Which McLaren Formula 1 Driver are You?

McLaren’s Formula 1 team recently put this fun little driver’s quiz up on Facebook.  It’s got a 10-question questionnaire that you fill out, and then are told which “driver” you are.  It’s quite clever.  My “driver” is Bruce McLaren.  As I said, it’s fun, and answer the questions truthfully – you might be surprised at who your “driver” is!  Have fun with this questionnaire – don’t JUST be truthful – experiment and have a nice weekend!

http://www.mclaren.com/formula1/heritage/which-f1-driver-are-you/?r=0

Chevrolet Corvette’s Valet Mode is Like a Russian Dashcam for Parking!

We’ve probably seen at least one of the hundreds of thousands Russian dashcam videos that have gone viral on YouTube of just HOW crazy Russian drivers are.  I’ve seen a fair share of them.  Chevrolet’s software designers must be Russian because of what was just introduced on the 2015 C7 Corvette Stingray.

While there are some great valets out there, there are others that like to “circle the city for parking.”  This can make sports car owners quite reluctant to hand the keys over.  A good number of sports cars offer a performance-reduction setting for just this situation, but Chevrolet is going the whole 9 yards, and including the 2015 Corvette’s Performance Data Recorder as a Valet Malfeasance Recorder.  Valets of the world, beware.

Do YOU really want a valet to go 147 mph in YOUR brand-new Corvette?  I didn’t think so either.  Most valets won’t ever get a car going that fast, especially in a crowded parking lot or city street.  But, never say never.

Should you turn on the unimaginatively named Corvette Valet Mode, and some good things happen to your baby.  Every interior storage area is locked, the infotainment system is disabled (that way you won’t sit down and get an earful of Snoop Dogg), and a 720p camera in the headliner (right in front of the rear view mirror) turns on.  That high-definition camera is paired with a microphone to record audio.  The car’s GPS receiver is turned on to provide vehicle telemetry and location, and 8 gigabytes of SD card storage can capture up to 200 minutes of driving – plenty of time for even the slowest of valets to “find a parking spot.”

That link is a YouTube video of the Corvette Valet Mode.

Should you want to see what happened after you handed the keys over to the valet, you can immediately review the “parking adventure” on the infotainment screen, or download it to your computer later.  An overlay shows speed, RPM, current gear, and g-force.  That’s pretty much the same thing you’ll get when you turn on the Performance Data Recorder.  What Corvette Valet Mode can’t do right now, however, is let you know if the car is being abused (i.e. burnouts, drifts, general hoonage) or let you stream the video remotely to your phone or tablet.  However, I think that the streaming part will come soon, as GM has a perfectly good OnStar system, and now has introduced 4G LTE connections.

What I think that the point really should be is this:  Corvette Valet Mode doesn’t reduce engine power – an odd oversight, AND a feature that would certainly alleviate more concerns about abuse than watching a video of your Corvette hitting a telephone pole at 40 mph.

Is Corvette Valet Mode useful?  Maybe.  Chevrolet is pitching this as a baby monitor for a cherished toy that you spent your hard-earned money on.  But it doesn’t alert you when your baby is crying, unlike an ACTUAL baby monitor.  It may give you some insights when you step outside of the hotel/casino/restaurant and find your Corvette smashed-up against a brick wall.

Who did this?

Or this?

 

Or this?

The Russians!

10 Cars that Could Make You a Millionaire!

We all like to make money.  All of you like cars (me included!).  Ten cars could (theoretically) allow you to make a cool $1,000,000 – most of them NOT by themselves.  Anybody who has been buying/selling old cars knows that the classic car market has been taking a crash course on Wall Street.  It’s either boom or bust.  Bust happened in 1990 when a hyper-inflated Ferrari market crashed in the time frame of a year.  In 2007-2008, the market for Mopars with Hemi engines crashed, with many cars losing 2/3 of their value within 18 months.  The basic premise of this blog post is to tell you what cars you can buy for not too much money, and sell for a hefty profit.  Well, there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I think you’ll agree with my decisions for those cars.

However, that’s not to say that the market is dead.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The market is globalized in a way it couldn’t have been just 10 years ago.  Only 20% of Russia had internet access in 2007, but now almost 80% have access.  Now that Russians have more money to spend, they are looking for ways other than cheap economy cars or an old Mercedes-Benz with 300,000 miles on the odometer to get around.  Cars continue to be more accepted as investments among those who wouldn’t care about them otherwise.  Sure, one could consider it a bubble, but until then, here are some cars, erm, investments, that I would buy with my tiny fortune.

