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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Car of Tomorrow

NASCAR Media Conference

Brian France
Mike Helton
Gary Nelson
Tish Sheets
January 25, 2006


THE CAR OF TOMORROW

Q. This will be for Brian or Gary or both. The phase-in of the Car of Tomorrow going looks like all the way to 2009, this is something of a fairly recent concession to the concerns of the car owners? It seems like mid-season last year y'all were kind of talking about a go-for-it-all by 2007. Is this the latest in accommodating the car owners that will come over such a period of time?
GARY NELSON: You know that we definitely have reached out to the industry in an unprecedented way, and it's so impactful to the business, and we have heard different views on that in terms of how fast or slow we should advance the Car of Tomorrow. Really it's where we have landed, and it could move. When you think about it, by '09, so it's really '06 and '07 or rather '07 and '08, we're going to be pretty well fully race ready, and that could move up as team owners tell us -- that would be the longest timeline that we would use, and it could conceivably move up if team owners felt like recycling old equipment was going better than they thought or the cost that we think it will be to build the new cars is in line, and some of the factors that are out there.
It's not a concession, it's more of a collaboration.
Q. This question is for Gary Nelson. Gary, how many cars do typical teams build now, and how many will they use once the cars of tomorrow are fully phased in?
GARY NELSON: In some of our research going to the different teams, that was a question we asked; how many cars do you have in your inventory, how many do you build? Every team has a car under construction all of the time, and sometimes several cars. The typical team is going to be about 17 cars in their inventory for a racing season with one under construction all the time. So that number floats based on cars being phased out or cars being brought in. We've heard the 19 number as a number to just take a spot-check, how many cars do you have right now.
We think that it's obviously each car owner or each crew chief's choice on how many to have. But when you look at just the schedule, there's going to be a Superspeedway car and a backup car, and that car can go to over tracks, and some drivers or teams may choose to take that car somewhere else. Others may just put it aside and wait for the next restricted plate race.
It's going to be really hard to come up with a typical number, but 10 is one that a lot of folks have said we can reduce our inventory to 10. We'll see how that goes.
Q. This question is for Gary. Is the development of the Car of Tomorrow complete, or is there still work being done on it?
GARY NELSON: Well, certainly there's work on the racetrack. The last part of it is the testing of the aerodynamics of the car. The theory of the wing is to reduce the turbulence behind, and it's really about the car following. We can make the same downforce with the swing as we can with a spoiler, but the effect on the following car or cars is huge, and when you think about it, we've only tested the wing with a car following one time.
So there's more work to be done. Obviously we've done a lot in the wind tunnel, a lot on the computer, but you still have to validate those things before you can roll them out.
So the last phase of work that needs to be done on this car is going to be the tuning aerodynamically to make it the most competitive car with other cars around it. It frankly just takes more cars running more laps to get that sorted out.
The trick to it, or the key, is that it's bolt on. The rest of the car is locked in, so now we just bolt on devices to get the best advantage.
Before the next question, the wing that our vice president of competition is wearing around his neck (laughter) is not a part of the Car of Tomorrow development program. Robin had some surgery back before Christmas, and he's got to wear this for a while. I thought I needed to explain that for people who haven't seen you during the holidays.
Q. This is for Brian France. Can you kind of put in perspective what this introduction to Toyota means in the history books of NASCAR, how huge a thing it is for you to be introducing this, and how soon we'll see Honda following suit or other auto makers?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think it's going to be an important point in our history, and I know they're looking at it from a long-term view. They had a chance at Toyota to start with the Truck Series to understand our culture and realize how we did business and make sure that it met their expectations, but I think they felt pretty comfortable about that, and therefore -- I think it'll be important.
The other thing is I know how competitively hungry they are. They're not here just to be here; they're here to compete hard, showcase their products and support their teams, and they're going to do it on a bigger stage. I think it will be -- as to Honda or others, I have no idea about that. Those are all choices people have to make.
Without question, it's just the largest opportunity for a manufacturer in North America by far. Everybody sort of recognizes it. Also, one of the difficulties when you look at coming into our sport is how challenging it is to compete on and win. It slows people down who would otherwise hop in and out of NASCAR to calculate a view.
Q. This is for Gary and Robin. I notice that the 1.5 mile tracks are the last to be phased in. Are those more of a challenge to maybe get the Car of Tomorrow to a competitive state, or is that just an easier way to phase everything in?
