a competitive car. Bruno Senna could not jump right in a stock car and be comfortable. Dario Franchitti, Scott Speed, Danica Patrick, Patrick Carpentier, and Nelson Piquet Jr. prove this to be true. Scott Pruett can do it, but then along with Allan McNish make up a very small contingent of truly blessed drivers—drivers who are able to jump from discipline to discipline without batting an eye or breaking a sweat. Outside of NASCAR there are about four of these guys, Pruett, McNish, I dare say Michael Schumacher, and perhaps Sebastian Bourdais. Pick any random NASCAR driver and he most likely raced in other disciplines and probably excelled at them. Tony Stewert, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya. Seriously, the best drivers on the planet flock to NASCAR.

Why the diatribe? Why all this stock car attention all of a sudden? The 'Shopper will be at the Brumos Porsche 250 tomorrow, July 3rd. Though it is sharing a date with the Coke Zero 400, you would have never known it if you didn't read this blog or frequent Grand-Am.com. There is no publicity for the Grand-Am race anywhere. This illustrates what I don't like about NASCAR and why I feel it doesn't need any media-help from me. Though it has its place, NASCAR has overpowered and ruined other forms of American racing with its all-encompassing marketing juggernaut. No sponsors for Indy Cars? Well, of course not, NASCAR took them all. No TV ads for Grand-Am, well, of course not, the Grand-Am is a mere sideshow to its owners, the France Family. No room on Speedvision for road racing, or rally racing? Again, blame NASCAR. There is nothing wrong with NASCAR as a product, just a deep-seeded American ignorance to other forms of exciting racing. Our job is not to disparage NASCAR or Stock Car racing, in fact,quite the opposite. Our job is to make up for the complacent manner in which these other series are covered on our red, white, and blue soil. Unless you live on the Gulf, in which case it's black, brown, and dead soil. (Effing BP; can anyone tell me why our Coast Guard is taking orders from them? Another bitch for another time.) We will cover the Grand-Am race but we will stay for the NASCAR. We will also begin to cover local circle-track racing in the near future, a sport that makes NASCAR relevant to many a Floridian, not to mention the entire country. Herein lies the true beauty of NASCAR—Americans don't emulate Le Mans in their leisure time, they emulate the Daytona 500. That's our race, populated by our drivers, and even though I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Prototype cretin, who will never stop cursing NASCAR for its popularity, at the same time I will never stop watching NASCAR just because "they only turn left" . . . Best drivers in the world, mostly cultivated in the best country in the world, the United States of America.

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