With a new season of NASCAR racing looming before us, the Gen-6 racing car will mark the first time since the late 1980’s that the race cars we see circling the track will closely resemble the production model.
The hope is that two of the founding principles of NASCAR will be revitalize the identity of the brand and manufacturer rivalry.
Years ago, if you loved Chevy, you loathe Ford and Dodge. Depending on your allegiance, signs and shirts reading the likes of; “FORD: FOUND ON ROAD DEAD” or “When you’re driving a Chevrolet- Everything else is just a BLUR.” Over the years, NASCAR has used a common-template for the cars such as the COT or Car of Tomorrow, and the rivalries that spurred on the sport were no longer an issue. For the car industry it could possibly mean the motto of ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ or ‘Drive on Sunday, buy on Monday’, will attract and increase interest in the manufacturer’s brand and increase sales. Rick Hendrick says it’s well on its way.
The interest for the Chevy SS is so overwhelming, that Chevrolet is contemplating doubling its projected production for the car, Hendrick stated.
“After we tested Daytona (in early January), we started getting orders for deposits on the (production) car,” said Hendrick. “We’ve got people who want to get in line to buy it. So that’s a big step. You’ve got people who are enthusiasts all over the world looking at this car.”
“From a dealer standpoint, it’s going to bring people back into the showroom,” Hendrick said. “When I started racing, it was the Chevrolet guys against the Ford guys, against the Dodge goys, and I think having a rear-wheel drive, 420-horsepower car in the showroom is going to help drive traffic to the track, and the car on the track is going to definitely bring traffic to the showroom.” That did not happen with the COT car.
The four-time champion Jeff Gordon said, “It was not a sexy car.” commenting on the look of the COT car.
Looking back to the COT car what effect did it leave in NASCAR?
The COT or the Car of Tomorrow was the fifth generation car style for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It was larger and boxier than the design it replaced, it was safer, and cost less to maintain.
After a seven-year design program sparked by the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. during the 2001 Daytona 500 on the final lap crash. The design focused on safety innovations, performance and competition, as well as a cost effective program for all the teams, as NASCAR announced the COT in January of 2006.
The program improved the safety by moving the driver’s seat four inched toward the center, the roll cage was also shifted three inches to the rear, the car was two inches taller and four inches wider. The car had a larger crumple zones built in on both sides. The fuel cell became stronger, with a smaller capacity, and the exhaust exits on the right side to divert hear from the driver.
The car was introduced in Bristol on March 25, 2007 at the Food City 500 and went on to run a partial schedule of 16 races, as NASCAR officials moved up the date from 2009 to 2008 season, as a cost-saving measure, that required all teams to use the COT car.
“I don’t want to build too much into it,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said. “We love the Gen-6 car, and we have said that we made some errors in collaboration to getting the (COT) car. We achieved a lot of things with the COT; cost, as I said, safety went up, a lot of benefits that the industry and the teams and drivers gained from that car.”
“But we obviously got away from some things that historically had worked well for us; the manufacturer rivalry, which we’re excited about, the relevance issue with the car manufacturers. And then I think we put a lot more focus in the new car into the rules package surrounding the car that we didn’t put nearly as much science into the old car as we tried to achieve better racing.”
Driver reactions, about the new car after tests has been positive, both on the appearance and the possibility of better racing. NASCAR president Mike Helton said, “The jury is still out until the car is actually used in competition. On the computer, in the wind tunnel, at the race shops, at the R & D Center and at the racetracks, there’s never been as much effort put into a car to get it ready to go racing.”
“The testing that we’ve seen in Daytona, the testing we’ve seen in Charlotte show us, and the voice that you hear from, is the most important voice for the drivers to say that we think this car is going to offer up the best racing we’ve seen. It’s got us all going in the right direction, so we expect to see that.”
Inspection on the Gen-6 will be done with a laser system that France said it will be used to prove that each car is within the rule. The hoods and deck-lids will be made of carbon fiber to prevent the possibility of modification.
With the cars no longer having a common body, France also said he expects manufacturers to lobby for changes if they are getting beaten.
With Daytona only a few weeks away, and looking forward to the Gen-6 cars, even though the COT or the Gen-5 car is gone, the moments from that era were spectacular, just looking back to the last two championships, for one, and many of the races during it’s time.
But with the driver’s outtake on the Gen-6, and the test performances, this year should be a great one.