GARY NELSON: I think probably the first answer is the schedules that the competitors must follow. It goes in the categories of car. They build cars right now for Daytona, they build cars for other tracks. When you look at the year, you don't want to just say, okay, we'll run it in the middle of the year and pick up all the tracks or the beginning or the end. We made a logical choice by saying short tracks or Darlington sized or even smaller makes the most sense when you look at the schedule week by week through the season.
And so that turned out to be about a third of the tracks. Then in Talladega and the bigger tracks in the second year, and the third year the mile and a half. And it makes sense from scheduling and the car owners' build scheduling.
Q. This is for Brian France. Toyota is coming to this other racing series and spent a lot of money. I would imagine they would do that here, as well. Do you worry given the financial state of Ford and GM and Daimler-Chrysler that that's going to be an issue for them?
BRIAN FRANCE: It does cost a lot of money to compete hard, and that's a subjective number as to what it ultimately will be. But I will tell you this: I mean, I said earlier that they took their time in understanding NASCAR's culture and the goals and objectives of how we operate, and they very well noted that. They realized that they've got to compete at a high level, but there's going to always be other people, including Dodge and all of our manufacturers, so I think they had their expectations in line. I certainly expect them to put the best foot forward. How much economically, that's just -- but they know they want a level playing field and they have to earn that, and they're very comfortable with that.
Q. Gary, we wanted to know if that is perhaps one of the pseudo cars of tomorrow. I don't see the splitter on the front of the Camry. And for Tish, can you tell me are people stepping up more to contribute to the diversity program?
GARY NELSON: First of all, that car is a current car. It's designed to fit into the current rules. The splitter and the other things, the more upright windshield, will follow soon.
TISH SHEETS: And as for the diversity question, yes, absolutely. We're seeing that the opportunities that have been presented, the on-track, whether it's off-track and even the consumer marketing participation is growing significantly.
Q. Question for Gary and Robin. In terms of the Car of Tomorrow, three kind of safety questions. One, has there been any consideration given to lowering the weight of 3,400 pounds, that there's less mass upon impact, and also moving the engine back? And has there been any consideration given to the change of leaded to unleaded fuels as far as the size of the fuel tank?
GARY NELSON: Okay, yeah. When you think about the weight of the car, we haven't released the end weight because our absorbers occupy some of that weight and we're finishing up the final design or the final decision on which absorber to use. If it's a honeycomb absorber, which does a very nice job, it weighs a lot less than the steel absorbers than we're working with.
We're coming up with the actual final weight, and our intentions are to not make it any heavier than it needs to be. Don't carry a lot of extra weight. The teams need a little bit to adjust their handling fore and aft. They move the ballasts, but no extra ballasts.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: As to unleaded fuel, ask Viv about the unleaded fuel. We're coming forward with it. It will be no later than '08 as we introduce the Car of Tomorrow. With the smaller fuel cell we've got some materials that will be changing we're looking at for that, maybe as early as '07 on the fuel cell itself
Q. Mike, do you want to expound on that, on where we've been with unleaded fuel?
MIKE HELTON: Yeah, I can. Many of you understand that NASCAR has been working on unleaded fuel for several years, and the unleaded fuel topic is not tied into Car of Tomorrow per se, but as we progress through the unleaded fuel research and try to voluntarily move to unleaded fuel as quick as we could, we ran into a couple of obstacles along the way.
The first one is as we were very near, if you recall, launching the national series on unleaded fuel, we ran into an MTBE, which was the content of the unleaded fuel that was not a very good thing. Then we had to regroup and start over again. The next big obstacle we ran into was our fuel supplier decided to not be part of the sport anymore, so that kind of created a setback for the research.
To Sonoco's credit, ever since they arrived on the scene, they've been working with Gary and folks here at the R & D center to create a fuel that worked at the capacity and with the components that we use, and we now are very comfortable in the fact that by 2008, we will be using unleaded fuel in our national series.
It's been a process, but it's taken time to be sure all the components worked. The motors if you'll recall back in the late '90s when we were looking at it, we redid some of the characteristics of the properties and things to prepare for this, but there's been obstacles along the way that we had to overcome, and now we're in a position to do that.
The unleaded fuel and the Car of Tomorrow don't coincide. It has nothing to do with the launching of the Car of Tomorrow.
In the Car of Tomorrow development what we have found and what Gary mentioned in his presentation is that the smaller fuel cell, the makeup with modern technology and the never-ending improvement of materials and ability to capture elements like fuel, we wanted to go that way. We will go that way; actually John Darby will tell the competitors here soon at what point that bladder material and size will be used, it doesn't matter what car it is.
So those things are progressing along, but the unleaded fuel and the Car of Tomorrow, we're not tracking together. The unleaded fuel is something we've been tracking for a long time.
