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Where's the green in NASCAR? Maybe the Pres would like to know....


Suddenly the NASCAR manufacturers' championship is being seen in a different light


   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Making NASCAR greener?
   Well, the logo has all the colors of the rainbow….uh, except green.
   Maybe in light of President Obama's new Detroit initiatives, it might behoove NASCAR officials to find some green.
   Now while there is certainly an argument that global warming may just be a myth….and NASCAR racing doesn't use as much fuel on any given Sunday as an NFL team or NBA team or MLB team may use in jetting to the next ballpark.
   Still, perception is powerful, and maybe NASCAR executives need to consider the perceptions about stock car racing, and its relationship with Detroit car makers.
   The issue of 'green' may strike some NASCAR aficionados as silly. This is macho racing, not some solar-panel-car exercise.
   Still, there are several angles that could be considered.
   Pat Suhy, as NASCAR program manager for Chevrolet Racing, is a veteran engine guy who knows well both the options and the expenses.
    "There are two ways to look at it," Suhy says of 'NASCAR and green': "There's the stuff that comes out the tailpipe, and there's the consumption of fossil fuels.
   "The quick-and-dirty way to do it would be to introduce ethanol into the gasoline stock. Pick a percentage to work your way up to.
   "But that would present a similar challenge to what we went through with the changeover to unleaded fuel a couple of years ago.
   "Yes, it was painless once they pulled the trigger. But there was a lot of work getting from Point A to Point B first. You had to look at everything that the fuel touched.
   "But getting some ethanol introduced would be one way to start to move the needle.
   "And you can talk about technology, like fuel injection…but an engine that makes 750 to 800 horsepower requires a certain amount of fuel to run. And fuel injection won't significantly change the amount of fuel used. So that wouldn't be a 'green' solution.
   "Of course, when you think about it, to get five or six mpg going 180 mph around California is pretty amazing.
   "If you really wanted to reduce consumption, then you'd have to talk about reducing power, and displacement and mass."

Ford Motor Company just spent a ton of time and money on this brand new NASCAR engine, which has yet to even hit the track. So if you want to raise the ire of team owner Jack Roush (L), Ford racing boss Brian Wolfe (C) and engine whiz Doug Yates (R), just ask them about designing yet another new NASCAR engine (Photo: Autostock)

Ah, maybe here is where some of the complexities start to fall in place: smaller engines, more lightweight cars, slower corner-entry speeds….and better fuel efficiency?
    The argument has long been made that NASCAR engines are grossly overpowered, and have been for years, particularly for the tires these cars are limited to.
    And reduced speeds, it is also argued, could actually make for better racing at tracks like California.
    One question here – why do NASCAR stockers need 800 horsepower engines anyway?
   "That's a great question," Suhy responds, stopping there pointedly, and grinning.
   For years this sport got along just fine with engines that made 600 to 650 horsepower.
   There is also the related question of why NASCAR executives have allowed the sport to become dominated by just a handful of engine operations. Anyone who wants to play this game has to go to one of those few that build competitive motors and make a multi-million-dollar deal – if he even can – to lease motors to race.
    On the Truck side of the issue is a stark point – a good Truck program costs $3 million….and a good $1 million of that goes right to the engine program.
   Yes, this sport may have come a long way from those oak-tree hoists, but these engine costs are outrageous.
   At least NASCAR is finally making moves to try to cut those costs.
   But it would be perhaps smarter if more engine builders could be encouraged to come into this sport. Where is Carl Wagoner today? Where is Peter Guild? Where are the independent engine men? Why did NASCAR let them get run off the playing field?
   Competition might drive down prices. Maybe Detroit could help.
   Suhy says yes, more independent engine builders might be good for the sport, particularly by allowing new team owners to come in, and at some reasonable price point.
   Maybe more common engines might be a solution too. Why should a Sprint Cup motor be different from a Nationwide motor anyway?
   "The problem with having two types of (NASCAR) engines right now is it does drive a lot of cost into the teams, because they have to maintain two different sets of parts," Suhy says. "For example you can't run the same valves in both Cup and Nationwide engines; you can't run the same carburetors."
   The main difference in the two engines is the Nationwide engine uses traditional 'roller-cams' where the Cup engines use high-tech flat-tappets, which are in fact more efficient. And the Nationwide engines are choked down with carburetor spacers, cutting horsepower.
   So Suhy recommends any 'common' engine use the flat-tappet cams "and run the tapered spacers, like they do in Nationwide and Truck, to get the power levels to where you want them.
    "That would lower the cost of everything, not having to have two separate supply chains to manage, two separate R&D programs."
     And the time frame for any such change?
     It probably wouldn't have to be that long at all, really, he says, because teams don't buy engines for the entire year at one fell swoop "because you might learn something.'
    "The long-lead-time engine things, like crankshafts, are 16-to-20 weeks."
    So any changes wouldn't have to wait till next year.
   Why not simply put restrictor plates on these engines? Wouldn't that be cheaper?
   "Plate motors really steal efficiency," Suhy frets. "You can run plate motors everywhere, but they really aren't efficient.
   "So rather than just taking an 840 horsepower engine and throttle it back to 630 horsepower, you'd be better off just designing a 630 horsepower engine."
   In this economic climate no one wants to hear about designing a new engine.
   Of course if NASCAR officials had adopted Jack Roush's suggestion a few years back of cutting back on engine design development, rather than allowing Dodge and then Toyota to come into the sport with new and better technical designs, the speed battle might have been better contained.

