by: Tim Leeming
I feel the need to reiterate what I’ve said dozens of times in the past. These Legendtorials express MY opinion, MY feelings, MY emotions. I am allowed to do that through Jeff Gilder’s extreme generosity in granting me such a platform. I never intend to imply that the opinion of others does not matter. I may not agree with what you say, but I will respect your right to say it. This creed is not only a part of MY national heritage, but is also a part of who I am as a person. Thank you.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me ask “How many of you got to catch at least some of the testing from Daytona on Speed this past week?” I was fortunate to be able to catch a total of about six hours over two days. I didn’t bother to watch on Saturday as I assumed that would be a series of the 48 car running laps alone and that didn’t really interest me. Frankly, as a rule, testing on any track usually bores me, but this year is different. This year we have a new car!
Anyone who did watch, did you notice how many times D.W. of Larry Mac made reference to the movie “Back to the Future”? Did the Legendtorial from last week not bring up that very movie? Do you think the FOX folks were listening, or perhaps read the Legendtorial on the Home Page here? I doubt that. But what I do believe is that, for the first time in six or seven years, the drivers, crews, and press are all excited about what they have. As a fan of the sport, I am certainly excited about what I saw in testing, even if the “big one” still occurred during Friday’s practice when they were in the drafting pack. I’ll hold the discussion on “the big one” until later in this session.
What I did see while watching the tests were cars that looked like cars that will be on the streets. The Ford cars actually have grill bars in front! While these certainly aren’t the 1962 Pontiacs, or the 1964 Plymouths, or the 1965 Fords, the Chevys look like a Chevy, the Fords like a Ford, and the Toyota like a Toyota. These results are achieved withOUT the proper placement of decals. I like those cars!
NASCAR has gone so far as to have the “shark fin” that runs down the back of the roof line to the rear spoiler made of clear Lexan so as to not detract from the appearance. And that aggravating splitter? It’s now incorporated into the front of the car in such a way as not to spoil the appearance of the vehicle. Additionally, NASCAR has added safety features to the new cars that will further enhance safety for the drivers. All good things.
The drivers all seem to be impressed with the new car. Of all the interviews I heard, and what I have read on the various sites around, no driver has a problem with the new car and many have been extremely complimentary. Remember the first win in one of those COT’s? Kyle Busch, interviewed after winning the race, said he hated that car. Quite the change for this new car.
NASCAR, through those officials interviewed, including Robin Pemberton, all had high praise for the looks and safety of the new car. It appears, from what I saw in the tests, that racing at Daytona will be more like it was back in the 70s than what we have been watching over the past several years. That is a good thing for the sport and I’m pleased to see that.
The crews and the boys back at the shop may have issues as they are working overtime to get cars ready for Daytona. Many of the teams there for tests had only one car and thus, after the big one, many teams went home. It seems the final approval of the cars from NASCAR came about very recently and there just wasn’t time to get more cars ready. And, they are testing in Charlotte this week so that is another issue.
I heard it said that the manufacturers are extremely happy to have their brand identity back. In fact, fenders and quarter panels are now direct from the factory. While the hoods and trunks are polycarbon, the bulk of the appearance of the car is direct from the factory. That was pointed out several times during tests. Again, back to the future.
Now, a little bit of negativity from me. They call this car the “Generation Six” car. PattyKay has already written a homepage article as to how this designation came about and, in fact, D.W. went into great detail confirming what PattyKay had written. However, during the course of two days of watching test, I heard the car referred to as “Generation Six”, “Gen-Six” and “G-Six”. I would prefer that it simply be called the NASCAR Cup Car. After all, doesn’t the sticker on the car proclaim “NASCAR Race Car”? That’s enough for me. However, I have no doubt that D.W. and the rest of the FOX crew will run that issue into the ground during Speed Weeks. They seem to have an affinity for “cuteness” when it really doesn’t count.
I will admit, however, that with all the upbeat conversation and watching those cars make laps, I didn’t find D.W. and Larry Mac nearly as irritating as I once did. Either they were calmed down a little bit or I am really getting too mellow to continue these Legendtorial segments. Perhaps Jeff can hire Rush Limbaugh or revive Andy Rooney to rock the racing world.
Now, as to the issue of the “big one”, this time allegedly caused by Dale, Jr. Most of us here, me included, have blasted NASCAR over and over about the “big one” that always occurs at Daytona and Talladega. Looking back over the years, not only at Daytona and Talladega but also other tracks around the circuit, the “big one” happens more than we are ready to admit if our minds are set on the cause being restrictor plates or tandem racing. Let me be clear here, I don’t like either. I don’t like restrictor plates and I was not a fan of tandem racing. It appears, from what I saw in testing, that neither of those will be issues in Daytona this February. The big one may still happen, and probably will. In fact, maybe more than ONE big one, but it will be the result of racing like we haven’t seen in several years. I still wish NASCAR would go one step further and give up the green-white-checker idea at Daytona and Talladega. As we have repeatedly seen, that is a recipe for disaster. The cars may be safer than they have ever been, but that’s still asking for trouble we don’t need in the sport. I truly believe, in my rose-colored view of race fans, that the true fan is not watching for the wrecks.
The qualifying system for the Daytona 500 has been changed as well. Although I will not attempt to explain it, the big difference is that the fastest SIX cars on the first day of qualifying (Pole Day) will be guaranteed starting spots in the 500. The rest of the system was explained by D.W. and although I would like to at least pretend I understand it, I will confess it baffles me. But the main issue so many of us have cursed in the past, is that qualifying is going to matter this year, NOT where you finished in the points last year. Now if we could only get rid of that darned “Chase”.
All in all, I am more upbeat about this coming season than I have been since NASCAR took my Southern 500 from Darlington on Labor Day weekend. I know that watching the tests got me all excited, seeing cars that looked like their production counterparts for the most part. It is, in a sense, back to the future. Moreover, I think that we, the fans, have asked for many of these changes and I’m happy to know NASCAR has at least acknowledged, to that extent, that the fans matter again… or that is the perception I have of what has been done. Whether it was NASCAR reading what we talk about here, or reading it somewhere else, or, perhaps they actually did an intelligence test on those marketing gurus they hired and discovered there is little intelligence there when it comes to marketing to race folks. Dave Fulton knew how to do it. Ralph Seagraves and T. Wayne Robertson knew how to do it. I’m not sure from where they obtained their degrees, but in having met and talked with all three of those guys over my lifetime, I am inclined to guess the bulk of their knowledge came from common sense and a true love of the sport.
So, here we are, less than a month before the stock car activity starts in Daytona. It’s not 1962 and there is no black and gold number 22 Pontiac rumbling around that track, but it would be my guess old Smokey would laugh at all the laptops on the workbenches while he got his hands dirty building speed into that Pontiac that those laptops would never catch!
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(Editor’s note: Tim Leeming is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)