  1. 1962-1965 Shelby Cobra.  The original Shelby Cobras are what I am referring to (Shelby makes continuation Cobras).  It’s quite possible that prices for the Cobra have already priced, as prices for these things are literally enough to make a Wall Street investor empty their bank account in a few short minutes.  The MkI and MkII (260 and 289 cubic-inch V8 Cobras) will run you about $800,000.  Forget buying a 427 Cobra – those are at least $1 million!  For the small-block Cobras, prices are up from $500,000 just five years ago, and that was up from $150,000 in 2003.  Yikes.
  2. 1970-1973 Datsun 240Z.  Remember when you could buy a Datsun 240Z for $4,000 in 2004?  Well, the average sale for 2013 was $19,000.  People who wanted one when they were young now (hopefully) have the discretionary income to buy one.  Plus, the Z looks timeless.  It’s like a more mature, cheaper Toyota 2000GT.  It’s great, easy and cheap to own, and a hoot to drive.  That won’t change.  What will likely change are the prices.  If the Datsun 240Z is any indication of the rising market demand for 1970s Japanese sports cars, expect prices to rise dramatically in the next few years.  If you want one, get it NOW!
  3. 1970-1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet.  Nobody really thought that any regular-production, post-300SL Mercedes-Benz would be worth anything.  I didn’t for a while.  Nobody thought much of them because they were designed to last forever.  How can a car become more valuable when it never changes?  Then, three 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolets sold last August at the RM Monterey Auctions for a whopping average price of – brace yourselves – $265,833.  In 2010, the average transaction price was a still-high $94,000.  It’s hard to think that this extreme inflation will continue for much longer.  But, it’s not showing any signs of stopping.  Time to re-mortgage the house if you want one of these!
  4. 1976-1981 Ferrari 512BB.  Most of the male readers of this blog likely had posters of this car on their bedroom walls.  Combining absolutely timeless bedroom-wall-poster looks with the exotic, screaming power of the Berlinetta Boxer’s six-carburetor, vee-crank flat V12, you can’t go wrong.  Prices haven’t changed much since 2007, with prices staying right about $140,000.  However, you can still find one for under six digits.  For about $95,000, you can buy one for the price of what a grey market car would have cost you 35 years ago.  If that’s not a deal, I don’t know what else is.  Buy two and wait patiently.  Time to sell the house!
  5. 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.  Alfa Romeo is back into the U.S. with the 4C.  It’s a great car.  It’s better looking than any new Ferrari, it’s faster than anything from Japan or America on a race track, and I want one.  The 8C was an amazing one-year blip in Alfa Romeo’s 19-year absence from the American car market.  The price now?  Hard to tell, as they were about $250,000 new, and only 84 were ever sold in the U.S.  Nobody is letting go of them, either, so yeah, good luck finding one.  Most are being held in private collections, but it’s going to be a challenge to start a market for them if nobody sells them.
  6. 1972-1974 BMW 2002 tii.  The BMW 2002 was a great car.  All of the automotive magazines said it was better than any muscle car out there.  It was nimble, light, and deceivingly fast.  The most desirable 2002 is the fuel injected version, called the 2002tii.  It was light, potent, reliable, and it favored fun over everything else.  Like the Datsun 240Z, they weren’t worth much of anything for a very long time due to their abundance.  In 2004, a nice 2002tii was carrying about $10,000.  Now, prices have blown past $20,000, and people are really only beginning to appreciate them.  Yeah, BMW only made 38,000 of the 2002tii, but an awful lot of them were used up.  Even if you buy one and it doesn’t go up in prices, you’ve still got one helluva car.  It’s a win-win situation.  Basically, for the price of a smallish shapeless blob painted silver, you can get a reliable daily driver that will get you thumbs up all over the place, and a tidy look.  Why not buy one?
  7. 1944-1986 Willys CJ.  The Willys CJ is one of the record holding cars for being in production.  It remained in production basically unchanged for 42 years.  The older models are pretty cool.  Parts are abundant for them, and there is a thriving after market for them.  They look cool, can go literally anywhere, and are so reliable that it makes any Honda or Toyota’s reliability look like a joke.  Plus, any old Willys CJ will be a barrel of fun.  It may not make you a million bucks, but you can buy one for a relative song right now.  Prices for these cool little vehicles that helped win WWII are cheap.  You can buy a really nice one for about $15,000, but where’s the fun in something that’s been restored by somebody other than you?  Get one that needs some work for about $7,500.  If you want to get even more on the cool factor, get a genuine Willys military Jeep.  That’s about $7,500.
  8. 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger:  The Dodge Challenger was one of the cars that lost 2/3rds of its value in 2007-2008, but prices are once more on the rise.  The R/T models with the 426 Hemi “Elephant” engine are the most desirable.  If you can’t swing one with the 426, get one with the massive 440 cubic-inch V8 (that’s 7.2 liters!) Six Pack.  That has six carburetor throats feeding gas and air into those wonderful sounding 440 cubic inches.  Even the models with the 383 cubic-inch V8 are fun.
  9. 1955-1957 Chevrolet Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevy’s are great cars.  They are fun, beautiful, reliable, and the prices are always climbing.  Now is the time to get one.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Bel Air convertible.  It looks like a Cadillac.  If you want one to be a pro-touring car, a drag car, or a show queen, there is no shortage of parts availability for these cars.  The 1956 models are the cheapest of the three years, but they are still pretty expensive.  If you get one now, enjoy it, show it, do burnouts, and have fun with a priceless piece of Americana.
  10. 1970-1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 LS6:  This is probably one of the most iconic Chevrolet’s ever.  It’s got a massive Chevrolet 454 cubic-inch V8 (7.4 liters) with the legendary LS6 code name.  It makes a thundering 450 horsepower in LS6 form.  In the lesser LS5 form, it makes a still-impressive 360 horsepower.  If you can’t swing the climbing prices of the LS6 Chevelle, go for a still-mighty Chevelle SS396.  It’s still going to be a lot of fun, and it will handle better, thanks to less weight on the front of the car.  Plus, you can yank out the 396 and put a crate 454 underneath.  If you want more power, you can put a 468 cubic-inch V8, a 489 cubic-inch V8, a 572 cubic-inch V8, a 598 cubic-inch V8, or a 632 cubic-inch V8.  I would go for the 468 stroker motor, as it doesn’t add too much weight to the front, but it adds far more power.  Nelson Racing Engines (nelsonracingengines.com) makes a 600-horsepower 468 that sounds just about right for a Chevelle…