Q. Brian, two questions. One is the whole issue of the backlash that there may be from the American race fans with the end of the era of NASCAR being an American car series. Obviously you'll have to deal with that. The second one is with the Car of Tomorrow, fuel sales and maybe getting a little bit less gas mileage, that means more pit stops and potentially longer races. Will NASCAR at least think about or look into the idea of shortening long races, 500-mile races, to sort of fit the television window? Is that a consideration that's been addressed?
BRIAN FRANCE: First part of the question, I think everybody is pretty familiar that Toyota or Honda or others, that many of their cars are made here in the U.S. and they're very much a fabric of the culture today. I think that question we've already been through with the Truck Series, was there going to be any reaction to that negatively. There really hasn't been; it's been quite well embraced. I don't anticipate as they elevate up to the Busch or NEXTEL series, or Honda, which they have no plans to my knowledge, whether they would consider joining, would adversely affect us. I think it expands us out a little bit quite frankly and actually helps us.
We did take into consideration, and the fuel cell is going to be slightly smaller as it stands today. But when you think about fuel stops and pit stops and adding onto the length of the race, what we've found is in looking at the data that general accidents or debris on the track really account for most of the -- the yellows, no control of ours, just in the natural flow of a race, happen, so it won't have sort of the big effect that you think it would. You can look to Talladega where we do have a smaller fuel cell.
We took it into consideration and don't believe it's going to add any great length to the race, but we do believe it will add a little more drama and a little more excitement.
Q. My question is for I guess Brian France and probably Mike, as well. The decision by Toyota not to centralize its operations and build engines and bodies for all its Cup teams as they do in the trucks and as they've done as an engine supplier, given there was some grumbling from our Cup owners if that were to happen and Toyota did have an unfair advantage by centralizing its operations, did NASCAR have any influence on that decision by Toyota and are you pleased that they're going in that direction?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we worked well with them. That's what you do when you get to know each other the way we have over the last several years. They recognized that that wasn't how NASCAR operated and it wasn't going to be in their best interest. I think the parts are available to everybody, costs coming out of the system as opposed to a sanctioning body, which happens in our business, simply not really caring about that as a particular priority.
They realized and still realize today that that is a priority for us. Both of those issues are why our sport has, among other reasons, continued to be the most competitive form of racing in the world. They understood that, our direction, and they have been in step with us.
MIKE HELTON: Our responsibility as Brian mentioned as a sanctioning body in the sport is to be sure, whether it's a new manufacturer or a long-term manufacturer introducing new parts and pieces, is that those parts and pieces fit in the environment that they're going to compete in. And in doing that, what we look at and we mandate for any manufacturer is that those parts and pieces are reasonably priced and are available to whoever wants to get them. There's no group that's locked out of being able to go get the parts and pieces and do whatever they want to with them.
That's worked for the most part, and I think part of the advancements that NASCAR has been able to make with the R & D center is to be better in its process of approving parts and pieces, and particularly as it relates to the community that they're going to compete in. Our responsibility is more about being sure that anybody that wants to get the parts and pieces can get them, and that when they do get them and they put them together that they fit in the competition scale of what series they're going to run in.
Q. Brian, can you discuss the impact that George Pyne's departure will have on the hierarchy of the executive lineup at NASCAR, as in will someone be elevated, will others assume that role or will someone be hired from outside?
BRIAN FRANCE: Number one, George is a good friend of mine and all of ours, and he made a big contribution over a ten-year period. He got a special opportunity, and we're wishing him well. He's going to run IMG, quite a big job, but one of the things that George was very good at was building depth in a great team.
So my sense of it is there are 800-some odd employees at NASCAR, and we're not built on any one person, although he'll be missed. My sense of it is that a lot of other people are going to have a moment to step up, and we'll talk about replacing that position or how we'll deal with that down the road. Right now we're zeroed in on getting 2006 launched and wishing him well.
MIKE HELTON: If I might add to that, I think what you see today is a product of the France family that began nearly six years ago. If you'll recall back in 2000 when Bill and Jim and Brian and Lisa announced to the world that the board of directors was expanding, they split the role of president and CEO, all of that was by design to be prepared for moments like this, and to that point, it works. We've got today in NASCAR a lot of depth, a lot of talent, a lot of them that you know, a lot of them that you don't know, that were coming up from the ranks that will be players in this sport on behalf of NASCAR for a long time to come.
