The RACER Mailbag, August 31

The RACER Mailbag, August 31

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, August 31

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Q: Can someone please comment on last week’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen? Ross Chastain once again ran into another driver. It is impossible to count up how many times he has done this in this season. Why does NASCAR do nothing about these repeated incidents of dirty driving?

Bob Isabella, Mentor, OH

KELLY CRANDALL: Ross Chastain is having a no-good, very bad year when it comes to on-track contact. Unfortunately for him, it’s all happening in one season, and that makes it easier to put a magnifying glass on. However, NASCAR is not going to step in unless it feels these incidents cross a line where it is dangerous for Chastain and the competition or affecting the racing. Auto racing is a contact sport, and the percentage of NASCAR getting involved in on-track incidents is likely quite low.

How many times did it penalize Dale Earnhardt Sr.? The argument could be made that he made a career out of being involved in incidents and dirty driving. If you look at the times when officials did step in, you’ll see the pattern of when they felt things were escalating too far. But to try and penalize Chastain for each and every incident because he has a history of contact isn’t going to happen. NASCAR doesn’t have dirty driving penalties per se, but it will monitor and step in when they feel it’s gone too far or is blatantly intentional.

Q: At the NASCAR Indy road course event and the Glen, part-time Team Hezeberg entered two cars from different manufacturers.  Why and when was the last time a team had two different car makes?

David, Waxhaw, NC

KC: This is not all that uncommon. The reason is quite simple: lower-budget NASCAR race teams do not have full-scale manufacturer technical support. They might get some data and information passed along, but it is not to the degree, access, and support that powerhouse teams like Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick, and Team Penske do. In other words, Team Hezeberg and others like them are not backed by a manufacturer and can run whatever body they desire. It is why you’ll sometimes see teams like them running a different manufacturer body on a weekly or regular basis as we’ve seen with Rick Ware Racing, for example, which entered Ford and Chevrolet cars a few seasons ago.

For Team Hezeberg, independence means running whatever Next Gen manufacturer bodywork they want. Motorsport Images

Q: Why didn’t sportier-looking “pony car” body styles (Mustangs, Camaros/Firebirds and Challengers/Barracudas) race in NASCAR during the 1960s and 1970s? Also, why was Dodge the only “muscle car” body style that raced in NASCAR, while most of the other racers used family sedan body styles for racing?

Even as a kid following the sport in that era (mostly because of model cars), I never understood why regular family sedan body styles were chosen for racing, while the heftier/sportier aggressive-looking muscle and pony body styles were not used very much at all. Strange.

Interestingly, as a kid I used to think these sedan body styles were boring, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid that thought this – I say this because race cars were the dominant offerings for kids model and toy cars, and an obvious target to foster a future audience.

PS. I know there were secondary small-time series that raced pony cars like TA/SCCA series (and flopped), but I am specifically interested to know why pony/muscle car body styles were not used for NASCAR Cup races.

Also, I know that body styles were either partially taken from blank bodies provided by the manufacturer or custom made as close replicas of their street versions.

Robert Gaurie, San Diego, CA

KC: This was before my time, so I went to Deb Williams, who has covered the sport for many decades and knows what she’s talking about. In fact, she was here on RACER two weeks ago providing coverage from Waktins Glen. Here is Deb’s explanation:

“The simple answer is the ‘pony cars’ didn’t meet the specifications set forth by NASCAR for the Grand National, now Cup Series, cars that competed in the 1960s and 1970s.

“When NASCAR introduced the Strictly Stock, now Cup Series, in 1949, Bill France Sr. believed it would be popular if the cars were the full-bodied cars driven by most Americans. The wheelbase, weight, etc., was for those vehicles. In the 1960s, the factories became heavily involved in the sport and 500 units of a particular model had to be manufactured before it could be raced in the Cup Series, then known as Grand National. The factories developed high-powered engines and aerodynamic cars because they followed the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ philosophy. The Plymouth Hemi engine was outlawed in 1965. You also had the 427 ci in the Fords.

“As you mentioned, Dodge came out with the first sloped-back car with the Dodge Charger. Then Ford produced the Torino in 1968 and the Talladega in 1969. There was the Mercury Cyclone that resembled the Ford Torino/Talladega that carried a Cobra designation in 1969. Then in 1970 and 1971 you had the Plymouth Roadrunner for the short tracks. The Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Daytona, both with the wing and sloped nose, were for the superspeedways. During the 1960s and 1970s, the current car model and the two previous years were allowed.

“NASCAR recognized the popularity of the ‘pony cars’ in SCCA Trans-Am and created the Grand Touring Series in 1968. It was renamed the Grand American Series in 1970 and its last season was 1971. The cars that raced in the Grand Touring/Grand American Series were the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Javelin, Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Trans Am.

“When the factories withdrew their support from stock car racing in the early 1970s, they no longer designed cars for racing and it was tough for the teams to acquire new cars that met the Cup Series specifications. NASCAR didn’t downsize the wheelbase for the Cup cars to 110 inches until the early 1980s.”

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, 26 August 2015

Q: What is the story behind Justin Wilson being called “Badass”? He was so humble so I’m sure this nickname gave him a good chuckle. Also, can you share any anecdotal stories about Justin that always bring a smile to your face? RIP Justin… we will miss you!

Paula in Tempe, Arizona

ROBIN MILLER: Justin got the nickname from his Formula Palmer Audi days. His instructors named him that because he was so good, but he was so un-Badass out of the cockpit. When RuSPORT folk found out, they loved the nickname for the same reasons and pounced on the idea and actually put it on the cockpit of his Champ Cars. Dreyer & Reinbold did the same, across top of his steering wheel.