That’s all that I have to offer you, but I’m sure that you have your own suggestions.  Let me know in the comments section.

 

Bad Boys: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Vs. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet’s had the 5th-generation Camaro ZL1 out for a couple of model years now, and it’s only real muscle car competition was the now-defunct Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.  The GT500 is now out of production, as the 2015 Mustang will go into production soon.  Dodge’s heavy Challenger SRT8 is a great car for cruising the boulevards and highways of America, it’s just not a handling muscle car like the ZL1.  The ZL1 is meant to be a car that you can take to your local track day without a trailer, win, and drive home.  Dodge desperately needed a competitor to the ZL1, so they rolled out the awesome Challenger Hellcat.  The Hellcat is the most powerful stock American V8 ever.  It makes a thundering, throaty, screaming, 707 horsepower.  That’s right.  However, a dyno test by Motor Trend showed that the Hellcat actually makes more than that.  Back to that later.  The Hellcat is meant to be a car that you can drive to your local drag strip, win against other bone-stock cars, and drive home.

The Camaro uses a detuned LS9 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that pumps out 580 horsepower.  It puts the power down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.  Plus, you can get it as a convertible, which would eliminate most of the visibility issues associated with the 5th-generation Camaro coupe.  While the Camaro may make far less horsepower than the Challenger Hellcat, it makes up for it in a trick suspension and 400 fewer pounds than the Challenger Hellcat.  Sometimes less is more.  Besides, the Camaro beat the 662-horsepower Mustang GT500 in it’s last shootout.

The Challenger uses an all-new 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 that pumps out a claimed 707 horsepower.  It puts all of those raging ponies down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic adapted from the ZF 8-speed slushbox found in many cars nowadays.  It also comes with a trick suspension adapted from the Viper, and a variety of cool driving modes (like Valet Mode, which lowers the horsepower to 300, limits the revs to 4,000 RPM, and turns all of the nannies on).  Plus, it comes with more street appeal than just about any other new car on the market.  Well, with the exception of the Pagani Huayra…

If you want to kill them with consistency in the acceleration department, go for the ZL1.  It thunders to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.  It then goes on to slaughter the 1/4 mile in a stonking fast 12.2 seconds at 116.6 mph.  Whatever way you look at it, that’s pretty fast.  Enter the Hellcat.  It makes the Camaro feel slow.  That’s not surprising.  What makes it’s times even more impressive is the fact that it puts 707+ horsepower down to the ground through relatively skinny 275 millimeter-width tires.  Granted, the tires are Pirelli P Zeroes, but that’s a lot of power going to the ground through not very much tire.  This, of course, makes the Hellcat a difficult one to launch.  Even with launch control enabled, the Hellcat’s best 0-60 run was “just” 3.7 seconds to 60 mph.  It’s probably best to launch the Hellcat in 2nd gear, as that much power can get the Hellcat up to speed quickly, plus it eliminates a time-sapping gearshift.  It then goes on to absolutely embarrass the ZL1 in the 1/4 mile by doing a crazy-fast 11.7 second at 125.4 mph run.  That trap speed won’t only embarrass a Camaro ZL1 owner – it will embarrass a Porsche 911 Turbo S AND a Nissan GT-R Nismo in the 1/4 mile.  America for the win.

