In the mid 80's, my family and I moved from Toronto, Canada, to North Carolina, where NASCAR was born. Until then, the only auto racing I had been exposed to was European Rally racing, usually viewed on my grandfather's 13" black and white, or a dabbling of F1 here and there.
My immersion to NASCAR was pretty immediate. Glass Pepsi bottles featuring Richard Petty's face in all of the corner store coolers, televised races every weekend, and my father just happened to rent warehouse a few houses down from local driver Hoss Ellington's waterfront home. NASCAR was everywhere, and it was pretty exciting.
The cars of those days could easily be distinguished by their unique bodies, and each team had to put serious thought into which manufacturer gave them an advantage. Many cars retained badging regalia from the factory, and incorporated OEM turn signals, bumpers and original dashboards. Up until 1992, body panels still had to be ordered from the manufacturer, and only 12 years before that, cars were still being bought off the showroom floor.
Ron Bouchard's 1986 Buick Regal, with original grille, bumper, and panels.
It was also a time when winning on the track meant winning on the showroom floor. Fans actually had bragging rights when their car won on Sunday. And sometimes Monday, depending on the weather.
The races were fun to watch. It was neat watching a Ford Thunderbird make it to victory lane, and then later in the day, pulling up next to one in traffic. I desperately wanted my mother to trade in our Plymouth Volare' wagon for a car that won on Sundays.
Over the next generation, the cars quietly melded into this monotonous fiberglass blob that rendered them unidentifiable, away from their decal and paint schemes. They became more mechanically identical as well, and all traces of anything designed in an American automaker's factory disappeared. I personally didn't have much of a reason to tune in anymore, aside from the occasional return of a retired driver looking for one last glory race, or the promise of some well hyped-driver drama.
Jimmie Johnson's 5th Gen. "Chevy Impala SS"
But in 2013, the Gen 6 cars were unveiled, and they were noticeably different.
Each "manufacturer" had regained some of the original design characteristics seen on showroom vehicles. An exciting development from a type of racing with the word "stock" still a part of it's title. And again, talk of which cars had the aerodynamic advantages was rekindled, and a little bit of competition leaked back into the sport.
A top/bottom comparison of the Gen 5 and 6 NASCAR standard vehicle
On the other side the world, the Aussie's have a NASCAR of their own. V8 Supercars, and the name does not disappoint.
All cars in the V8 Supercars series use the same 5.0 liter naturally aspirated V8 engine, similar to the NASCAR format, but race teams use bodies and chassis that look nearly identical to those found at your local Sydney Ford, Nissan, or Mercedes dealership. Rear door handles, factory headlights, mirrors, and sometimes antennae have survived their way back onto the racetrack. They sound fantastic, as a naturally aspirated 5.0 V8 should, and handle as sharply as they look.
V8 Supercars popularity has grown dramatically, with races in China, Europe and even the United States. It's hard to look at the sudden rise of the Supercars and not consider that maybe people just really like watching cars they pass on the street everyday duke it out on the racetrack? One has to wonder if NASCAR has taken notice, and decided a slow return to it's roots may be in order?
Jamie Whincup's Holden Commodore, or the Pontiac G8, as sold in the US
Want to put more asses in seats? Take the NASCAR regulated motor, drop it in a fleet of different 4-door family sedans with factory grilles, side mirrors, and body panels, and send them around the Lowe's Motor Speedway at 200mph.
And since it frequently rains during NASCAR events, why not slap a set of rain tires on those suckers and send 'em back out? 4 door sedans are supposed to be great in the rain.
People will watch. And not just NASCAR people. Other people. The people who NASCAR has been trying to reach for years with their silly outreach, product sponsorship, and fashion campaigns. Yes, fashion.
Give the people who bought those beige 2014 Toyota Camry's a reason to watch a sport they ordinarily wouldn't watch, and give the people who watch NASCAR but don't own a Camry an actual reason to buy one.