Are we done with the NASCAR yet? Now wait, I'm not saying NASCAR sucks. It's just really, really ubiquitous. Like Betty White. Or corn syrup. It's cheap, plentiful, and everywhere.
I have this faded memory from a million years ago when I first got into cars. The Indy 500 then was a national treasure of American racing. Can Am cars graced race tracks with the soul-stirring sounds of 1200 hp monster engines squeezed into 1800 pound chassis. SCCA racing was happening, too, and the spectators that filled the stands weren't just other racers waiting for their race group to be called to the grid. It was a good time.
Back then even my mom recognized the names of at least three Indy drivers (as in, "Slow down, mister - who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?"). I challenge gen Z-er's to give mom a pop quiz on the next NASCAR lineup. Unless a driver's been on Dancing with the Stars, mom probably has no idea who's who in American racing.
Ah, that Indy 500. Possibly the purest form of Americana this side of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In my faded racing memory-montage, it seemed like everyone in America tuned in and watched on that spring weekend that blended all-out racing with hokey-but-lovable American Culture. But as the earth cooled and the dinosaurs died out, things changed and now Indy's TV ratings are the lowest they've ever been, while the Coca Cola 600 airing on the same day has trounced Indy's ratings for the last 8 years. Still, the Brickyard's grandstands fill right up on race day.
So what happened to Indy and all the other series that used to dominate? Certainly the infamous Indy infighting and the resulting split years ago was garlic to vampiric viewers who just needed their racing fix without stupid politics. Can Am all but dried up during the 70s oil crisis and recession. SCCA's numbers have never been the same since then, either. When the big racing promoters left town, broadcasters went digging in the couch cushions of American racing for an affordable series they could sell to the masses and NASCAR became the belle of the ball. We now have plenty of NASCAR racing to watch on the TV, but I think it's missing two of the most important attributes that make racing engaging – character and an engineering soul.
Racing was once exciting through and through – the drivers, the driving, the bleeding-edge engineering and execution of the cars, all that stuff. Now the number-one form of racing entertainment in the U.S. features vinyl-wrapped tube-frame cars with pushrod motors, carburetors and live axles. What's the next innovation, board tracks and ride-along mechanics?
Breaking free from the grip of NASCAR dominated programming won't be easy. Try mentioning something like the Grand Am series to almost anyone – even professed car guys - and they will assume you're talking about NASCAR, so prepare for a long and animated session and be sure to bring a pencil and cocktail napkins for illustration purposes. They probably won't get it, but they'll pretend to.
There is some real racing to be seen in the fruit of NASCAR's loins, Grand Am, as well as the American Le Mans Series, but those two just don't get the fans' attention. F1 is always awesome, but it always has been and always will until the sun goes out. I attended an ALMS race at Infineon a few years ago that turned out to be a parade of fantastic cars passing slower and somewhat less-fantastic cars, and I finally understood why the TV coverage in those races was so tight on the cars themselves and rarely showed the rest of the track – the cameras were avoiding the nearly empty stands.
The immediate answer to NASCAR bloat seems to be a familiar one – outsourcing. Real road racing is still happening in a big way in other countries and people in those countries are into it. GT racing coverage on American TV made an encouraging comeback this year with excellent DTM racing from Germany, brashy Aussie V8 GT cars, and the always-frenetic BTCC racing from England. Still, Speed channel gives most of its top-shelf space to NASCAR.
We need a long-term plan to bring real racing back to America. Try this. Imagine a race series where cars are allowed unlimited engineering tweaks, no limits on design and materials, and the only limitation is horsepower. Fastest laps get weight penalties for future races, as do overall winners to avoid runaway dominators a' la Ferrari in F1.
Sound promising? It's already being done in Japan in the Super GT series. Super GT's a mass of crazily engineered, multi-million-dollar race cars with mega-budget teams mixed up with more fiscally-conservative privateer teams. The Japanese car manufacturers are the mega-bucks teams, fielding truly exotic versions of Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas. Creative engineering is welcome here and encouraged, and the result are fascinating cars that are fun to watch. It's great racing with huge crowds and a rabid fan-base. And they have Umbrella Girls. Let's not forget that.
We could do an American version of Super GT here if manufacturers would get behind it. Yeah, yeah, they're broke – me too, but I still manage to race my Lola vintage car from time to time. Here's my secret - keep all the engineering and building in-house, reroute a few of those misspent advertising dollars and maybe sell a few things on Ebay for entry fees, tires, and race fuel. Works for me.
This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"