The ground shakes. The air feels electric. The roar of fans is barely heard over the deafening thunder of 40 cars hurtling around the track.
Welcome to NASCAR.
The popular and thrilling racing sport tests the limits of how fast humankind can go. But NASCAR was long overdue to revamp its aging, arguably outdated race cars.
Until this year, NASCAR’s typical racers began with the same basic form. These were called “stock cars.” But those cars were transformed over decades into overly engineered, off-the-chart expensive designs that were tweaked, twisted, trimmed, and tuned by various teams. Each tried to make the stock car fractionally faster and significantly safer.
In February, the 2022 Daytona 500 unveiled something new: a full race car makeover. NASCAR’s Next Gen cars were officially released at the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. They are essentially kit cars. Teams gather all the same pieces from varying vendors. Detailed instructions outline assembly. The new car claims to be a vehicle that’s more durable, more economical, and considerably more modern—even if the changes are barely visible to the casual fan.
Next Gen doesn’t look much different on the outside. But the changes are significant, say drivers, diehard fans, and industry insiders.
So what are these improvements? The new cars have bigger aluminum wheels. Each wheel features just one center lug nut instead of five. A transaxle replaces the transmission. The transaxle performs gear-changing and power-splitting functions in one integrated unit. And the cars now have independent front and rear suspension for better performance—and safety—on turns.
Never one to miss an advertising opportunity, NASCAR moved car numbers forward on door panels. This makes more space for sponsors to enhance their brands in proportion to the drivers’ enhanced performance before the crowds.
In the former models, many of the pieces that fit under the hood cost hundreds of thousands annually to develop. Those are now spec parts. That means they can be bought off store shelves. They’re the same for everyone—and altering them is prohibited.
In time, the Next Gen kits could allow teams with less financial backing to become competitive. The entry-level investment to get a car to the track is about the same now for each racing team. That’s because the kits remove the overhead costs to individually develop and improve every nut and bolt, every curve, corner, bumper, and fender.
The roar at the track now may just be the tone of a new generation of stock car.
Why? God-given traits of innovation and craft can be put to work to improve many areas of life—even our recreation—with safety, economy, and efficiency.