George is a great friend. He's a very smart man that a lot of the processes and procedures that NASCAR benefits from today, he brought to the table. But in doing so, we've got a lot of people like Steve Phelps and Mark Dyer, Dick Glover, Paul Brooks, Ed Bennett, Eric Nyquist, names that you may know and may not know. The point of it is that this was -- today's NASCAR was a product of Bill and Jim and Brian and Lisa six years ago, saying we have a responsibility that's much broader than a single person and creating the NASCAR management team today to prepare for moments like someone moving on or passing away. And today the wheels keep turning nonstop.
Q. The schedules for the next few years, we haven't had any big upheavals, tracks closing, anything like that. As the schedules move forward, how is the transition of the Car of Tomorrow, is that going to affect any kind of scheduling that you're going to be doing? Should we expect any big surprises in '07, for instance, in terms of scheduling? And talk about the rumors that we're hearing about the Busch Series going into Canada.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't think there's any big surprises that we can see. Obviously we made a number of moves in the last five to six years that we think are helpful, two dates in Texas and Phoenix and other places in California. The Car of Tomorrow's schedule takes into no consideration that there will be some other gyration. I think in our schedule there may be some adjustments. We've always said that. We'd like to think that part of NASCAR's success is the longevity of historically important events, that our schedule doesn't move all over the place all the time.
Canada, it's no secret that we have a big interest in Canada, have a tremendous following on the same ratio as the U.S. Obviously it's a smaller population, but the percentage of that fan base is the same as it is in the U.S. and growing, very popular on television up there. I don't know about the Busch Series per se, but although it worked real well going south of the border in Mexico city, and we're going to look in the next year or two at playing a more significant role in Canada. It won't be with the NEXTEL Cup series, I can certainly tell you that.
Q. This is for Gary and perhaps for Brian. The appearance on the outside involving the Car of Tomorrow is that you guys are going to be dragging the car owners kicking and screaming into accepting this. Part of that comes from the fact that there didn't seem to be a lot of participation when y'all offered them the opportunity at Daytona during testing. The first question is how do you overcome that, and how important or how critical is it that you get the participation from the teams as far as the testing and development of the car as you move forward?
BRIAN FRANCE: We'll get it. We've gotten a lot of it. We didn't get it the last particular test, which you're referencing. A lot of it was over the last couple of years was how real was it? It's a concept, it's an idea, and in fairness, they want to make sure that directionally we were comfortable. We had to get comfortable ourselves.
You heard about the three things we have to get improvements on. We had to be sure of the facts that the car that was built matched up with those benefits. Now I think you'll see them get on board fairly quickly, and I think you can reference almost every team has either built a car or is in the process of building them.
I add one thing to all that. This is something that whenever we do a rule this is a big one. This is the biggest one we've ever done in terms of a policy, whether it's a single engine rule, whether it's testing the way we've got it set up today, tire leasing, the gear rule, you name it; if you're winning right then, you do not want to see a chase -- you don't want to see anything happen, nothing, zero. The three benefits doesn't matter. I want to win if I'm a team owner. If I've got the formula of the current car figured out, what's the first thing I'm going to do when NASCAR announces anything? I'm not going to like it. It's not going to work, it's not going to save me money; it's not worth doing.
Middle, back of the track and all that, you'll start to hear more of a truer view of the benefits or of a particular program that we've announced. You've got a little bit of that going on right now as that cycles. But I think everybody in our industry, and Gary, you can speak from a team owner standpoint, knows that this is the future; there's no wavering around, we'll get their input for sure as we roll it out for all the right reasons.
But the Car of Tomorrow is going to be the car of today here shortly.
GARY NELSON: I think one of the comments was we had Kyle Petty in our car at Daytona last week. In December in talking to the teams that have built the cars, yeah, we'll be there, we're planning on coming, and we had a list of six teams. Well, then the testing began at Daytona, and as it is in every run-down we put out, there's somebody on the top, somebody in the middle. Everybody has a space or a spot that they fall into at the end of any results list that we put out.
Well, the teams that were on their way to come test with us, several of them made the comment to me that, hey, we've got to go back and build another car because we weren't fast enough in pre-season testing at Daytona. Well, that reinforces what we're trying to say all along, and the car owners now as we bring up these things respond in a positive way, yeah, you know, the car wasn't up to speed in Daytona in pre-season testing, so my whole crew came back home and started building a new car.
Well, the Car of Tomorrow locks in so many of those things that you wouldn't go home and build a new car, you would go home and maybe adjust and tweak on it, but the frame rails being locked in is one of the things that's happening as we speak to guys that tested at Daytona. We're moving their frame rails around to try to get a little more speed.
The car owners as we talk to them and they continue to understand that and examples I just mentioned bring the whole process up a little better.

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