Posted January 2, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Murto: 'Car of tomorrow' is now history


NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow," or CoT, is now history. But that doesn't mean everything about it has been abandoned.

Seven years ago the CoT was supposed to fix racing. But the cars were ugly, fans and competitors hated them, and even manufacturers had a tough time supporting a vehicle that didn't allow for any brand identity save a nameplate.

The bodies were identical, regardless the brand. The wing that rose above the deck lid didn't appeal to fans. And the wing was supposed to eliminate the problem of "aero push," which it didn't.

First the wing was replaced by a spoiler, then the noses began changing for each brand. The CoT ran its final race at Homestead in November, to be replaced by the "Generation 6" Cup car.

But the CoT did its job. The "greenhouse" was expanded, giving the driver more room. They were getting so cramped that roll bars often rested on drivers' helmets as they sat in the cars. Even smaller drivers such as Mark Martin felt cramped in the old-style Cup cars. And they worried what might happen in case of a severe impact.

The seats were moved closer to the center of the car. This helped protect drivers, who were especially vulnerable in driver's side impacts. Floorboards were improved, drive shafts were surrounded by a protective covering to keep them from entering the driver's compartment. Foam padding was placed between the sheet metal and the roll cage to help absorb impact.

The CoT cars were much safer. And due to the nature of all the safety requirements, they led to a new inspection process.

It used to be that NASCAR officials never saw your car until you pulled into the Cup or Nationwide garage, at which point it had to pass pre-race inspection. But due to the many safety requirements of the CoT, the chassis had to be pre-certified and NASCAR-approved before it came to the track. That doesn't mean there wasn't a pre-race inspection, but the process was more streamlined at the track.

The CoT made for a safer racecar. Drivers walked away from accidents that in years past would have resulted in serious injury. Racing is never safe, but thanks to the CoT NASCAR racing became some of the safest racing in the world.

But the fans hated the CoT. They didn't like that all the cars looked the same. They didn't like the wing, which was the first part of the car to be abandoned. And now the CoT is replaced by the "Generation 6" Cup car.

The new car looks much more like the cars on the street. Manufacturers like the fact that they have brand identity once again. Fans should like it, too.

And so far in pre-season testing, most drivers have expressed satisfaction with the new cars. But even as the next generation of NASCAR machinery takes to the track at Daytona next month, the legacy of the CoT lives on.

The safety features of the CoT are now standard fare in NASCAR's top series. The new Cup and Nationwide cars may look more like the cars on the street and less like the boxy, one-size-fits-all CoT cars, but underneath the skin the safety advances brought forth during the short-lived CoT era live on.

It'll be interesting to see what the fate of all those CoT cars becomes. In the past, series such as ARCA and NASCAR's K&N Pro Series is where a lot of used Cup and Nationwide equipment ended up. But with the CoT being abandoned, won't it become obvious that ARCA and K&N are being used as rolling junkyards if those series start racing CoT cars? And given that it's already been determined that fans don't like the CoT, running them in ARCA and K&N won't help those series at all, unless they put a different body on them and get away from the CoT appearance. Maybe they'll become road racing cars, running with vintage racing groups or in an SCCA class at Summit Point.

Whatever happens to the old CoT cars, they now are history at the top levels of NASCAR. But they served their purpose, and we can be grateful they were here when our favorite drivers walk away from horrific accidents.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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