Then, you go onto a skid pad.  This is where the intended functions of these two cars show.  The Camaro ZL1 pulled 0.99 G’s on the skidpad.  This is probably thanks to the cool Delphi magnetic shocks, and the quick steering in the ZL1.  While the ZL1 may behave like a sports car, the Hellcat doesn’t.  As Motor Trend‘s Scott Evans put it, “The Challenger handles just like a Challenger.  Understeer into the corner, oversteer out.”  The Hellcat may handle like a boat, but it sticks.  Just ask the 0.94 G’s pulled on the skidpad.  The Challenger may not be the best choice for corner carving on a tight, windy race track, but it will put to shame many well-tuned drift cars as it shreds its skinny rear tires.

I literally couldn’t stop laughing when I heard this, but it’s 100% true.  Motor Trend‘s Kim Reynolds said that the Camaro felt like something developed by Infiniti’s Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team or McLaren’s Formula 1 team.  The Hellcat, on the opposite side of the spectrum, “feels like it was developed by HOT ROD’s Freiburger and Finnegan.”

Should you choose to road-trip either of these two cars, invite me or some friends along!  The Camaro has visibility akin to a solitary confinement prison cell at Abu Grahib, but it’s V8 hums along, the cool shocks absorb anything any road can throw at it, and it’s got a great sound system.  The Challenger Hellcat is THE ultimate road trip car.  I’ve heard that it’s ride is a bit busier, but it keeps you more alert than the quiet, subdued Camaro ZL1.  It’s seats are something that you’ll want in your living room.  The supercharged Hellcat Hemi has an absolutely demonic supercharger whine when you step on it – batten the hatches when the Hellcat comes to town!  The 8-speed automatic transmission is found in almost every new Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram/SRT product these days, and it is more beefed up in the Challenger Hellcat to handle the crazy power numbers.  The Hellcat’s engine note when you step on it sounds like somebody supercharged Roadkill’s Blasphemi 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air gasser.  It sounds absolutely spectacular.  The best part is, Dodge has released a Hellcat Hemi engine note ringtone.

Inside, the Challenger is definitely the car of choice.  Aside from the crazy powerful engine and the sinister sheetmetal that looks straight out of 1970, the Challenger is really quite the ticket to being comfortable.  It’s got one of the best interiors in the segment, which it has had since day 1, an intuitive infotainment system, an even better Boston Acoustics sound system, plenty of room for five adults, and a stunningly low entry price of $60,995.  Then, the Camaro ZL1 enters the room.  Sure, it’s got Alcantara all over the bloody cabin, and snug, comfortable Recaro bucket seats, but you can tell Chevy cared more about what was under the hood.  Dodge didn’t have to try very hard to update the cabin in the Challenger.  If you can’t swing $60,995, no worries.  Chevy has a great Camaro ZL1 with your name on it for just $57,650.

While these two cars have traded blows in straight lines, in the curves, and elsewhere, street appeal is definitely part of what muscle cars are all about.  In a nutshell, the Camaro looks like just another Camaro with big black wheels and a vented hood, while the Challenger looks like it just stepped out of the Trans-Am racing series.  It just looks like pure evil.

This is America.  Just like basketball (and many other ball sports), there are NO ties.  There are only winners and losers.  In my humble opinion, the Challenger Hellcat will always come out on top.  It’s got a focus on power, presence, and straight-line performance define what a muscle car is supposed to be.  It shows that the boys over at Dodge know how to make a world-class muscle car after years and years of being pushed around by Ford and Chevy.  While I like the ZL1 as a capable and well-balanced sports car, it just doesn’t really seem like as good of a muscle car of the Challenger Hellcat.  Like the muscle cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Challenger Hellcat is built to dominate the streets with some serious power under the beautifully sculpted hood.  The Hellcat proves to me that the ultimate muscle car wasn’t built in the 1960’s or 1970’s – it is now, and here to stay.

