There is a growing threat against racing, and it's coming in the form of a Trojan Horse. The horse resembles safety, a topic that offers to protect drivers and spectators alike. Hidden within that horse is an army that seeks to create chaos. The horse is called Pack Racing. Low speeds create the appearance of safety, but it?s strictly a delivery method for a chaotic race where traffic management becomes more important than car control.
Last Saturday during the Bud Shootout, I heard Darrel Waltrip say something to the effect of, "The pack is staying together tonight. I love that so much more than when they spread out." That is the most disappointing thing I've ever heard. When the pack stays together, it's because the cars have enough grip that they can run three abreast inches apart. When cars have enough grip to do that, we know the drivers aren?t lifting. I'm planning to write a more elaborate blog about this later, but for today: knowing when to lift and when to go full throttle is the essence of car control.
Thanks to the work of the nerds that came before me, we can quantify grip into units of measure. Coefficient of friction is approximately the amount of forced needed to pull a car sideways divided by the weight of the car. It usually varies between zero and one. A passenger car (read: something boring that seats five) on a dry surface with good tires has a COF of 0.6. A racecar?s COF is closer to 0.9. Let?s consider that banked turns and aerodynamic devices increase a car?s weight (but not its mass).
Going back to the Trojan Horse, let's reexamine the safety aspect. As technology has progressed the COF of the average race car has improved, and engine output has increased. The simple solution appears to be that reducing the engine output will keep the speeds down and everyone is less likely to receive major injury. Here's where the Greek Army sneaks out and kills everyone. With the engines neutered, the cars become so dependent on drafting that they are faster as a pack than they could be as individuals. And now it becomes political.
Ten years ago I read an article in NASCAR Illustrated written by Larry Woody. The article was presented as a satire of the census of that year with NASCAR (aka "Big Bubba") wanting to know every thought a fan could have. These were two of the questions:
Restrictor plate racing is:
A. A Communist plot
B. The work of the Devil
C. Just fine and dandy
If you selected ?C,? would you like to watch some paint dry?
A. Wow, would I!
B. Sorry, I don?t think the old ticker could handle the excitement
Ten years ago I would have selected 'C'. As a 24-year-old I'll select 'A'. As it says in 1 Corinthians, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."
I hate to make this political, but (and I say this as a person that has and still does knowingly and willfully support some Socialist ideals) pack racing is the personification of Communism. I expect the Chinese government build a Talladega twin because of the symbolism involved: the individual car will never outrun the collective pack.
Restrictor plates are a 1970's solution to a 1980's problem, and I think 2010 (and whatever we?re going to call the rest of this decade) can do a much better job. I want to solve the problem by reducing the coefficient of friction. In an open wheel car, this can be accomplished rather easily by simple downforce reduction. It's a little more complicated for stock cars where banking provides enough vertical g-forces to eliminate the need for downforce.
The best solution is to eliminate mechanical grip where the rubber literally hits the road. I think the tires should be made with grooves to reduce the surface area of the tires contacting the track. Formula One did this from 1998 to 2008 with limited success, but I think it would work much better with oval racing. The biggest challenges are making the rubber sturdy enough to not overheat and preventing worn tires from becoming cheater slicks. Narrow tires have been suggested before, but those would require unique wheels and would be easier to overheat; grooves could allow air to pass around the tire?s surface.
I want to be very clear about what this is and what this is not. This is a means to force drivers into slowing down for turns and preventing the drivers from cruising at constant top speed. This is not an attempt at creating rain tires for oval tracks. Rain tires use soft rubber with a tread pattern that directs water away from the contact patch. Grooved tires use hard rubber with a minimalist contact patch. This is a much cheaper alternative to demolishing Talladega and Daytona?s banking.
To reiterate, I am a mechanic and a nerd, but not an engineer. Implementing any type of grooved tire would require extensive testing. I?m sorry religion and politics got involved in the blog. I'll try not to do it again.
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