With an emphasis on efficiency, innovation and transparency, NASCAR unveiled a restructuring of its competition department philosophies Monday that’s scheduled to be completed by 2015.
In a wide-ranging series of initiatives, the sanctioning body plans to simplify its dense rulebook (and possibly make it available online to fans) with more graphical examples and computer-animated drawings, re-examine its appeals process for penalties and streamline its officiating while adding technology in the pits.
The responsibility for designing and developing future models of race cars also will fall under the purview of Gene Stefanshyn, who recently took over as the head of NASCAR’s Research and Development Center. This will allow vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and Sprint Cup director John Darby to focus on rules enforcement with enhanced deterrence and a revamping of the inspection process.
Stefanshyn and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell both hinted NASCAR, whose Sprint Cup cars employ mostly outdated engine architecture, would move toward its race cars being more relevant under the hood to street models. The Gen 6 car was introduced this year with exterior features more comparable to its showroom counterparts.
“We want to position NASCAR ultimately for the future,” O’Donnell said. “The goal for us would be that as cars come off the manufacturing line in the near future, they certainly look like NASCAR from an aesthetic standpoint when you look at those on track, but just as importantly the technology that’s in those cars mirrors what’s on track, and we really become that proving ground from a technology standpoint.
“We want to be more nimble in what we do from a technology standpoint, be able to quickly react to the emerging technologies. We feel like no better sport is better positioned to really take technology (and) showcase it in front of some of the toughest conditions that exist in the world.
In trying to reduce the “gray area” from its rules, O’Donnell said the sanctioning body will spell out what the specific punishements are for infractions, a la a 5-yard penalty for being offsides in the NFL. Throughout its 65-year history, NASCAR has meted out justice on a case-by-case manner.
NASCAR also will consider an overhaul of its appeals process, which has drawn plenty of scrutiny this season as Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have had penalties reduced after challenging them.
There currently is a two-tiered appeals process that starts with a hearing before a three-member panel that is chosen from 48 members of the racing industry. Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook hears any final appeals.
O’Donnell said NASCAR would consider matching the expertise of its appeals board with the case.
“We probably put people in some tough positions,” O’Donnell said. “And when you look at track promoters who maybe need to work with a race team or a race owner or a team owner in future weeks, and you’re asking them to come in and make a ruling on a carburetor or something new that they have never heard about, and they’re not experts in that, it puts them in a tough position.
“If we can make that a better process with industry experts, still to be determined how we do that, that’s one area we really felt like we could bring in people who have a better understanding of the emerging technology that’s in the race cars.”