The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing displayed its future, today in a press conference during the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour at the NASCAR Research and Development center. The 'Car of Tomorrow' is officially a reality and will make its on track racing debut at the Bristol spring race in 2007.
NASCAR plans on using the new car in 16 races in 2007 including all less than 1.5-mile tracks, the two road course events and the fall restrictor plate race in Talladega. In 2008, NASCAR will extend the schedule to 26 Nextel Cup races adding in 2-mile and up tracks; with full saturation in 2009.
"We're not resting. We're hungry and we are trying to look to tomorrow and the future," stated NASCAR CEO/Chairman Brian France.
The Car of Tomorrow is the culmination of a five-year project overseen by Vice President for Research and Development, Gary Nelson. It was designed to help achieve three things: safety issues, cost containment for teams and better competition on the race track.
"The Car of Tomorrow represents one of the sport's most significant innovations," said NASCAR President Mike Helton. "We feel everyone involved in NASCAR will experience the benefits. No subject is more important than safety, and while the Car of Tomorrow was built around safety considerations, the competition and cost improvements will prove vital as well."
NASCAR engineers used a series of computer-generated models and simulated crash scenarios to come up with the innovative design. Tighter parameters on the chassis create quicker, easier cars to build and allow the teams to house less specialty cars in their inventory.
By 2009, gone will be the days of a "Bristol car" and a "Richmond" car -- as it sits now, most teams keep 17-19 cars in their inventory for any given race season. The Car of Tomorrow would allow teams to build around 10 cars for the year.
The use of easy-on-and-off bolt-on parts is a design feature of the Car of Tomorrow that will permit teams to make easy adjustments on their cars. There will be a narrow envelope for teams in terms of adjustments on the chassis' and with aero which NASCAR hopes will promote more competition and lower the price tag for car owners.
Not all car owners seemed to agree with NASCAR, though. Jack Roush, owner of five Cup teams, 2 Busch teams and two Truck teams has already spent a good chunk of change in helping with the testing of the Car of Tomorrow.
"On cost containment I think we went to the race track four times with the car of the future," said Roush. "We've cut it up and changed it three times and we invested $300,000 in it and bought our own tires and rented the race track at Talladega and did all the other things, so I don't know exactly how that's helping me. But we've had just about all the cost containment the teams can afford so far and I don't thing we've got a car yet that will race on a mile and a half race track.
"I guess we're gonna put the mile and a half race tracks to the end and say if we get it working on road races and short tracks, then we'll have to make it work on two-mile tracks and speedways."
Despite concerns of car owners and fabricators sport wide, NASCAR has made a commitment to move forward with the new boxier car come hell or high water.
"This is the future, there is no wavering around. The Car of Tomorrow is going to be the car of today, here - shortly," commented France.
It certainly does look sporty. And NASCAR fans and hoping and praying that the new body type harkens them back to the days of side-by-side racing and sling-shot passes.
While no final decision has been made if the car will be able to be lighter than current cars due to safety implementations that still have to be added on, the cars will have less fuel volume carrying 17.5 gallons instead of the current 22 gallons contained in stronger fuel container to promote safety in high impact crashes.
NASCAR will also begin a new inspection procedure for the Car of Tomorrow cars. A three dimensional process will be put in place with one giant template instead of the several template pieces NASCAR now uses. In addition, the frame rails will be located in the same position on every car regardless of the make, allowing NASCAR officials to use a series of laser beams and computer imaging to get cars through the technical process.
The benefit to car manufacturers is substantial.
With the Car of Tomorrow, they will be able to more closely match the grill area to the consumer products on the market. The headlights will be straighter to match production vehicles, as well as having a more upright windshield. All in all, the Car of Tomorrow on track will look much more like the consumer products parked in driveways all across America.