NASCAR 2000 takes a look at how far the series has come and where it is heading.
"The first vehicles we raced with a few years ago were considerably more unsophisticated than the ones we put on the track today," said John Wehrly, NASCAR truck engineering program manager for Dodge. "Initially, we did not have an engine program that was compatible with the trucks. We were using parts from other racing series that were not at the NASCAR level.Off the track, trucks and truck-based vehicles dominate the marketplace. The Dodge Ram nameplate had sales approaching 450,000 in 1999, making it DaimlerChrysler's top-selling vehicle. Ford's F-Series is the top-selling vehicle in the world and the top-selling vehicle in the United States 20 years running.
"It's simple," explained Lou Patane, Vice President of Dodge Motorsports. "Race fans like to see the cars or trucks they cheer for in their driveway. The more people use trucks for personal use or for mobile business offices, the more interest there will be in the trucks on the race track."So, how do the trucks differ from their partners in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division?
"The obvious difference is that the trucks are taller and wider," Wehrly explained. "The cab shape is detrimental to efficient airflow around the vehicle. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series cars are very efficient, cutting a very small hole in the air. The trucks cut a big hole in the air and can get swallowed up in the draft."Truck horsepower (675 plus at 7,800 rpm) is right between the NASCAR Winston Cup Series (720 at 8,500 rpm) and the NASCAR Busch Series (520 at 8,500 rpm) cars, and performance at many tracks is similar.
Behind the wheel, there appears to be little difference.
"There is not a lot of difference between driving a NASCAR Craftsman truck and a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car," said driver Mike Wallace. "I drive the truck the same way I drove the car. The only difference is the car has more downforce and that is a difference that only a driver would recognize."The resulting racing has been some of the most exciting of the young season.
"I think you will see slingshot passing and drafting being very influential in this series," Wehrly said. "I think it is something the spectators will really enjoy."Patane agrees.
"The (Daytona) truck race was tremendous for the fans," Patane said. "I believe there was something like 30 lead changes, and in racing, it's all about putting on a good show."For the truck series, the show continues to grow. Running a schedule in only 14 states in 1995, the series will run 24 events at 23 different tracks in 18 states in 2000.
"NASCAR has done a good job of developing the personalities in truck racing," said Sue Seaglund, marketing manager for General Motors. "By featuring the drivers, they are letting fans get to know the people behind the wheel."Already a stepping stone to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series, the trucks see their share of the action increasing in time.
"There is always a desire for members of most programs -- drivers and crews -- to move to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series level," Patane said. "NASCAR Winston Cup Series is the pinnacle of racing, but all three series are credible and exciting to watch. There are teams that will have very successful careers in truck racing."
"Everyone in each of the series is part of NASCAR," Seaglund added. "Some stars in the truck series will move on, but others are very happy where they are."Wallace, with a pair of top-five performances including a win at Daytona, is the fastest truck driver to earn six figures in winnings in a season, and 11 drivers already are over the $1 million mark in career earnings.
"I think the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is moving in the right direction," Wallace said " The most positive things NASCAR has done is running the trucks at Daytona and tying more truck races in with NASCAR Winston Cup races. We need the national and international exposure that the Winston Cup races draw to gain more interest in the truck series and I think NASCAR is doing that."Where will the new millennium take the design of the trucks on the track?
"I think the progression will be in the detail and refinements," Wehrly said. "I think you will see sophistication -- subtle changes in aerodynamics, rather than any major changes."Although Wehrly insists there is no need for another main attraction in racing, look for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to be a big part of the sport's future.
© 2000 NASCAR
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