Motorsports Column: NASCAR points system still works after 25 years |

Motorsports Column: NASCAR points system still works after 25 years

Roger Diez

I recently ran across an interesting story on the history of the current NASCAR points system that I’d like to share. The current system, called the Latford System after Bob Latford (one of its creators) was drafted on a napkin at the Boothill Saloon in Daytona Beach in late 1974.

Assisting Latford in the enterprise were Phil Homer of Goodyear, who owned the Boothill, and Joe Whitlock of NASCAR. It is also rumored on good authority that Anheuser-Busch, or at least their products, were also involved.

The old points system multiplied basic race winnings by the number of starts, divided by 1000. Thus David Pearson, who picked the races with the biggest purses, finished third in the 1974 points standings, despite only running 18 races.

With RJR Tobacco funding the Winston Cup and increasing interest from the national sports media, something had to be done. The Latford System was designed to reward consistency, with no terribly big points advantage for the winner of a race.

All races, from the short tracks to the superspeedways, were weighted the same. Points drop by 5 per position for the top 5 finishers, by 4 per position for 6th through 10th, and by 3 points per position after that. This does give an advantage to drivers finishing in the top 10 positions.

The addition of bonus points (five for leading a lap, five more for leading the most laps) came about as showmanship awards. They were intended for spectacular drivers like Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts, who nearly always led a race but often blew up or crashed.

After 25 years, the system seems to be working pretty well, although there are some who would like to change it. As for Latford, his only regret is that he didn’t build in a points bonus for pole position.

It wasn’t so important back in 1974, but these days qualifying is almost a separate event, with less than a second per lap determining whether a driver sits on the pole or goes home.

— During the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a developing trend at the grass-roots levels of racing, a trend toward what are referred to as “spec” classes.

These are classes where the mechanical, aerodynamic and power advantages that cubic dollars can buy are eliminated. If everybody has to run basically the same equipment, the emphasis shifts to driver skill.

Probably the most successful of the “spec” classes has been the Legends program. Legends cars can be found all over the country, racing on short asphalt and dirt ovals, and road courses as well.

The brainchild of Humpy Wheeler, impresario of Lowe’s Speedway in Charlotte, the class has grown and prospered. The purpose-built “jalopy” replica chassis are built by 600 Racing and powered by the Yamaha FJ1200 motorcycle engine.

Unfortunately, Yamaha of Japan has ceased production on this powerplant, and 600 Racing was faced with an impending engine shortage.

Last week 600 Racing announced that a new 1250cc engine would be used in the 2000 models of the cars. The new engines will be sealed by the factory in the hopes of keeping the costs down, and all repairs will be conducted in-house by 600 Racing.

Callahan Pro Engineering Racing has been purchased to operate the Legends engine department. Racers currently running the FJ1200 engines can continue to do so in 2000, and the cost of the new engines should be close to the $3,925 price of the Japanese-made power plants.

On-track testing and dyno testing have shown the new 1250 engine in stock form to be comparable in power output to a well-tuned FJ1200, on which some competitors were spending $2000 to $5000 to do some “tweaking.”

If you’re planning to buy a Legends car for the 2000 season, make sure you get the new engine.

— RACER Magazine, with input from both staff and readers, has selected its Race Car of the Year for 1999, the Reynard 99I/Honda CART Championship car gets the nod.

Previous RACER selections were the Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1995); Williams/Renault (1996); Mercedes-Benz CLK (1997); and McLaren/Mercedes-Benz (1998).

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.