Now for the dyno results.  The Challenger Hellcat is rated by the SAE (Society of American Engineers) at 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Dodge is lying through their teeth.  This engine is almost as powerful as an engine in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.  The Hellcat Challenger puts down 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  Factor in a 12% driveline loss (automatics are getting more and more efficient every year), and the Challenger Hellcat makes about 722 horsepower and 672 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Both of those are more than advertised.  Some other cool things about the Challenger Hellcat:  When Motor Trend did their dyno test at K&N Air Filter’s Riverside, CA dyno shop, the Hellcat was the fastest car ever strapped down to the massive rollers there.  The speedometer topped out at 202 mph, but the Hellcat accelerated to 225 mph, which is the fastest the dyno can possibly go there.  While the Hellcat will never, ever get up to 225 mph stock (a brick goes through the air better), it’s cool to know that the SRT team of engineers didn’t bother fitting a speed limiter to the car.  Not only is it the fastest, but it’s also the hottest.  The Hellcat took five industrial fans pointed at it to keep it cool for it’s dyno pull.  An interesting fact to know about the Hellcat is that it will suck all of the air out of a 10 X 13 foot room in just one minute at full throttle.  It will also drain all 19 gallons of it’s fuel tank in a minute at full throttle.

Now on to the Camaro ZL1.  The ZL1 makes only 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of SAE-rated torque.  The car that Motor Trend tested made just 472 horsepower and 482 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  K&N noted that that’s about 20 fewer horsepower than they are used to seeing from a stock Camaro ZL1.  Assuming a 10% driveline loss for the Camaro, it’s making a still-impressive 524 horsepower and 536 pound-feet at the crank.  That’s almost 60 horsepower than rated.

Why did the Hellcat need five industrial fans pointed at it?  Well, the Hellcat needs a LOT of air to operate optimally, and superchargers throw off lots of heat.  This 2.9-liter supercharger shoves 11.9 pounds of boost into the engine.  This supercharger is common in tuned muscle cars, and it’s not uncommon to see more boost out of it.  However, I just think that the Hellcat’s engine can’t easily make more power before it presses the self-destruct button.  It’s like the Nissan GT-R, where the engine has been tuned so much that Motor Trend found in a test last year that the engine kept loosing 5 pounds of boost from the two massive turbos.  That’s a lot of boost, so you’ve got to wonder if engines this powerful are tuned to within an inch of their life.

What about the ZL1?  Was it a dud car, or has GM just been radically overrating their engines?  Who knows?  Dyno results range anywhere from far more than what the manufacturer says to far below.  It depends on the dyno itself, the way the car is strapped down, if it has enough air going into the engine, the temperature of the air, and what gear the car is in.  There are literally thousands of different factors in dynoing a car.  It probably wasn’t in Motor Trend’s best interest to dyno two powerful cars with heat-making superchargers in the end of a SoCal summer in Riverside.  While Dodge does say that the Hellcat will last 20 minutes in 100 degree heat at a track and get consistent results, one has to wonder if the Challenger can really last that long without overheating.  Time will tell (pardon the pun) the reliability of this powerful engine.

The engine technology in the Hellcat Hemi goes back to 2002.  That’s a really long time for a cylinder head design to be around in one basic form or another.  Granted, that design works – really well, but Ford and Chevy have definitely stepped up their engine game.  The Mustang GT500 used an aluminum block, which took off 100 pounds off of the front of an already-heavy car, and a bunch of other really cutting-edge engine technology.  Chevy’s LS9 and LSA V8’s are really beasts of engines, but obviously not in the ZL1 dynoed by Motor Trend.  The Hellcat engine block was originally going to be aluminum, but was vetoed at the 11th hour by a Dodge executive.  It’s a shame.  The aluminum engine block would have shaved at least 100 pounds off of the front of a nose-heavy car, bringing it’s curb weight down to about 4350 pounds or so, which would be almost 100 pounds heavier than the also-chubby Camaro.

When it comes to transmissions, the ZF 8-speed automatic is the best transmission in a muscle car now.  Chevy’s six-speed automatic doesn’t like to downshift, even when told to.  Ford didn’t offer an automatic transmission in the GT500, but it used a TREMEC TR6060 six-speed manual.  This is a great six-speed manual.  It’s used by Ford, Chevy, and Dodge.  It’s also common in road-racing cars.  It’s beefy, reliable, and has good gearing for almost any engine.  The fact is, the Hellcat with the 8-speed ZF transmission is probably the best combination.  It’s going to be hard for even an experienced driver of a manual transmission to put 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque down to the ground.  That’s why Dodge offers 3 power settings – 300 horsepower, 500 horsepower, and 700+ horsepower.  In daily driving, the most power anybody will ever really need is 150 horsepower and about 200 pound-feet of torque.  Plus, the Hellcat with the automatic transmission will get 24 mpg on the highway.  The Camaro only gets 21.  The Mustang only got 22.

