Friday, November 6, 2009

The Track is Not the Problem--The Goddamn Restrictor Plate Is

I believe I spoke about how they've ruined Nationwide already... How about plate racing?

In the late 80s, Bobby Allison had an insane wreck at Talladega, taking out part of the catch fence and nearly killing people in the crowd, upside down in pieces. As a result, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates, which cut the flow of air underneath the carburetor, going into the engine. At the time, it was a perfectly reasonable, short-term solution to the problem. For one or two seasons.

Now, here we are, twenty some-odd years, with the same SHORT-TERM SOLUTION. What the restrictor plate does is even out the field--cars built by guys like Hendrick and Roush SHOULD have a 20-30 hp advantage over the slow guys in the field, with varying powerbands and different peaks and dips in the power band... Instead they might have 1.5-2 horsepower difference over the field, as an "advantage."

This results in two things: obviously, it means the cars qualify very very close to each other and, in the draft, run nose-to-tail, 3-wide, for 10-12 rows of cars all the way back. It's understandably nerve-wracking for the drivers, white-knuckle that close to each other for a whole race.

The other thing it causes is something not a lot of people seem to talk about THESE days, but when the aero is that bad (say, 1999-2000), they mention it quite a bit--throttle response. Restrictor plates don't just kill horsepower, they kill the power band. They make it difficult to have any passing power, to have any movement in the throttle to allow for the tiniest differences in speed between two cars. As a result, if you DARE to lift, you will not only lose the draft, but lose dozens of positions. This makes it incredibly difficult to avoid even the slightest mistake without slowing up the whole field and, of course, causing The Big One.

But we all know that, right? The simple fact is, Dale Earnhardt would probably still be with us today if it weren't for restrictor plates. And so many other accidents would've never happened. But too many idiot "fans" are fascinated by the accidents, and NASCAR knows this, especially the casual fan (which is the only fan Brian France seems to care about anymore), so they keep the plates where they are. They don't do it for safety, they do it for the exact opposite of safety.

Is 230 mph excessive? Sure! I understand the need for lower speeds for safety. But it could be achieved in so many other ways, including massive wings front and rear on the car to drag it down, or mandating smaller displacement engines, basically shrinking the current engine in every way. More expensive? Bullshit--the big Cup teams spend millions just developing plate engines already, it would change NOTHING. Have a 4.5 litre limit on super speedway engines, making about 500 horsepower, instead of 900. Or a spec camshaft package. Problem solved.

Knocking down the banking is NOT a solution. For one thing, it would ruin one of the most awe-inspiring racetracks in the world. It would turn it into "Yet Another 1.5 Mile Crapoval" where the racing sucks, or like Fontana or Homestead. The problem is not the cars running 195 mph. The problem is the cars running 195 mph in packs of 30.

That's my thought for the day.

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