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Kligerman: NASCAR teams blowing money on an idea whose time has gone with the wind

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If I asked “What is the sport’s single biggest issue?” to 10 people in racing, nine would have a single-word reply.

Money.

The other would rant about something to the effect of “Better back in ’86! Cuz Earnnnnhardt! Real tracks! Real men! Marlboro Reds!” Anyone my age or 20 years my senior would agree out of fear but counter with a tepid smile and say, “The racing is better now.”

And it is, but for some reason I can’t explain, we continually self-inflict pain in the form of unnecessary expenditures.

Back in 2011, I was driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, which was then a small, upstart truck series team (it since has evolved into a major contender with significant Ford support). It was my first chance at a full-time ride in NASCAR.

The deal came together incredibly late for this young, naive, hopeful driver. The ride was supposed to go to someone who had more funding. I had fended them off using the incredible dark witchcraft of … a cell phone.

Months into the endeavor, our corporate helpers had arranged quite an exciting opportunity. Our small team would get “wind tunnel time,” which is how it works for most. The manufacturer buys a massive quantity of hours and then resells or allocates time to teams.

In modern-day racing, this is the equivalent of an Old West miner using a machine to sort through mountain sides. No guarantee of success, but he should be able to find gold a lot quicker.

But wind tunnel time is more expensive than gold. An hour in the more advanced of the two wind tunnels in Charlotte, N.C., can cost upward of $8,000.

The current price of an ounce of gold? $1,213

For my small team, it potentially meant discovering all the secret aerodynamic bits that the rest of the teams already knew. Our gold would come in the form of increased speed.

With very limited engineering staff, our team went to the wind tunnel. And as young drivers do to show we are willing to “learn,” I went along.

After what seemed an eternity of setup and calibration, the wind tunnel fired to life. About 3 minutes later, it all started to quiet down.

I had seen nothing. You couldn’t see the air. It was simply a loud noise. Then everything stopped.

We hovered around a small laptop to see the downforce numbers. To our dismay, the gains were nil. No worries, we had eight more hours to figure it out.

Over the next eight hours. I believe we found about a half-count of downforce. On the last run, I had grown angry as a 20-year-old driver who put everything on the line and raised an insane amount of money to simply race in circles.

It all seemed insane.

Instead of air flowing over the truck, I imagined dollar bills gracefully flowing over the front nose, the windshield and the roof. The wasted cash slammed forcefully into the spoiler and then disappeared into the exhaust tunnel, eventually funneling directly into the pockets of the owner of this building and its giant fan.

Here we were wasting time trying to learn something everyone in the sport already knew. It was incredibly frustrating to spend so many precious dollars with zero quantifiable gain for the sport.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: A brief history on wind tunnels. They initially were constructed more than 100 years ago for the study of air over solid objects and were used in early airplane development, military applications and the space program — one of the most famous tunnels is adjacent to a NASA research base in Langley, Va. The automobile and racing industries discovered practical uses for cars in wind tunnels around the same time.  As seen in the photo with this column, tunnels still remain used for development of Detroit production lines structured around optimizing fuel efficiency )

In the early years of auto racing, aerodynamics were as mysterious as the outer reaches of space. But in the last 15 years, I would argue that nothing of actual real world value has been gained from rolling a stock car into a wind tunnel.

The basics and the complexities are all known quantities. We are simply spending money within a very small box, all trying to reach the exact same conclusion.

The worst part is the byproduct: Consistently allowing the racing to become more aero dependent. No matter how often we lower the spoiler, or cut the splitter or change the rules. The teams will go to the wind tunnel and gain it back. It’s one of the world’s most expensive games of cat and mouse.

And I guarantee that no fan has ever said to another, “Man I just love that Matt Kenseth is leading this race because he has 20 more counts of downforce that his engineers found in the wind tunnel over Jimmie Johnson in second place.”

If those words ever have been uttered, I will eat one of the Nike shoes I wore on my ride up to Colossus at Bristol.

The thing is, we simply need to aim at providing our fans with great racing. Because the teams and manufacturers all know how generally to approach aerodynamics, there are no secrets anymore. There’s just unnecessary engineering for the sake of existence.

It’s a bit like a single young man who desperately wants a girlfriend. He buys expensive clothes, gets a snazzy haircut with expensive gel and buys a car he can’t possibly afford — all to impress a young lass.

Eventually they meet, and after 10 minutes of initially seeming madly in love, she’ll tell him she really just loves him for his jokes, laugh and kind nature — and hates his very expensive “ugly car.”

He therefore decides to buy more expensive clothes and a more expensive car.

It’s this sort of waste of precious dollars that is causing the biggest issue in racing.

We don’t have a funding problem. We have a spending problem.

And the wind tunnel uses its turbine fins to whip up an exorbitant amount of that spending.

Let’s ban the wind tunnels and stop this conspicuous consumption.

My proposition is to allow the manufacturers two full days of wind tunnel time at the beginning of each season. They are allowed to bring two cars of their choice from each series in which they race. After their two days are up, no NASCAR vehicle can enter a wind tunnel until the next year.

Compared to the 300-plus hours Cup teams annually spend in wind tunnels, this would be the largest cost savings the sport has seen.

I know there is one entity that will strongly disagree: The owners of the wind tunnels. But I am sorry. My fear is if we don’t do this soon, wind tunnels will face a lack of business anyway. Not because of an indifference to knowledge.

Because there won’t be any race teams left to gain the knowledge.

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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