If you get a Hellcat, please, please, pretty please, let me know!  I will feature you on my blog, but ONLY if you either take me for a ride, or let me drive it!  If you do either of these, I will interview you, take wonderful pictures, and wax poetic about being in a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat for the rest of my life.

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What Makes Last Week’s Sprint Car Tragedy So Special?

There’s no denying that last week’s tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York is horrific.  For those of you who don’t know, Tony Stewart, a very good sprint car and NASCAR driver, had an on-track collision with a fellow sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward’s car spun out, hit the wall, and suffered a flat tire.  Ward then proceeded to climb out of his car and stride down the track pointing his finger at Stewart.  As Stewart’s car went by, Ward was struck by the rear right wheel of Stewart’s car, sending him flying a good 20 feet down the track.  Health officials said that Ward was killed on impact.  The result?  A massive internet phenomenon where just about every internet user has become an “expert” on sprint cars overnight.  While I’m not a sprint car expert either, I do find them fascinating.  The reason for this post being almost a week behind the tragedy is that I wanted to put some time behind the incident to gather more information and let everybody cool off.

Here’s what happened – Tony Stewart grew up driving sprint cars until his mid-20’s, when he became heavily involved in NASCAR and IndyCar.  He still drove sprint cars for fun.  After he got out of IndyCar around 2005, Stewart went full-time into NASCAR.  He went into NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup Series, where he won three Cups.  He has won many, many races in NASCAR, sprint cars, and IndyCar.  He may have a reputation for having a temper, but he’s calmed down in the last few years.  According to those who know him and have interviewed him, the man has a heart of gold, but can act impulsively.  When Danica Patrick came to Stewart-Haas racing, Tony personally started coaching her.  He’s been a driving force in sprint car safety measures ever since he suffered a severely broken leg last year in a sprint car race in Iowa.  His broken leg was so bad that it forced him to go around in a mobility scooter for a good 4 months.  He had to miss the rest of the NASCAR season, making him ineligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

This year, Tony’s been back with an eye on the prize.  He’s already gotten one pole at a race, and started in the Top 5 4 times.  But, the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. last weekend shook him.  He was scheduled to race the next day at Watkins Glen International Raceway for the Cheez-it 355, but decided not to race after the tragedy the night before.  On Thursday, he released a statement saying that he will not be racing at Michigan International Speedway, and that Jeff Burton will continue to drive his No. 14 Chevrolet SS for the indefinite future.

Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both grew up driving sprint cars on dirt tracks.  Many drivers like Stewart have humble beginnings on short tracks, or start off in go-karts.  Mostly in NASCAR, it’s the former.  For Tony Stewart, driving sprint cars is just a fun hobby that he does for fun occasionally.  However, he does have a couple of drivers driving sprint cars under his direction from Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s like Ivan “Ironman” Stewart (no relation to Tony Stewart), who is still an off-road motorsports legend.  Ivan grew up riding motorcycles, and he enjoys riding them across the country with friends when he’s not helping Toyota Racing Development (TRD) with new off-road race trucks.  Back to Tony Stewart.  The tragedy obviously shook him to his core, and I think that he just needs to take a break from racing all together for a while to reorient himself.  I don’t think that he will ever recover from accidentally killing a fellow driver, especially a 20-year-old.  I don’t think that anybody can.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, NASCAR has released new on-track protocols for drivers following a wreck.  In a nutshell, drivers are not supposed to exit their car after a wreck unless instructed to by a safety official.  Drivers are prohibited from going onto the track or towards other cars under all circumstances unless it is a safety vehicle.  The reason for this is that some NASCAR superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega, Michigan, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead-Miami are big enough for cars to reach speeds in excess of 200 mph.  When a caution happens in NASCAR, drivers are only supposed to let off the gas and coast until the pace car comes on the track.  If a driver exited their car at Daytona and started striding towards another car, the result could be disastrous.  Drivers are safer inside of their cars.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars are built to withstand multiple impacts of 200 mph or greater, and still allow the driver to live.  The driver might have an injury like a broken leg or arm, but they will be far better off than dead.  These rules might seem foolish, but they are really only common sense.  There is no logical reason for a driver to approach another car on foot.

Now, let’s talk about sprint cars.  These little things that look like they belong on a WWII fighter plane are tricky and super cool.  Sprint car racing is different than midget car racing.  Midget cars are essentially go-karts with semi-powerful engines (usually a Ford flathead V8 or a GMC “Jimmy” inline-six-cylinder) and dirt or asphalt tires.  They are freakishly fast and unsafe.  Sprint cars are the next step up from that.  These cars define insanity.

