The Future Is Now: NASCAR Is Evolving
In January of this year, NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) announced that the new “Car of Tomorrow” (COT) would be used in competition for 16 events beginning with the 2007 season. The COT is the culmination of a five-year project designed to improve safety and performance while providing race teams with a more efficient and cost-effective car. Several Nextel Cup race teams have tested the COT at various tracks this season, with mixed reviews. By 2009, all Nextel Cup teams will run the entire race schedule with the COT.
But the elite Nextel Cup series is not the only division facing changes. A new spec engine became available to teams in the NASCAR Grand National Division (GND) on August, along with a new composite body. Both changes are designed as cost-saving initiatives in a series fast becoming the training ground for up-and-coming future NASCAR stars (such as David Gilliland, a former GND driver now in the #38 M&Ms Ford in Nextel Cup).
A spec engine provided the power to Matt Kobyluck’s winning racecar recently in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, the GND’s season-ending race, held at the Irwindale Speedway in Southern California on October 21st. In a NASCAR press release, Kobyluck said, “The transition in the throttle is really smooth all the way through (the RPM range). He added that it reminded him of his Late Model racing days, “where you had a real beefed-up carburetor and you could really get after the motor and use everything you had.”
Antelope’s Bill McAnally Racing has tested the spec engine and used it in the All-Star race for the first time in competition; his teams finished fifth and seventh in the showdown. “We were real happy with it,” owner Bill McAnally said. “Spec motors had a really good showing at the Toyota All-Star Showdown and I think you’ll see a lot more of them early on next year.”
Spec engines cost about $22,000 assembled and about $20,000 in kit form, and are distributed by Provident Auto Supply in North Carolina. That makes cost-conscious team owners like McAnally very happy. “The spec motor comes with headers and a carburetor,” McAnally said, adding that a set of custom headers and a carburetor are about $3,000 each, adding to the initial $38,000 for a custom engine Ð twice the cost of the spec engine.
McAnally says NASCAR has included safety factors in the spec engine construction as well, such as placing the fuel pump on top of the motor instead of on the bottom near the frame rail, where it is easily knocked off; the distributor is in front, allowing for easy access to fine-tune the engine; and the spec engine is 100 pounds lighter than a traditional custom engine, which lets a team to distribute that extra 100 pounds in the frame rail instead. “It’s the wave of the future,” McAnally said, “no doubt in my mind.”
Each spec engine component is stamped and coded so that the engine’s history and all of its parts can be established and checked with a reader Ð that helps keep teams honest and on an even playing field. “NASCAR is going to be very severe in the penalties that are levied if they find anyone messing with it (the codes),” McAnally said.
BMR has two spec engines in their inventory now and plans to purchase more as their stock of custom engines is depleted. Race teams still using their stock of engines has caused NASCAR to reduce the amount of horsepower generated by the new spec engines, McAnally said. “Right now, NASCAR is holding it (horsepower) back a little, because they want our old motors to be competitive, they don’t want to price anybody out, they don’t want to force anybody to have to go spend money that they don’t need to spend right yet.”
NASCAR is also introducing a cost-saving composite body to the GND. “A steel body, typically I’m $15,000 into it to get it ready; the composite body you can buy for about $5,000,” McAnally said. Made of a thick fiberglass material, the composite bodies are more durable and can take the rubbing and banging with less damage than a typical steel car body, according to McAnally, thereby reducing the cost of repair and reconstruction.
GND teams will use the composite bodies on specific tracks where aerodynamics are not an important factor, McAnally says, such as Altamont, CA, Roseburg, OR, Monroe, WA and road courses like Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway. “We’ll continue to run it (steel bodies) as long as NASCAR lets us,” McAnally said.
And as the Car of Tomorrow phases into use in Nextel Cup, the old cars will sift down into other race series’, such as the GND, according to McAnally. “NASCAR’s going to keep the steel bodies available so we can use those cars until they need to be bodied, then we’ll put a composite on them,” McAnally said. “It would be a shame to bring a brand-new Kevin Harvick car out here and have to cut the body off it and put a composite body on it, when it would be much more affordable to buy the car as it is and race it.” Sounds like recycling, NASCAR-style.
Nextel Cup update: The Atlanta race mixed things up in the points battle, with Tony Stewart (not a Chase contender) taking home the race win and four ‘Chasers’ improving their positions on the championship list. With three races to go, Matt Kenseth is holding on to first place by 26 points over Jimmie Johnson. Next stop is Texas, a track very similar to Atlanta.
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