Racing has lost its stock

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

FONTANA, Calif. -- The Ford Motor Co. doesn't make a two-door Taurus. General Motors doesn't make a Monte Carlo with a front bumper that's less than 3 inches off the ground. And DaimlerChrysler doesn't make anything that resembles the Intrepid that will race this weekend at California Speedway.

All three are on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, proving there's no longer anything stock about stock car racing.

NASCAR threw out the notion of common templates a couple years ago, only to be met by waves of outrage by racing fans and manufacturers. So, now they call it aerodynamic similarities.

By any name, racing has veered far from the days of making its Chevrolets, Fords, Pontiacs and Dodges look like the same cars in line at Dairy Queen. In fact, about the only thing stock about today's cars are the logos on the front grills.

''I can remember in 1981, we brought a Pontiac LeMans to Daytona, and everyone looked at us like we were trying to pull something off,'' said Waddell Wilson, a former crew chief for Bobby Allison. ''The rulebook said the LeMans was a legal car, so we built one. It had the slopped rear window and we figured it would be a real good car for Daytona, and we were right.''

The car caught NASCAR officials off-guard. The sanctioning body developed templates for its race cars by cutting outlines from cars on showroom floors. In fact, the car's vehicle identification number was stamped into the template to authenticate the dimensions.

The sport took its first step away from its rigid stock specifications about 15 years ago when it allowed Chevrolet to race with the Aeroback version of the Monte Carlo. It was a fishbowl-like rear window that really wasn't available to the public. It was a kit Chevrolet customers could buy, but the car company made enough the NASCAR requirement of 150,000 to satisfy the needs of the racing community.

Since then, cars have been stretched, cut and contorted to satisfy the need for speed and safety. Now they're being designed to make it easier for NASCAR to police.

''The Ford Taurus was truly the first NASCAR-produced race car,'' Darby said. ''If we do it, we can ensure the size of the cars, and we can make those changes without going to the manufacturers.''

In the case of the Taurus, it meant creating at two-door racing sedan although Ford only manufactures four-door sedans.

The new Dodge Intrepid is another NASCAR-produced car. The sanctioning body is working with General Motors to redesign the Pontiac Grand Prix for 2003, and there's some consideration to revamp the Monte Carlo.

And while Darby is quick to avoid the term ''common template,'' he said the sport is moving closer to having the cars share many characteristics.

The ultimate goal is to have 43 cars almost identical in shape and design, with only a few cosmetic changes to differentiate the manufacturers.

That way, NASCAR will be able to keep pace with the race teams as they continue to find an edge.

''To be able to police them, the major things have to be the same,'' said crew chief Robbie Loomis. ''They want boxier cars. We want sleek cars. It's always going to be like that.

''There used to be a lot of gray areas in the rules, especially in the nose, where you could really work with your car and find an advantage. Not any more. They have so many templates, all the cars are pretty equal.''

Darby said there are more than 20 templates for each car, and more than half are common to all four manufacturers.

''Right now, it's like we have an square, a circle and a couple of triangles,'' Darby said. ''Somehow, we have to find a way to make all of them act like the same shape.''

But not common. Or stock.

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