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Kligerman: A sound opinion about the noise appeal of race cars

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It may seem odd to put NASCAR and Porsche in the same sentence.

But these two iconic brands have fans who are more intrinsically connected than you could imagine.

Not in the sense that Porsches ever have turned a lap in the Daytona 500. Nor in the sense that NASCAR fans own Porsches.

I would go out on a limb to say there is probably an almost immeasurably small amount of self-described NASCAR fans who own a Porsche.

The link between NASCAR and Porsche is far more cerebral.

And there’s an important lesson to be learned about the latest controversy gripping NASCAR this week: Noise reduction.

The longtime NASCAR fan often laments the days of old, remarking how much better things were “back in the day.”

The Porsche fan and owner is no different. Old Porsches have skyrocketed in value as a freakish cult infatuation with any Porsche whose engine is “air-cooled” has driven demand well past comprehension.

And just like the move from air-cooled to water-cooled in 1998, every single change (even when it’s what Porsche engineers have decided is better) draws a litany of angrily-written-in-perfect-grammar posts and comments flooding the internet.

Most recently in 2015, Porsche announced it was replacing the venerable, beloved flat, six-cylinder engine in the Boxster and Cayman, the younger brother to the iconic 911.

They now would have a turbocharged 4-cylinder and be known as the 718. Removing the legendary, high-strung, wailing flat 6 was utter and complete blasphemy for the purists and the Porsche-piles.

Gone would be the sound synonymous with Porsche – a classic, crisp growl that would reach a crescendo at the top of the rev range in a symphony of engineering excellence.

Replacing it would be a much more reserved, timid growl and burbly overture. To understand the resulting irreverence, look no further than the hundreds of YouTube videos simply comparing the sounds of the old car vs. the new.

The new 718 Cayman and Boxster are faster with better looks, better handling, better interior and better fuel efficiency. As many reviews have stated, it is a better car in almost every way… except the sound.

I can speak from experience that Porsche dealers have entered an unenviable position in trying to sell you on every one of those attributes of the new 718. The problem is, even they know the reality.

It just doesn’t sound the same.

Why did Porsche do this? To see how many angry forum posts could be generated?

No (as funny as that might seem). It’s a sign of the times.

Fuel-mileage regulations have forced automakers continually to chase ever-increasing mpg standards. They must become innovative with their designs, and much of this has led to go the downsizing, turbocharged route.

The lesson?

Sound is important. It is one of a few senses that remind us we are living, breathing mammals in a vibrant world. Those who do not have it lament its loss and have described the frustration, loneliness, and isolation of being deaf.

That’s why outrage greeted the news this week that NASCAR was considering a reduction in the ear-splitting level of noise. It was met with the utter disgust of being told your home owners’ association won’t let you have your dog anymore.

Let’s be honest. NASCAR fans have put up with a lot of change over recent years. From formats, overtime procedures, car design and how a champion is decided.

Through it all, some things have remained the same — like the almost 60-year-old design of the Porsche 911.

For the better part of the same timeframe, NASCAR vehicles have been front engine, rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated V8s. That’s allowed the sound to almost be a constant.

And this is why I wonder “Why change now?” with the current state within the sport.

Unlike Porsche we don’t have government regulatory bodies telling us what to do. We don’t have to change anything. The only people we need to satisfy are the fans – who have been coming to hear the same sound for 60-plus years.

I saw one fan comment “It’s a sound that can literally be felt in the chest when you’re in the stands.” Why would you take this away?

But on the flip side, I can see the reasoning.

As I have entered the world of broadcasting (and have spent more of my life at racetracks than not), I have commented many times that it would be nice if the cars were quieter. The thing is, I am being selfish. Sure it would be easier to do my TV job, and even when I am racing, it would be less headache-inducing.

But I also am being paid to be at race tracks. It’s not about me or the executives trying to entertain VIPs. The sound is for the very people that make our jobs possible — the fans.

Therefore, NASCAR should take cues from the unfortunate situation in which Porsche finds itself. Be careful about altering the sound and remember the futility of the Porsche salesman who can name all the improved attributes of the 718.

We have provided many better changes. Let’s not allow anyone to say, “But it just doesn’t sound the same.”

 

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. While still in the rumor stage, there’s a lot of talk that IMS may change the race to something akin to its Verizon IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix race in mid-May, where half the race is run on the infield road course and the other half on the traditional racetrack surface.

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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