Will Auto Manufacturers Run or Ruin NASCAR?

The SuperCharged Ford Eco-Boost engine. At the top of Ford's NASCAR wish list?

The TurboCharged V6 Ford Eco-Boost engine. Could a Super Charged Version be at the top of Ford’s NASCAR wish list?

Dodge taking an unceremonious hike from NASCAR wasn’t anything new, after all they had done it before only to return with strong teams and alliances. The problem is that was a long time ago and the times have changed.

Brad Keselowski, after being asked about more manufacturers coming to NASCAR, was recently quoted as saying: “Gosh, we need all the help we can get there.” Yes Brad you do, unfortunately that kind of help doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the global horizon.

Manufacturers don’t just jump into multi-million, sometimes billion, dollar commitments without a good marketing reason and no one has made the case for any of them to do so.

Dodge left immediately after snagging a Sprint Cup Championship to the surprise of the racing world. They left global road racing last year in exactly the same manner. “Not with a bang, but a whimper”, to quote T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece, The Hollow Men.

Dodge is Fiat Chrysler, no longer an American company, but a multi-national company that sees more relevance in pouring huge, ridiculous amounts of money into Formula One, via Ferrari, in order to ride the Green Energy Train, truly one of the world’s great money pits. Noble cause, but hardly a short term answer in a waffling global economy. Hybrids sit on the sales lots of marquee manufacturers such as BMW in droves.

What sense does it make for Hyundai, VW or BMW to jump into NASCAR when the product they sell has no relation to the product that runs over 30 races per year with huge V8 engines that, save for the truck market and $70,000 and up luxury cars, aren’t used in the modern era? None.

The manufacturers that are in NASCAR now are there for the branding, but they would like to see that change. Branding is an exercise that matters to Mercedes, Ferrari and BMW, but to Ford? Hardly. Ford sells V6 and 4 cylinder engine cars and is moving towards the hybrid market with a vengeance.Brad-Keselowski1

Though no one will go on record, sources tell us that Ford is pressuring NASCAR to move into the V6 era, perhaps supercharged, thus moving away from V8 power. They simply don’t sell them.

According to Motorsports Unplugged Radio’s Bill Marlowe, a 20 year NASCAR engineer of numerous top teams: “They (NASCAR) have reduced the horsepower of the Cup cars for two reasons, the first is safety. The cars are going too fast and NASCAR has to mitigate the possibility that one of these cars could take off into the stands. No one will notice the difference between 210 MPH and 195 MPH. The second is that no one buys the big V8 engine cars from the domestic manufacturers today. They need relevance to the fans who would become buyers of their product.”

It appears as if NASCAR is taking a long view approach to what we may see in 5 or 10 years and that is a smaller power plant. Ford would love to see it’s Eco-Boost power plant utilized in a series that returns it to a “Win on Sunday to Sell on Monday” environment.

But is that change enough to attract other manufacturers? It hasn’t worked in Formula One so far. Only four manufacturers are willing to participate and Honda, the fourth, has yet to turn more than several laps before rolling to a stop.

It appears as if NASCAR’s efforts several years ago to standardize their chassis, the much hated COT, was an effort to manage (minimize) the manufacturers and their wishes to keep an identity recognizable to the fans, was a failure. The manufacturers have come back to the power table despite a marked improvement in the Gen 6 car. The drivetrains simply don’t match up with what they sell.

NASCAR seems to be unintentionally moving towards a Formula One scenario where the manufacturers have too much power. There simply doesn’t seem to be a balance that the two sides can reach without concessions from NASCAR over a period of time. Those concessions would have to be in the power plant department.

Would V6 engines with superchargers sooth both sides and more importantly, would that configuration be acceptable to the fans? Will the fans be accepting of high pitched screaming engines instead of the sound emitted from the V8’s we now here? Our sense is yes.

The current engines turn extraordinary RPM’s for push rod V8’s and emit a high pitched sound as it is, a v6 supercharged engine may be slightly higher pitched in sound, but not unappealing.

We sense that once that has taken place or some equivalent measure, then other non-traditional manufacturers will be looking harder at NASCAR as an American alternative.

Until then, it’s a tenuous relationship.

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About Michele Rahal

Michele Rahal began his career as a professional racing driver in the United States driving for top road racing teams and owners such as Tom Gloy Motorsports, Lever Brothers and the Championship Group. His professional racing career continued from 1980 to 1987. In 1988, Mr. Rahal retired from active driving and moved on to create motorsports insurance packages for teams, events, facilities and drivers developing and instituting programs through such world renowned institutions as Lloyds of London.

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