In the days following a Talladega race, experts come out of the woodwork with solutions on how to fix the racing there. Unfortunately, there are a variety of problems to address and the menu of solutions is short. Airborne race cars, particularly ones trying to enter the grandstands, cars running dangerously in a pack, “The Big One,” single-file lap logging, blocking, the yellow-line rule. Take your pick. A lot of fans and some experts think they have the right solutions, but many of their fixes simply will not work.
1. Take off the plates. The idea behind putting the restrictor plates under the carburetors was to slow the cars so they would not lift into the air when they turned around or went sideways. Bobby Allison nearly went into the grandstands in 1987. If he had, I am not positive the sport would exist. At least not in its current form. Cars still sail through the air at lower speeds, so, admittedly, plates are not a cure-all. But here is the question: What kind of carnage would we be facing with no plates? A lot more than we already have.
2. Knock down the banking. Ugh. Talladega has mystique in the sporting world. Compared to Daytona it is a little bigger, a little wider, a lot smoother and a little faster. Part of the reason is that the Alabama track’s turns are banked two degrees more than its Florida counterpart. Knock down the turns and the track becomes another Pocono or Fontana. There are already complaints about the lack of racing at those two speedways. One more speedway in that category is not needed. Talladega is fantastic. We need to work on the cars.
3. Smaller carburetors. Let’s group transmissions, smaller engines and gear ratios into this section. They are all different roads that lead to the same place. When we run restricted, cars are bunched together. The plate is the most cost-effective and easily policed method of keeping speeds below 200 mph. It is a piece of aluminum. NASCAR installs it in the tech line and NASCAR picks it back up after the race. Neat and tidy. All the other ideas would cost teams more money and would be harder to inspect. And the racing would look the same as it does now.
4. Get rid of the wing. Cup cars were turning over and getting airborne before the wing. The wing is not to blame. New fans think it is the wing. This problem of keeping cars on the ground existed when spoilers were bolted to every deck lid.
5. Outlaw bump-drafting. Would you outlaw tackling in football? This is stock car racing. I am not in favor of these guys who hide behind the bump-and-run and call their wins legitimate. Dirty driving does exist. But be a realist and admit this is a contact sport. Trading paint is part of the excitement. Do not take that away. Remember, airborne cars were a problem prior to Car of Tomorrow bump-drafting.
When offering constructive criticism I believe one must be fair and, if possible, offer a solution. “That’s Talladega” isn’t an acceptable excuse. NASCAR wants good, competitive, clean racing more than fans can imagine. For it to implement a rule change it must do at least one of three things: Make racing safer, make racing less expensive, make racing more competitive. Right now the restrictor plates are the best tools that exist to keep damage to a minimum.
The perfect world I envision has Talladega cars running unrestricted, racing competitively, not running single-file just to kill time; there are no “Big Ones” and, most importantly, when cars spin they stay on the ground. Sadly, I have no solution. I do not know how to get to my perfect world and keep Talladega the great racecourse that it is.
What I do know is that this track used to be one of the most anticipated stops of the season. Not so much anymore.
(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)
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