There are a couple of different classes of sprint cars:  The craziest class is World of Outlaws, started in 1978.  These cars use a 410 cubic-inch naturally-aspirated V8 (6.7 liters) that can produce anywhere from 900-1,100 horsepower.  These cars do not have a starter, transmission, clutch, or battery.  This means that these cars must get a push from a start truck to get going.  They simply use a driveshaft directly from the engine to the rear axle.  Their left rear tire is 335 millimeters wide (that’s as wide as the rear tires on a SRT Viper!), and their massive right rear tire is 380 millimeters wide.  The class that Tony Stewart races in is called the United Racing Company.  These sprint cars use a 360 cubic-inch V8 (5.9 liters) that is based off of a Dodge/Plymouth design.  That’s where the similarities to the Big 3 end.  These engines are capable of producing anywhere from 700-900 horsepower.  Again, these cars don’t use transmissions, clutches, batteries, or starters.

In recent years, sprint car safety has greatly increased.  Roll cages are now mandatory, as well as fully tubbed chassis’.  Fuel tank bladders prevent fuel leakages, and alcohol-infused fuel is now used.  Six or seven-point safety harnesses are now standard, and drivers are now required to wear a 2-layer fire suit and Nomex gloves.  Full helmets, arm restraint devices, right headrests, and a 1/8 inch-thick rock/debris screen on the front of the roll cage.  Plus, World of Outlaws and United Racing Company require head and neck restraints (HANS devices).

Winged sprint cars are much safer than non-winged sprint cars, due to the fact that the aluminum wings are capable of absorbing a good deal of impact.  When crashes happen, they are often violent, and debilitating injuries in non-winged sprint cars are commonplace.  The safety of winged sprint cars was shown in 2013 when Tony Stewart’s sprint car flipped and hit a safety fence before hitting the ground upside down.  Tony was able to walk away from the crash with only a severely broken leg (okay, maybe hop away).

Any sprint car is capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph or more.  With winged sprint cars, the wings add hundreds of pounds of downforce at speed, making the car easier to control.  Surprisingly, sprint cars are easier to control at higher speeds, thanks to the added downforce.  Sprint cars are mainly steered with the throttle, which is why they are almost always sideways.  They are built to turn left 99% of the time, and side visibility is almost nothing.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle also grew up driving sprint cars, and he has said multiple times in interviews that sprint cars need to have better side visibility.  The wings on the sides go down to about head level of the driver, and shorter drivers have no problem with visibility.  What needs to happen with sprint cars is simple:

  • Drivers should NOT exit their car unless it’s on fire.  This would alleviate any repeats of the Ward/Stewart tragedy.  When a car spins out or hits the wall, a caution is called.  Drivers let off the gas, but they still are travelling pretty fast.  Tony Stewart was going about 40 mph when he hit Kevin Ward, Jr.  Even if he was in a street car, Ward would still be dead.  Safety officials can be anywhere on a track like Canandaigua in seconds.  Watch the video, and you’ll see that the safety truck was at the site where Ward was killed in under 10 seconds.  The truck was heading out to help Ward’s car get back to the pits when the accident happened.
  • The wings on the side NEED to be raised about 6-10 inches higher for better visibility.  It won’t make the cars more unstable.  Look at Can-Am McLaren’s of the 1960’s and 1970’s – their wings got higher and higher.  It actually HELPED the car’s stability and downforce!  Sprint cars could benefit from that.  Plus, it will make the cars safer, as there will be more space between the wall/catch fence/ground and the driver.
  • Drivers need to wait until after a caution to talk to race officials about who was at fault in the accident.  It was clear in the Ward/Stewart incident the lap before Ward was killed that Ward bumped Stewart’s car and hit the wall as a result.  Ward was clearly at fault in the accident, but Stewart also used his car to shove Ward’s away from his so that both cars didn’t spin.  It’s a simple maneuver, yet it proved to be ultimately fatal.  Race officials know who did what when, and they will assign points and/or penalties accordingly.  I know that drivers become furious when their car is wrecked, but walking towards the car that wrecked yours is simply not a smart or good way to take your anger out.

I think that in the coming months, many sanctioning bodies of various motorsports will enact rules telling drivers to not exit their vehicles until told to do so by safety officials.  Let me be perfectly clear:  Crew chiefs and spotters are NOT safety officials.  They are there to make sure that you stay out of accidents and win a race.  They are not a track safety official telling you to get out of the car.  I know that humans make mistakes, but Kevin Ward, Jr.’s mistake proved fatal.  There’s no taking back what happened that night, but we can prevent it from happening again.  It’s sad, and my thoughts go out to Kevin Ward, Jr.’s family and to Tony Stewart.  I can’t even begin to fathom how sad Tony Stewart must feel about what happened that night.

