I was recently watching an old videotape of the Winston Cup Series running at Talladega, Alabama in May, 1992. Yes, that almost seems to be the dark ages from our vantage point more than two decades later. But it was a pretty thrilling spectacle, and a milestone along the way leading to an incredible championship battle, with the season-long victory claimed by the late Alan Kulwicki in the last race of the year.
|1991 Winston 500 winner “Handsome Harry” Gant finished deep in the field a year later, while Dale Earnhardt claimed a top five.|
As the laps of the Winston 500 ticked down to reveal a hard-fought win by Davey Allison that long-ago May afternoon, I recognized all of the drivers and their numbers. But what struck me just from casual glances at the screen were two things in particular. One was how easy it was to differentiate a Thunderbird from a Lumina and a Grand Prix from a Cutlass. The other? How cool all these cars looked as stock car racers.
Fast forward to 2008 and, along with a new title for the series thanks to Sprint, here comes the Car of Tomorrow. I get all the reasons that drove the development and implementation of this vehicle – wider, sturdier, and safer. But holy smokes – has there ever been a more uninspiring flock of “stock cars” to roll onto a superspeedway?
|OK, it’s safer – but do I have to look at it?|
I’ve complained about NASCAR plenty since Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at Daytona. In my opinion, the sport of stock car racing’s top series began to drift away from what made it great in a cloud of marketing and a head-on frenzy to expand – and the revolting appearance of the Car of Tomorrow only made things worse.
But credit where it’s due: watching this year’s testing sessions at Daytona International Speedway brought back that old exciting feeling. The work in progress that has been the Car of Tomorrow has evolved from the ugly ducklings of that initial season to the real race cars I saw blasting around those famed high banks. The Gen-6 (“sixth-generation”) cars look like the real deal, and perception can indeed become reality.
|“Hey, this looks like… a real stock car!” That it is…|
Folks, the stock car is back, and boy did I miss it! Now if we could just get away from tongue-twister race names like “The Sprint Unlimited At Daytona” and return to the simplicity of monikers like “Bud Shootout…”
Well, one step at a time.