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On The Road

Race cars look like showroom models

Clyde on Cars

Back in NASCAR's early days, around 1949, drivers went to Daytona and raced in the family car.

Ned Jarrett, former racing champion and presently an announcer for CBS, bought a 1950 Oldsmobile, installed a roll bar, tied the doors together and hit the track in a "stock car."

Today, there isn't much stock in a stock car, but you can't tell the difference when they're going around the track at 190 mph. The roof, hood, deck lid and a few other parts are stock, but all the other pieces have been altered for speed or safety.

The phrase "stock car" is actually a misnomer, but manufacturers, track operators and drivers still warmly embrace the romantic past and refer to the organization that sanctions race tracks and drivers as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

In the 1960s and '70s, drivers bought their cars from auto auctions for under $5,000 and drove them to a race.

Today, the going rate to build a car is around $100,000; engines can cost more than $30,000 and it takes a large car hauler to go from track to track.

The faster you want to go, the more money you have to spend. A primary sponsor for a top team in the standings will budget at least $10 million a season to have their name on the side of the car.

Nationally known companies contract for the privilege of having their brand name on a car. Kellogg, Budweiser, K-Mart, Mobile Oil, M&Ms, Coors Light, McDonalds, Hills Brothers Coffee and Viagara are but a few famous names that use car racing as a marketing tool in their advertising budget. NASCAR is a $2 billion empire.

NASCAR refuses to go the exotic route in their race cars and use batmobiles like they have at the Indianapolis 500. It pledges to use American made cars and restricts it to three models: the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Pontiac Grand Prix and the Ford Taurus.

Fans identify with the driver or the make of car that comes off the production line in Detroit. Detroit's advertising adage in motor sports has always been "Win on Sunday: sell on Monday." In turn, the car manufacturers use stock car racing as a laboratory.

After Ford captured the first five places at the recent Daytona 500, the advertising immediately turned to a push on Ford Cars.

Ford took pains to make the slightest of changes on the 2000 Taurus.

The headlight glass eyebrows were altered for aerodynamic purposes and the whole focus was to make the car look like a production car. It even put tail light bumps and bulges in the back of the racing car.

Chevrolet is the most successful car company in NASCAR history, and the 2000 Monte Carlo was introduced as refining the aerodynamics of the passenger car to best benefit the racing car.

The car went through wind tunnel testing and driving on high banked 200-mph super speedways with the result a sleek moving car that personifies NASCAR's spirit.

However, at Daytona, Fords swept the top five positions. The nightmare Chevrolet teams predicted for themselves, because of severe aerodynamic disadvantages Chevrolet made under NASCAR's 2000 technical rules, came true resoundingly. But the short tracks are next, and they appear more suited for the new Monte Carlo.

Race cars are different than showroom models in numerous ways because of safety features like roll bars and side bars and Nascar provided springs and shocks. Doors are welded shut, and there are no brake signals. At 190 mph, the drivers use hand signals.

The rearview mirror on a showroom model is about 12 inches wide and can be tilted. Stock cars have a multi-panel mirror that's 2 1/2 feet wide so drivers can see both sides and back with a quick glance.

Lug nuts are glued on the tires before they are mounted on the car for quickness when tightening them with the power cable.

At most tracks, a pit crew can change four tires, put in 20 gallons of gas and clean the windshield faster than it takes to put the credit card in the slot at the self service gas pump.

Clyde Noel is a car afficionado and a longtime contributor to the Town Crier.

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