The racing world as we know it will be turned upside down over the next couple of seasons.
Now that Toyota has broken the "foreign car" barrier in Nextel Cup, other manufacturers are lining up to get approved by NASCAR. On the drawing boards are racing stock cars and trucks from Volvo, Volkswagen, Isuzu, Peugeot, Fiat, Hyundai, and Daewoo. Honda, which had been contemplating a NASCAR program, learned of all the other potential entries and abandoned the idea in disgust.
In addition to opening the floodgates for more manufacturers, NASCAR is adding races to serve additional markets. A number of races on temporary street circuits in Western and Midwestern cities will soon be announced, to include Des Moines, Iowa; Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Carson City. The schedule will increase from 38 races per season to 48, with only Mother's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas weekends off.
Watch for some changes in team ownership as well. Jack Roush led the charge by bringing in Boston Red Sox owners to infuse some cash into his operation, now known as Roush-Fenway Racing. It is rumored that Rick Hendrick is talking to several National Football League organizations, Chip Ganassi is negotiating with some NHL hockey clubs, Richard Childress has targeted the NBA, and Ray Evernham is courting a couple of Arena Football teams. Apparently the only interest in Michael Waltrip Racing has been from a pair of Roller Derby franchises.
Of course, NASCAR isn't the only sanctioning body with plans for drastic change. Noting the great success the stock car series has had racing on ovals, Formula 1 czar Bernie Ecclestone is adding several oval races to the F1 calendar for 2009.
The series is also contemplating a "spec" car, tentatively dubbed the "Car of the Future (COF)." Features include a wider body, fenders, a roof, and a rear spoiler in place of the current high-tech wings.
Rumor has it that Mark Martin is considering another un-retirement to do a "reverse Montoya" and join F1 due to its lighter schedule. Look for Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace to seek Formula 1 rides as well.
Also for 2009, Champ Car and the Indycar Series will consummate their long-awaited reconciliation, providing open-wheel fans with one united series. Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George, who founded the IRL in 1996 to eliminate the evils of road races, leased engines, and foreign drivers, has exacted some serious concessions from the rival Champ Car series as part of the re-unification agreement. The new formula for the combined series will be front-engined roadsters using an Offenhauser four-cylinder powerplant or a Ford flathead V8. Drivers must be at least second-generation American-born, and all race officials must be at least 70 years of age, excepting George himself.
In an effort to curb the ever-increasing speeds in drag racing without causing teams a drastic redesign of their equipment, the NHRA has hit upon the simple idea of a wheel swap. For 2009, NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Cars must put the big, fat slicks on the front end of the car and the little skinny wheels and tires on the rear. Goodyear is frantically working on a tire that will transfer 5,000 plus horsepower to the track via a four square inch contact patch.
There is, however, one ominous development on the horizon. The Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS), the national arm of the international FIA racing umbrella, may be replaced as the overall sanctioning organization.
I have it on good authority that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) may take on that role in 2010. If so, it plans to mandate that all racing in the United States adhere to the following regulations: 55 miles per hour will be the maximum speed allowed during a race; race cars must average at least 40 miles per gallon; cars must employ front and side impact air bags and safety bumpers; and DOT tires with a minimum 40,000 mile wear rating must be used.
If you have trouble believing some of this information, please check the date at the top of the page. And have a happy April Fool's Day!