I have attached the video of Tony Stewart killing Kevin Ward, Jr.  Please do not watch this video if you felt at all uncomfortable reading this post.  I had trouble watching the video, but I feel that it is important for you to see it.  Viewer discretion is advised when watching this video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JNNXXdqM4

Amazing Photos From IROC Racing!

“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”  Legendary ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay spoke those words every Saturday afternoon for 37 years, from 1961-1998, when ESPN became the premier sports broadcasting channel.  Those words of Jim McKay were heard in millions of American homes.

ABC Sports was particularly fond of showing motorsports.  Every Saturday afternoon, millions of American children (and adults!) were treated to 90 minutes of non-mainstream motorsports like NASCAR, NHRA, demolition derbies, surfing, and even the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show.  While I’ve never seen the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, it must have been good enough to be shown on one of the very few TV channels on the air at the time.  This is when IROC racing entered the motorsports scene in the early 1970’s.  It ran for a good 15 years or so, reaching it’s peak around 1980.  There was no other place where you could watch NASCAR legends like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison duke it out with F1 legends like Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme.  Throw in Mario Andretti, and you were bound to sit back and watch one hell of a ride.

The late Chris Economaki was always commentating on some form of motorsports, and his talent showed during the pre-race commentary of IROC V.  IROC V was the 5th IROC season, and the year was 1978.

While most younger Camaro enthusiasts will think that IROC was simply an option package developed for the Camaro starting in 1985, there’s more to the story.  The story behind IROC goes all the way back to 1973 with Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Mike Phelps (no relation to the swimmer of the same name!) all had the amazing idea to put 12 of the world’s greatest race car drivers in identical cars to compete on road courses and NASCAR superspeedways alike in a four-race series.  Richter was cautious enough to say that the IROC series might not determine who the best driver was, “but we sure go a long way towards that goal.”

The first IROC season was the 1974 season, and it kicked off on October 27, 1973.  It consisted of 4 events with all racing done in identically-prepared Porsche 911 RSR’s.  For the 1975 season, Chevrolet came on board, and the Chevrolet Camaro was the car of choice.

Here are some pictures that have only recently been released to the public.  Enjoy.

Watch the Evolution of the Chevy Corvette, Ford Mustang, BMW 3 Series, and Honda Accord!

It’s astonishing just how much a car can change over the years.  Sometimes, the only similar parts about a car can be the badge name of the car.  It’s easy to compare a car to it’s predecessors when you put them next to each other, but that can be boring.  EBay Motors found a new way to show all of the different generations of some given cars.  The animations shown below from eBay Motors show the design progression and growth of four popular cars, with some of the cars going back over 60 years.

Ford Mustang Evolution

The Ford Mustang’s design evolution is truly all over the place when it comes to design and size changes.  The styling comes a complete 360 degrees, starting with the original 1964 1/2 model and progressing all of the way through the retro-styled years of 2005-2014.  Dimensions grow, then shrink drastically, then grow again, within just four generations.  By the time that we get to the 2015 model, the Mustang has shifted away from the cool retro styling and is almost as long as the 1971 model.  While it is difficult to say how accurate the scale is in all of these animations, eBay Motors says that the size changes are real-life.

Chevy Corvette Evolution

Next up is the Chevrolet Corvette, also an American icon.  It changes dramatically in the first 3 generations (C1, C2, and C3 for you Corvette enthusiasts), but begins a gradual design evolution from the 4th generation (C4) onwards.  The C4’s wedge-shaped front end and gradually sloping roof carry over into the C7 Corvette.  Granted, there are a lot of changes, but the basic profile of the C4 Corvette can still be clearly seen in any Corvette from then on out.

BMW 3 Series Evolution

The BMW 3-Series may see the most dramatic change in size.   Starting with the tiny E21 generation (the 1st generation), the 3 Series grows in every direction through each of it’s 6 generations until it bloats to the size of the F30 generation BMW 4 Series (the replacement for the 3 Series coupe).  Because of BMW’s new naming scheme, the 4 Series is shown to keep the two-door BMW 3 Series going.  The final car shown in the animation, the 4 Series, barely fits in the picture box.

Honda Accord Evolution

The Honda Accord’s size progression is almost as drastic as the BMW 3 Series.  It grows substantially from the small first generation model.  By the 8th generation, the Accord barely fits inside of the picture box.  The current model (the 9th generation) is a little bit smaller than the 8th generation model, but the car is still much, much larger than the tiny 1st generation Accord.  Styling-wise, the Accord is pretty gradual, especially in generations 6-9.

Some of the cars shown in the animations will shock you at how much they grow.  The BMW 3 Series and the Honda Accord shocked me.  See what shocks you.