GM racing boss Mark Kent and his men, like Jim Covey (L) spent a lot of time on Chevy's new R07 NASCAR engine (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


It was way back in 1993 when legendary engine builder Robert Yates first suggested that NASCAR needed to cut engine horsepower and curb speeds. NASCAR could have set some time tables then, but didn't.
   And now…..
   "With the investment everyone has made, all the R&D they've done to get where they are today, it's not easy," Suhy says of any new engine project.
   "And, as far as independent engine builders, there might not be a good business case to be made for that anymore, at least in Cup. Most teams that have an engineering relationship with a big team typically have an engine program from that operation too."
    But why not smaller engines?
    The late Bill France Jr. made that move himself, in the mid-1970s, effectively killing off those monster 427s and 429s, and chopping teams back to 358.
    Maybe it's time for Brian France set a timetable to chop these 358s back to…..to what?
   NASCAR men make about 2.3 horsepower per cubic inch – 830 horsepower with 358s. And if it takes only 450 horsepower, or less, to run 190 mph at Daytona, then a 200 c.i. engine ought to be able to make plenty of horsepower.
   A new engine?
   "Designing an engine is hugely complicated process," Suhy warns. "It is very engineering-intensive.
    "We've done months of CFD – computational fluid dynamics – runs (on Chevrolet's relatively new R07 engine). We're still doing finite element analysis on it.
    "It is a huge undertaking. And I can say in today's economy there is no way I could be a proponent of something like that."
   Besides, Suhy adds, "I'm not clear about just what would happen simply by taking horsepower away from the current engine. I haven't seen any data on that."
   Jeff Gordon in fact says to slow cars down NASCAR really ought to give drivers more horsepower, so they'd have to back off more in the corners.
    Well, how about just putting plates on the cars at, say, California and Atlanta? "Just go look at the Nationwide races…." Suhy replies, referring to the engine restrictions NASCAR has in that series.
   "It would be interesting to go back and look at the Nationwide races and analyze them."
    Of course there is more here than just engines. What about car bodies? Why isn't NASCAR racing what Detroit produces anyway? What Detroit street model looks anything like this car-of-tomorrow?
    What about the novel idea of simply dropping the common body template concept and let Detroit car makers start coming up with some of their own body designs, as similar as possible to street-car designs….the way stock car racing used to be? And give Detroit more 'identification.'
   "If we were all given targets – drag, front and rear downforce, side-force -- and some freedom to use add-on components, I think all the manufacturers could come up with a package that could meet those requirements, and more closely resemble the production product," Suhy says.
   "But I don't know how that might impact NASCAR's inspection process, the week-to-week.
    "The problem would be, as soon as there was a dominant team or manufacturer, every other manufacturer would be in the NASCAR trailer saying 'They've obviously got something we don't have.'"
   But changes like all these, Suhy says, could cost a lot of money:
   "And given the economy, and where we're at, I don't know when the right time would be to do that.
   'But certainly I think the sanctioning body will continue to look at it, and plan for some evolutionary changes…if not revolutionary changes."

