On Thursday September 7th, members of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series upper management met with the track owners or their representatives from the core NASCAR sanctioned venues. The meeting left owners with a reason to look at the future with optimism.
The meeting was a chance for NASCAR management and the track owners to get on the same page and move forward with a plan to fix the problems ailing the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car division. The division competes exclusively in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee and in recent years has been in disarray with a lack of leadership and tracks being forced to govern themselves.
To understand where the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car program is right now you have to understand how we got to this point. NASCAR has seemingly forever has included the Late Model Stock Car division in it’s rule book for the NWAAS and it’s been governed by that rule book and a Director appointed by NASCAR. In recent years the retirement of NWAAS Director Lynn Carroll began a tail spin for the series.
Once Carroll retired Kenny Hunley was appointed to the position but things began to change. NASCAR no longer gave the tracks the guidance and support they’d always given them. Racers could no longer appeal a decision and race tracks had no one left to back them up. I don’t think it had anything to do with Hunley making changes but rather changes that came about at the same time that Carroll moved on.
Since that time thinks have come unraveled in the Late Model Stock Car region. If the rule book isn’t supported and enforced by NASCAR then tracks have no need to even attempt to follow them and they decided to do their own thing. They’d always had little small differences here and there but now they’re all off on their own programs completely. Sure they all “go by” the NASCAR rule book with “these amendments”.
It was the beginning of dark path that’s led us to where we are now. Where we are now is a division of lawlessness. Tracks with rules that make it impossible for outsiders to travel to their venue and be competitive without having a different engine and just how many engines do you need to travel to the 13 NASCAR sanctioned tracks with Late Model Stock Cars as their premier division? Unfortunately more than one.
This spring the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car tracks held a meeting of their own to enact rule changes since NASCAR was no longer involved beyond just printing a rule book and cashing both track and competitor checks. This meeting involved not only track representatives but engine and chassis builders. The same people collecting checks from the racers were invited to participate in a meeting to set rules. Talk about letting the wolf in the hen house.
This meeting led to several rules changes which took place at just a percentage of the tracks including a huge change to Chevrolet built engines. The engines got an “upgrade” to Aluminum heads and other parts known as the “Spec” engine meant to even them up with the Ford SR347 “crate” engine. The rule change didn’t lead to an even playing field, it actually ruined 2017 after what was an incredibly competitive season in 2016. The Spec was the dominant engine at every track it was allowed to compete at.
It led to mid-season rule changes at multiple tracks including Carteret Speedway where they got rid of it altogether to try and give other racers that didn’t jump on the Spec bandwagon right away a chance to compete for a win. It was the final nail in the coffin for what would be a struggling season for tracks throughout the region.
That led to an outcry of racers and teams wanting NASCAR to get back involved and give the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car a chance to survive. Yesterday’s meeting did just that. NASCAR opened the lines of communication and track owners and representatives didn’t hold back in letting NASCAR know what they wanted to see in the future.
According to multiple track representatives who attended the meeting whether by phone or in person the meeting was productive and gives them reason to believe that Late Model Stock Car racing isn’t dead.
One of the primary items to come out of the meeting was tracks asking NASCAR to be their backbone once again. As I outlined before up until recent years NASCAR didn’t just print a rule book and cash checks, they backed the tracks up and gave them support in many ways they don’t today including giving racers a chance to appeal a decision.
Race tracks want that again. They want a governing body. They’re all tired of being on an island all by themselves and having no support from the sanctioning body they pay to be a part of. They expressed those feelings in the meeting and NASCAR is listening.
According to one of the track representatives NASCAR will have a rule book in place going forward and every NASCAR sanctioned track will be expected to abide by those rules. This has been one of the biggest gripes of drivers and teams who don’t have the money to buy multiple engines that you need to be competitive at different tracks.
Additionally NASCAR is looking into putting a panel of people together to help govern the division. Speculatively it would include a representative from each NASCAR sanctioned track in the region and they would meet to decide on changes, additions or modifications to the rule book. As well as being a go-to for questionable parts and other unique situations that arise during a season of racing.
A long term plan to “fix” the issues plaguing the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car division appears to be getting a green light or at least that’s how the track representatives felt about the direction of the meeting. They see it as maybe a three year plan to get things back where they need to be. They admit it didn’t get here overnight and won’t be fixed overnight. 2018 will see some changes, 2019 will see some changes and by 2020 they hope things will be where they need to be for both tracks and competitors.
The Spec engine was a hot topic at this meeting as you can imagine. Some tracks have embraced it and made it the primary engine at their track while some have tried to make it even with the other engines in the program and some have banned it from competing all together. Coming into the meeting NASCAR had zero intentions of adding it to the 2018 rule book according to one representative we spoke to.
The meeting was productive and the Spec engine is expected to be added to the rule book in the future. That might be 2018 or 2019 but that will hinge on slight modifications that need to be made to the engine that need to be made to make it competitive not dominant. The changes aren’t expected to be huge but the results of the changes are expected to bring them closer to the performance of the Ford SR347 engine.
This meeting was a great first step in not only NASCAR but the track owners fixing the mistakes made over the last handful of years. NASCAR showed a willingness to get back involved by even calling for this meeting and while it wasn’t everything the track owners wanted, it was a place to begin to resurrect Late Model Stock Car racing in this region.
People who know me, know that I’m extremely critical and harsh of NASCAR and the way they abandoned the Late Model Stock Car program but I’ll be the first to tell you I’m proud of them seeing there is a problem and being willing to find a solution. NASCAR is in a different place than it was five years ago or 20 years ago for that matter. These changes will help give the tracks some support while allowing NASCAR to not get deeply involved in a program that only encompasses 13 of 50 plus venues that they sanction.
This should bring quite a bit of optimism to anyone in the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car community from engine builders to chassis builders, the tracks, parts manufactures and etc. Late Model Stock Car racing isn’t dead and it’s about to make a huge comeback.