The Evolution Of Stock Cars In NASCAR

With the arrival of NASCAR’s so-called 6th Generation Stock Car, I did some research to find out about the 5th, 4th generations etc..Being a race fan since the early fifties, I couldn’t remember when a certain car was tabbed as having a type name, and I was right, the new 6th generation car is just a name they have decided to lay on it so we, the fans will know what new car they will be trying to control.

As always, the changes to cars in this sport have come from some need to satisfy some problem. For instance, the COT has provided such bad racing, NASCAR has decided to make some changes to see if they can come up with a product that we the fans will pay to see. For their sake, and our’s, I hope they have something that will add some excitement to a dying sport.

Stock car racing as we know it, started just after World War II with guys who wanted to race, but didn’t have the budget to build the kind of cars they were racing at Indy, and wanted to race everyday cars that were available to the general public. Because the country had depleted a large quantity of steel in defeating Adolph Hitler, and not many people owned new cars, the racers decided wrecking brand new cars was a bad idea, and decided to only use older beat up junkers to build their cars.

When Bill France Sr. created NASCAR in 1949, he wanted to race the family sedans that everyday people could buy. So with that in mind, the early race car was called the Strictly Stock generation. Some tweaking and tuning was allowed, but the cars had windows, doors and ropes or aircraft harnesses to keep the driver in the car. Seat belts were mandated in 1952.

Keep in mind, that most of the tracks where everyone was running, were dirt, and some of the problems they were having, were tires, and suspension problems due to atypical stresses added due to racing at high speeds. They were allowed to add a plate to the right front wheel to relieve stress and curtail tire wear.

The first official Strictly Stock Division race had nine makes come to the line: Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Hudson, Kaiser, Lincoln, Mercury and Oldsmobile.

In the Strictly Stock environment, manufacturers found ways to incorporate changes into their production cars largely in the name of safety, but they did incorporate changes that were performance based, so the drivers could legally put them in their cars at race time.

In the early fifties, roll cages were instituted for driver safety, but teams found that the addition of braces and supports tightened up the suspension, and proved to be beneficial in the development of speed. A two-way radio was added to some of the Sportsman cars in the 1952 Daytona Beach and Road Course race. Today every car must have driver communication in all of NASCAR’s divisions.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Media Tour

Jan 26, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series chairman Brian France addresses the media on the state of the sport during the 2012 Sprint media tour at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

1955 brought one of the most significant changes in NASCAR History. The introduction of the V-8 engine was huge. The small block chevy engine is the basis of all engines in NASCAR today. This was a factory backed program where the factories were still adding modifications to street legal equipment that could be used by race teams to win races. NASCAR was the catalyst that created the American Muscle Car.

In 1957, Buick made a major breakthrough that added aluminum cooling fins to the brake system. This cured a plethora of problems that were present on the race track. It prevented blow outs due to over heated braking. Manufactures also made changes to the frame, going to an X frame that put coil springs instead of the old leaf spring system in the old box type rear ends. In 1958, General Motors had not made the change yet, and mechanic Smokey Yunick figured out the new system and put it on the final Daytona Beach/Road race. His driver, Paul Goldsmith won the race in a Pontiac with the new suspension.

As the 50’s came to a close, the 60’s were turning to more super speedways that were being contested on asphalt tracks instead of dirt. The new innovations would prove themselves in the first Daytona 500 on a Super Speedway in 1959, and all of the big tracks opening throughout the country.

During the 60’s, the success of racing was largely in the hands of manufacturers and great drivers. One could buy a car from the showroom floor, and with a few modifications, it could take a green flag at the race track. The manufactures figured out that if they raced a car on Sunday, they could sell it on Monday.

Shock absorber development and tire development drove changes in the 60’s when companies like Monroe, Firestone, and Goodyear came into racing as additions to the car manufacturers. Their products, that were made for the track could be purchased at the local parts store, and installed in anyone’s car. NASCAR provided a viable testing ground for their products. The term Stock Car remained intact.

In 1962, Ford Motor Company broke the AMA ban on racing, and threw a ton of support into the Mercury Marauder for the racing community. Chrysler followed suite, but General Motors remained on the sideline. They played with engine sizes, allowing Ford to run their 427, and Chrysler came with their Hemispherical Head(Hemi)which captivated a young Richard Petty, winning him a lot of races, and a lot of titles. General Motors, who hadn’t made many changes to their V-8 program since the fifties finally broke the ban and re-entered the racing game in the early 70’s.

As you can see, the evolution of race cars was driven by drivers, mechanics and car companies wanting to win races. This was the status quo until NASCAR stepped in after the Death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, and started to mandate and control the products on the track. That was when the Generation 5(COT) car was mandated with strict guidelines that resembled the IROC Cars that were supposedly designed to make only the driver, and not the car be a difference on the race track.

This is where the problems began, and this is where it will be until Brian France goes back to the Owners booth, and gets out of the way, and allows teams to build, and race the way his dad did all those years ago. After All, it was a very successful system that worked.

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Tags: Dale Earnhardt Jr Jeff Gordon Richard Petty Sprint Cup Series

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