Back in the late 80s I had a subscription to AutoWeek magazine and, at the time, it was one of the few ways a young man in Southern California could get a magazine that covered NASCAR on a weekly basis. One day the magazine had an article about the future cars of NASCAR. The artist’s illustration of what the writer envisioned were bubble canopied cars that resembled jelly-beans and really didn’t look all that different from one another other than the bowtie or blue oval on their hoods. I remember thinking then “God, I hope it never comes to this.”
Enter the Car of Tomorrow. Now, don’t get me wrong, I applaud what the good folks at NASCAR were trying to accomplish. In the wake of Dale Sr. passing at Daytona in 2001, the governing body realized it needed to firmly address driver safety and the safety of their cars. Taking a page from the Pontiac Aztek design manual though, NASCAR took all the best ideas for safety and put them into the ugliest package they could find. The resulting CoT looked horrible. Just like those cars back in that old issue of AutoWeek, they were plain, jelly-bean duplicates of one another discernible only by the bowtie or blue oval on their hoods. As if that weren’t bad enough, they prompted the 2 car draft at Daytona and Talladega. They were disliked almost across the board except by NASCAR itself.
The cars were no longer Chevys or Fords…they were just…cars. Not much different than an Indy car or Top Fuel Dragster to your average consumer. Heck, Funny Car dragsters were starting to look more “stock” than a stock car.
Without the average fan being able to pull for a car that resembled what he or she had sitting in the parking lot, manufacturers began to balk at lending their name to a vehicle that in no way looked like the car whose name badge it carried. When Chevy talked about withdrawing from the sport, it seemed a no brainer that the powers that be needed to do something about it.
The solution will be put to its first real test this weekend at Daytona. The Generation Six car, as it is being called, looks more like what you would find on the showroom floor than any car to have raced in NASCAR since probably the 1980s. Finally, the cars looked like stock cars again. And really, that’s one step closer to NASCAR getting back to the place where it belongs, the place where fans connected with the sport and flocked to it rather than where it finds itself today with fans losing interest at an alarming rate. With a few more colorful drivers thrown in the mix who will be themselves rather than what corporate sponsorship deems they should be (god bless you Brad Keselowski and your monstrous beer-in-hand victory interview) coupled with these new cars, NASCAR may just have a chance of bringing back many of the longtime fans it has lost along with a whole slew of new ones.
You know, for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to the start of a new NASCAR season.