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Random Lugnuts & Dream Cars: NASCAR Editions

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Budweiser Shootout
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts & Dream Cars: NASCAR Editions

Bill Crittenden/The Crittenden Automotive Library
March 9, 2012

My next-door neighbor has a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo "Intimidator Edition."  It's black with a silver stripe along the bottom and has a bunch of Richard Childress Racing and number 3 graphics inside it.  It was the beginning of a series of special edition Monte Carlos for NASCAR fans.  After Earnhardt came Jeff Gordon's edition with the ghost flames, Dale Jr.'s red one with a version of DEI's three stripe design in use at the time, and Tony Stewart's black one with a orange stripe.  There was a second Dale Sr. edition, a bit plainer in style but built with a supercharger that wasn't available for the 2002 model year.

None of them was as successful or as special as the first, and by the time Chevrolet switched its NASCAR car to the Impala, there was nothing "special" about the NASCAR editions.  Of course, that was just a waste of potential, because no one has dominated the sport (at least the Championships of it) in the way Jimmie Johnson had in the last half decade, and the original Car of Tomorrow spoiler was something you'd find on a high-performance modern street car.

Dodge recently released a teaser photo of part of its 2013 Sprint Cup Charger, which is reported to match the street car much more closely in shape than the current "common template" cars.  Chevrolet and Ford are expected to follow suit soon.  NASCAR is listening to the fans, and returning to the days when the visual difference between manufactuerers in the series were more than grill designs and stickers.  Unless this results in one manufacturer winning 90% of the races next year, this should be a huge hit.

It could also bring back, just a little, the concept of Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.  Fans know that since the days of Richard Petty the cars weren't exactly the same as the ones you'd buy off the dealership lots, but they were based on those cars.  Even today, race fans believe that a company capable of producing a winning purpose-built race car have an inherent technical superiority that trickles down into their common street machines.  It builds reputations.  For an example, look at Honda's participation in IndyCars and how they advertise on the reliability of their race engines in the Indianapolis 500.  NASCAR is a little different, it's much more team oriented than manufacturer oriented.  The fans know that even in a Chevrolet there's a difference between a Childress engine and a Hendrick engine.  The more the manufacturers can do to take back the engineering, the more the results will influence their reputation and less on the teams in North Carolina.

The auto manufactuers need no greater marketing campaign for their new cars than the 2013 Daytona 500.  This year's 500 was a hell of a race, one of the best in years, and the second most watched of all time.  For the beginning of the 2013 Sprint Cup season, I think that bringing back the NASCAR special edition street cars would be a great way to connect the race cars to what's on the dealership lots.

First of all, the great disappointment in the special edition Chevrolets from last decade was that they were mostly just stickers on the regular Monte Carlo SSes.  The great irony is that for the longest time the only connection between a street car and a NASCAR Cup car was stickers.

Any NASCAR edition street car should be based on the highest powered existing version in each model's range, and unless the NASCAR editions are going to cost as much as a starter stock car, the R&D costs to make them anything more than what's already being built would price them way out of the range of the average NASCAR fan.

So what can be done beyond stickers?

The current NASCAR car has a front splitter that helps the cars grip the track without the ugly cumbersome braces.  Adding a NASCAR-style splitter to a street car is just a matter of using a different front bumper cover on the assembly line.

NASCAR race cars are known by the type of rear spoiler they use.  Fans hated the wing, and part of it was because it just didn't "look right."  A NASCAR edition street car would look a lot more right if it had a trunk lid that mimicked the NASCAR spoiler, but perhaps not as big as the real thing.  But it shouldn't have that shark fin on the back window, I wish the real race cars didn't have those, but they must need them if they keep using it (why nobody's stuck an associate sponsor sticker on one is beyond me...).

If there was to be a little R&D invested into the operation of the cars, they should be made to run on E-85 ethanol if they don't already, to match the ethanol initiative in NASCAR competition.  I'd also include a green American Ethanol sticker to go around the fuel filler door, which could be faced slightly tinted clear plexiglass to mimic the open look of the hole in the body panel where the bare metal is exposed on the race car without actually exposing the street car's components to the weather.

If you're familiar with the special edition Monte Carlos, you might notice the car in the picture doesn't have the standard wheels and tires.  Special wheels don't take much effort, and the Goodyear yellow-letter tires are a special touch that should be on any properly done NASCAR edition car made today.

So much of the car's internal operations are tied to computer systems that aren't easily swapped out for NASCAR-style equipment without incurring costs, but one component that could be upgraded is the radio so that it can pick up scanner frequencies at the track.  A new drivers' seat that looks more like a racing seat, along with some number and team graphics to match the chosen driver, would be easy little touches to set it apart from the standard street car's interior.

Finally, the icing on the cake: paint.  Dale Earnhardt's fans had it easy.  Black is a standard color for just about every manufacturer.  But when they got around to Tony Stewart's car, it too was black, with an orange sticker stripe.  How disappointing that it wasn't a bright orange Monte Carlo, but every color change on the manufacturing line costs money.  Hey, note to Detroit: don't expect buyers to spend $30,000 on a car if you can't be bothered to spend a little on the paint to make it the right color.

I would match the base colors of the race car's paint scheme on the street cars.  For instance, a Jimmie Johnson edition Impala would be a deep blue with the same racing stripes as on his race car, minus the giant #48 and all the sponsor decals.  Number and team graphics can appear as they do in the original Earnhardt Monte Carlo, and perhaps a NASCAR logo can be stuck where the A-pillar meets the fender (where the "NASCAR Race Car" stickers appear now on the real cars).

Toyota could make an M&M's yellow Kyle Busch Camry, or maybe instead a black & white with a green lightning bolt Camry to match his Interstate Batteries car in case M&M's doesn't last the season with Kyle.  The yellow isn't a standard Camry color, and neither is the lime green of the lightning bolt, the lines of which are certainly nothing like any two-tone Camry I've ever seen on the street.  But that's exactly what puts the "special" in "special edition."  A car worthy of the designation should be more than a few stickers, or else it looks like the automotive version of a quote from The Jungle: "All of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it 'special,' and for this they would charge two cents more a pound. "

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s National Guard car's blue on white scheme would make an impressive looking Impala, as would the black and green Diet Mountain Dew car he will run later this year.  Ford could paint a Fusion blue & yellow to match the blocks of color on the Daytona 500-winning car of Matt Kenseth.  My personal favorite would probably be the black with flames of Jeff Gordon's DuPont Impala.  Just look around the paint schemes page at Jayski.com and imagine your favorite driver's paint scheme on the street version, minus all the sponsor stickers.

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