Monday, July 15, 2013

What’s next for NASCAR as it looks to transform its competition model?

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Gene Stefanyshyn / Streeter Lecka - Getty Images for NASCAR
Although NASCAR is steeped in history, the need for improvement with the changing times is a constant. The pressure to produce a competitive product that not only keeps long-time fans in the seats but brings new spectators into the sport is something NASCAR has struggled with in recent years. Many who call this "their sport" have become despondent with the lack of competition on race day, the increasing cost of tickets, and with what seems to be an inconsistent scale of fines and penalties.

With that and several other factors in mind, NASCAR announced on Monday, July 15, 2013 that they are working to transform the competition model in four key areas. The committee led by Mike Helton, Steve O’Donnell, Gene Stefanyshyn, Robin Pemberton and Steve Phelps determined 11 points for improvement within the four key areas of Rules, Governance, Deterrence/Penalties and Officiating/Inspection.

While addressing members of the media on Monday, Sr. Vice President of Racing Operations O’Donnell said, “the vision for us as you look at the future is we want to position NASCAR ultimately for the futureWe want to be more nimble in what we do from a technology standpoint, be able to quickly react to the emerging technologies that are out there. And finally I think, and just as importantly, we want to be a proving ground. When you look at NASCAR, we feel like no better sport is better positioned to really take technology, showcase it in front of some of the toughest conditions that exist in the world, and we think we’re poised to do that.”

According to O’Donnell, the initiatives set forth will be implemented over the course of the next season and a half, with most being in place by the start of 2015.

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Pemberton, Stefanyshyn and O'Donnell / Streeter Lecka - Getty Images for NASCAR
What does all this mean?  Let’s break it down.

Moving forward and looking at future generations of the car would fall under the auspices of Gene Stefanyshyn, who joined NASCAR in May. One thing many complain about is that the rule book is unclear and there are many areas that are open to interpretation or gray in a world that should be black and white.  Under this change, technology and computer-aided drafting (CAD) would be the focus.

“You imagine the guys in the shop trying to build a vehicle; they'll have the best, the latest information, and this migration to math will enable us to also remove a lot of the gray zones or the interpretation when dealing with written words. I mean, drawings with dimensions plus and minus become very black and white, and people can then spend their energy working on things that will help us to improve the sport as opposed to talking about interpretation of written words,” Stefanyshyn said.

Additionally, the panel will be looking at ways to make the parts-approval process more transparent.

Secret penalties have gone by the wayside in recent history, although there’s still a lot we don’t understand. Those of us who have been lucky enough to get a glimpse at the Rulebook have been quick to point out that this area needs improvement and NASCAR agrees. Under this initiative NASCAR would outline penalties for each infraction so that if a team is penalized for X rule they can expect to be fined X dollars or X points.  Appeals would also be handled differently in terms of who makes up the panel of experts hearing the case.

“Ultimately all of this we’re looking at is to make it more clear. We still want our teams to innovate. That’s something we’re going away from. But we just want to paint a clearer picture,” says O’Donnell.

Don’t get overly excited though, NASCAR hasn't yet decided to make the electronic rulebook public knowledge. It’s on the table for discussion, but that’s all we can say for certain.

One area where technology can bring more insight to the fan at home is on pit road. It’s NASCAR’s hope that fans can be made to feel like they are part of the action saying, “ultimately we want to put the fan in the driver’s seat, seeing that data, seeing what happens throughout the race.” How this will be done is still unknown, but whether it be through a smartphone application or through a downloadable program on your PC or another piece of technology, this is one I’m personally looking forward to - as long as it’s easy to use and doesn't fail to load like we often see with the mobile app and RaceView.

Streamlining the inspection process is one area VP of Competition Robin Pemberton focused on Monday afternoon, pointing out that if pre-race inspections take less time it will aid teams in having more practice time and would help with scheduling in the event of a weather delay. The committee will also be looking at ways to improve qualifying.

As far as officiating goes, NASCAR plans to do away with officials devoted to each individual series. Rather than having three separate groups there will be only one. While this makes sense from a streamlining point of view, there’s also the possibility that this will create job losses for many or put added stress on officials who used to only cover one series, but are now asked to jump back and forth between the three top tiers.  Pemberton said, “We've got 120, 130 officials, and what we're going to go through is to see how this model works at the racetrack and what it takes to use a common group that travels at one time or another. They won't all travel at the same time. That's some things that we've got on the board right now.”

Transparency for teams, media, and fans seems to be at the forefront in these initiatives, which is a step in the right direction, but it still leaves a lot of questions in terms of whether or not these proposed changes will lead to better racing. Hopefully the puzzle pieces will fall into place and provide us all with an even better product in the coming seasons. Of course, we still need to figure out how to work with tracks and the neighboring communities to ensure prices don’t continue to increase and the seats aren't left empty.

What are your thoughts on these proposed changes? Let me know in the comments below.

2 comments :

Not a fan of the idea of merging all the officials together.

In baseball you don't have umpires who call Major League games tonight, a AAA game tomorrow, and a Short Season Single A game the next day.

Look what happened last year in the NFL during the strike and they were trying to use division 2 and high school officials.

The cream of the crop officials should be officiating the Cup races, your alternates should be doing the Nationwide, and the guys just starting should be officiating Trucks and K&N Pro Series events.

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