GM's Pat Suhy with Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





NASCAR Tested Smaller Engines In Early 1990s

I remember only Nat'l Speed Sport News mentioning this at the time - around 1993 NASCAR tested a 305 CID engine thinking it would produce slower speeds. Exactly the opposite happened.

One needs to also keep in mind the V6 experiment the Busch/Nationwide series went through until 1995 - those V6s were about 270 CID and speeds weren't reduced; reliability was.

But now NASCAR has that

But now NASCAR has that rearend gear rule, and it can govern rpm rather precisely, and successfully (albeit what happened at Las Vegas was rather odd, showing that without at-track testing, those computer simulation programs aren't worth that much. And of course it depends on where you want to slow the speeds -- in the middle of the corner? on corner-entry? on the straights? (that in turn changes the off-the-corner punch, of course). i believe the testing you refer to slowed the speeds on the straights but that only allowed drivers to flatfoot it though the corners --- hey, novel idea -- bunch the drivers up? the V6 experiment was before Cup teams took over the whole series, and the V6 itself back then was more a paean to the Detroit V6 rage....before the V6 was as well designed as they are today....

V6s, etc.

The testing I think did show slower straightaway speeds and thus greater ability to flatfoot it. Today, though, the drivers are all but flatfooting it on most tracks anyway - heck, I'm surprised more teams don't detune their engines to run wide open as Marcos Ambrose was able to do at Bristol when he lost some power.

Overall I've never seen any case where cars were slowed to any significant extent with smaller engines. As for the V6 experiment, they're a lot better now than then, but the same issues - V6 cars aren't that much slower than V8s in actual races if indeed they're slower at all - remain, to where switching simply doesn't offer enough to make any sense.

Engines and Engine Builders

What is Suhy talking about with regard to the plates stealing efficiency? "They really aren't efficient," he says of restrictor plate engines How? From Jump Street in 1988-9 two things that stood out with plate motors were -

1 - Engine failures dropped markedly.
2 - Fuel mileage improved even more markedly, to where running 50 laps at Talladega not only stopped being a stretch it ballooned to almost 70 laps.

He compares to the Nationwide tour and the carb sleeves they run, ignoring as he does that these engines still produce 600-plus horsepower where plate motors are in the 450 HP range. And Jeff Gordon is full of it - he knows more horsepower has never reduced speeds; lifting is never an option in racing.

And having teams able to build their own engines or having independant engine shops not connected to a particular team doesn't make business sense anymore? How? When Suhy notes teams that get their engines from bigger teams like Hendrick and Roush, he conveniently forgets to mention how many races have been won starting with the 1990 Daytona 500 (won by Derrike Cope and Bob Whitcomb using an engine built by Keith Dorton's independant shop) in which the team did NOT build its own engines - the total (including Cope's win) is less than thirty - two wins by Cope, five wins by Darrell Waltrip's independant team, five by Joe Gibbs Racing with Hendrick engines (Hendrick cut both of them off after 1993 - Waltrip - and 1995 - Gibbs - because they were beating his own cars with his engines), six by Ricky Rudd's self-owned team, one by Ricky Craven and Cal Wells when they ran Fords (their Darlington win in a Pontiac was with engines they built in their own shop), one by Elliott Sadler and Wood Brothers Racing, and two by Morton-Bowers, one each by Johnny Benson and Joe Nemechek - this out of perhaps 600 races; the last time it happened was 2004 at Kansas by Nemechek and the now-defunct Morton-Bowers #01.

In other words, customer cars simply don't get the same stuff a big team's primary cars get.

Suhy's comments come across as an egregious example of myopic thinking on the part of powers that be in racing.

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