Race Weekend Central

NASCAR’s Mantra For 2013: Racing To Innovate

The annual NASCAR press conference, during the Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway was held on Tuesday afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There were several topics discussed, both during presentations and the question and answer session with NASCAR CEO Brian France and President Mike Helton. The running theme surrounding these discussions was simple, contained within the mantra for the sport: Racing to Innovate. Several initiatives, from the Gen-6 car to the new qualifying system are hitting the racetrack for the first time this year and, all parties claim have been designed to make the sport better in the long run.

The first order of business during the press conference was the introduction of NASCAR’s 2013 Drive for Diversity program. This year’s class was initially introduced during a Google Plus Hangout on January 15th, the latest sign of how the sport is looking to incorporate social media into its day-to-day operation. The list of drivers, for a program almost a decade old now is a mix of four new and three returning talents. These seven will compete in the K&N East Series, Whelen All-American Series and the Legends division out of the Rev Racing stables, each one given competitive equipment as they hammer out their long-term goal of making it into the upper echelon of NASCAR. The directory of driving talent in the 2013 class is as follows:

*NASCAR 2013 Drive For Diversity Roster*
*Devon Amos*
*Age:* 21
*Will Race In:* INEX Legends
*From:* Rio Rancho, NM
*Twitter:* “@DevonAmos”:http://www.twitter.com/DevonAmos/

*Mackena Bell*
*Age:* 21
*Will Race In:* NASCAR K&N Pro East
*From:* Carson City, NV
*Twitter:* “@MaCKeNaBell”:http://www.twitter.com/MaCKeNaBell/

*Annabeth Barnes*
*Age:* 17
*Will Race In:* NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
*From:* Hiddenite, NC
*Twitter:* “@Annabethh”:http://www.twitter.com/Annabethh/

*Ryan Gifford*
*Age:* 23
*Will Race In:* NASCAR K&N Pro East
*From:* Winchester, TN
*Twitter:* “@ryangifford2”:http://www.twitter.com/ryangifford2/

*Jack Madrid*
*Age:* 18
*Will Race In:* NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
*From:* San Clemente, CA
*Twitter:* “@JackMadridRacin”:http://www.twitter.com/JackMadridRacin/

*Bryan Ortiz*
*Age:* 23
*Will Race In:* NASCAR K&N Pro East
*From:* Bayamon, Puerto Rico
*Twitter:* “@BryanORacing”:http://www.twitter.com/BryanORacing/

*Daniel Suarez*
*Age:* 21
*Will Race In:* NASCAR K&N Pro East
*From:* Monterrey, Mexico
*Twitter:* “@dnlsuarez”:http://www.twitter.com/dnlsuarez/

The infamous “pothole” at Daytona was just one of several challenges the Speedway has faced in recent years as it attempts to modernize itself.

Following the D4D announcement, the President of Daytona International Speedway, Joie Chitwood, showed off a proposed project for the racetrack that includes a brand new tower on the front straight of the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The project is being designed by Rosetti Architects, part of a long-term plan to modernize the facility up to 21st Century standards. In recent years, the speedway has been through its share of rough incidents, from the pothole of 2010 to the closing of its famed Daytona USA exhibits. Long-term investments in infrastructure will be the short-term goal in helping keep the track amongst NASCAR’s elite.

Brian France then took to the podium to highlight some things the sport will be doing in the upcoming racing year. He acknowledged that the new car is designed to promote the closest, most competitive racing the series has ever seen. Across the board, all NASCAR executives during the presser towed the company line on the project; there was no room for criticism within an organization clearly laying their hopes and dreams on the excitement surrounding the Gen-6. France even went so far as to admit there were some flaws with the implementation of the Car of Tomorrow; in comparison, the sport claims the Gen-6 edition is using far more science, claiming the R&D team has “done its homework” in ensuring close races right out of the box.

The larger question, one that appeared unanswered on Tuesday was how much that increase in competition will cost. France was asked why carbon fiber was selected for the hoods and deck lids of the new cars. He pointed out that, while it might be more expensive, it is more consistent in shape and cannot be manipulated by competitors. While judged to be a success with its use in several other racing series, the pieces have been slow to reach teams and still remain a larger hit in the wallet over other options.

Questioned about how the new car will be judged as a success or failure, France said it will ultimately come down to lead changes, how it races, driver feedback and fan reaction. The car was designed based on the desire to have the closest, most competitive racing ever and the package will be continually evaluated to try and make that happen.

France also spoke on the new track drying machines that will be introduced in 2013, developed based on a stated goal of reducing track drying time by 80%. The new system will utilize heat and compressed air, rather than jet engines which will allow for a quieter time at the track once the rain stops. Not only will it dramatically reduce drying times (Daytona should be clean and ready to race in 30 minutes vs. 2.5 hours) but it will also be a much smaller carbon footprint, holding true to NASCAR’s recent leanings toward green initiatives.

After six years, the oft-criticized Car of Tomorrow has finally reached extinction. We hardly new ye…

Talk then turned to general topics, themes on what needs to be improved throughout the sport. But through it all, the sanctioning body held firm that the course they’re on right now is clearly the right one. During the Question and Answer session, with France and Helton, France noted that the R&D Center was built to be proactive rather than reactive, living up to its mission by coming up with new and improved race cars, safety innovations and other things to make racing, in general, better.

Also, while the new qualifying system goes into effect for 2013 (bringing back the provisional system) France said the sanctioning body is not considering doing heat races to set the field. The thought process is to balance what the promoter wants to provide to their fans with the desires of the broadcast affiliates and the fans themselves. At this point, heat races do not factor into that equation.

Asked about a fourth manufacturer, France said the environment is very good for an additional car builder to enter the series at this time. He did not feel that the current slate of teams would justify five car builders, but he thinks four is very sustainable and could happen very quickly. There have been at least two major automakers that have shown interest in coming into NASCAR and could very easily enter the sport in the near future. However, those statements contradict those of NASCAR executives from earlier in the week, claiming no one, not even Dodge is close to reentering the fray within the next two seasons.

Finally, on the concussion front, after Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s episode last season, Helton said he felt that the current program is a good one for dealing with the injury. He admitted that there is much to learn from Earnhardt’s case and that the sport is looking at it more intently; however, for now, they have the proper policies in place to deal with injuries, specifically head trauma as it occurs.

Even with the challenges facing the sport, the general mood amongst top executives remains optimistic. Many feel NASCAR is in an improving situation right now and, barring another collapse of the economy, they are positioning themselves to expand the sport again as we head into 2013 and beyond. No matter how you feel, personally it’s clear there are many initiatives coming out over the next few years, with plenty of people recognizing a modern need to keep evolving. The sport, long reactionary, appears to finally be moving into a proactive position.

*Connect with Mike!*

“Contact Mike Neff”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

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