CONCORD, N.C. — Motorsports is, and always has been, cyclical.
One year, the hot ticket is such-and-such chassis, this engine or that, this philosophy or another. The next, it is about 30 degrees in a different direction, to another chassis, an engine from another manufacturer and a diametric shift in philosophy.
This is true in most disciplines. The Indy car wars offered teams a choice of March or Lola chassis, while Penske made its own (so did others, but not with the degree of success that The Captain’s boys had). Engines were Ford (Cosworth) and Chevrolet (Ilmor), with the occasional Alfa-Romeo or Porsche thrown in for spice. One year, the Lola was the hot piece, the next it was a March and then Reynard or G-Force or Dallara. It’s all about building a better mousetrap/engine/chassis.
Sprint cars are no different. Different chassis makes combined with an engine package to suit dominated the sport for many years. Gambler and Maxim and Stealth, oh my …
The point here is that we seem to be in a stretch where there are fewer competitors on the mechanical side in the big series and the battle lines are fairly clear. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Toyota had won more than half (13) of the races as of the Labor Day round at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway thanks to Joe Gibbs Racing. Ford had seven wins at that point from Team Penske and Stewart-Haas and Chevrolet had five among Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports. That’s domination this year; in others, Chevrolet and Ford were as good or better.
As I said earlier, all this is cyclical. Next year, Chevrolet could be on top of the heap, with Toyota and Ford behind. It could be Ford or it could be Toyota. Or heck, a new manufacturer could come in and upset the apple cart all over Daytona Beach. (I know of no such thing; it’s just a thought exercise.)
What it boils down to, and really always has, is that no matter the equipment, there’s always a team that gets it quicker, makes it work quicker and puts the processes in place to keep it dominant … until another team figures out the next quantum leap and the process starts all over.
Isn’t that what racing is all about?
You’ve heard me grumble about dynasties before. They aren’t exactly fun to watch, unless you’re a particular fan of the team/manufacturer doing the dominating, and then it’s just peachy. Such is the nature of sport no matter where it takes place … on the diamond, the football field or on the race track.
The overall health of the sport depends on teams breaking new ground. I get it. You have to keep pushing the boulder uphill until you run out of mountains. It also depends on how much fuel you have for it, and that means money. Speed costs money, but you can’t buy victories with just dollar bills. You have to have human capital as well: solid management structure, a good base of operations and a bunch of on-the-ball, dedicated-to-the-cause people to do the hard stuff.
You can’t tell who is going to do what from year to year, which is the fun thing. That’s what keeps us coming back. The fact that your average millennial is far more interested in what type of phone or computer you have than what kind of car you drive is the impetus for constant improvement.
The car culture, as you’ve heard me moan about before — the older I get, the more of that I seem to do — is not what it was, but that doesn’t mean the folks who are still jealous of the guy down the street with the kick-ass street screamer can’t still indulge their passion for fast cars and derring-do.
It’s all cyclical, remember. This year’s millennial might, in a couple of years, realize just how cool a Dodge Charger Hellcat or a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 really is and yearn to own one. That will push the boulder a few more decades up the mountain, and then we’ll take stock and re-evaluate.
Cheer up because in another few years it will all have changed again. I can’t wait to see our sport then.