Questions keep Helton on message
Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010
Some quotes from a session Monday night on Speed Channel with Mike Helton, the NASCAR president. Helton spoke with co-hosts Randy Pemberton and Rick Allen:
Pemberton: Could you explain some of those potential rule changes in 2010 and what we might expect?
Helton: The fact of the matter is we’re circling around and talking to all the race teams and we’ve done that since the beginning of the season. We’ve still got a few of them to go.
Thursday during the media week (NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway), our day, we’ll get into the particulars and the details of the rules. We’re discussing a lot of things back and forth getting ready for Daytona.
The guys at the R&D center have been in the wind tunnel since the end of the season looking at options for the Daytona event and from that, in the dialogue and the decisions we’ve already made and now are passing along to the competitors before we go public with it, should offer up a whole lot of excitement in Daytona, and the feedback we’re getting from the meetings we have had has been very good.
Allen: NASCAR doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions, so this must be something you guys have been looking at all last year and building up. What brought you to maybe make changes to start off this season?
Helton: There’s several factors. One, the R&D center in and of its own gives us the opportunity to collect information and research and analyze and ‘doodle’ things out in a fashion we’ve never been able to do in our history.
You’re right – we’ve never made a decision just for the sake of making a decision. The effort is to do it very correctly and do it right. There’s also a timing factor. The past couple of seasons we’ve been trying to tell the car owners that we weren’t going to make a lot of changes. We were trying to hope the economy … just the fact of the teams getting used to the current car we’re using.
As time went on, we were able to collect data from these cars, learn things. In the course of the last couple of years, we’ve made over two dozen changes to these cars from input from race teams. So, during the off-season and the wind tunnel, we went back to quantify and learn things from these cars and from the cycle of building the new Nationwide car that’s coming and see things that we can apply to this car.
We also took time as the season concluded and over the off-season to look at the list of things that NASCAR does, the rules and regulations, and take a look at the last decade of rules and say, ‘Well, how many of those are necessary today? What rules can we give back to the drivers and put it back on their shoulders or in their laps?’ And that’s the kind of thing we’ve been sorting out prior to the holidays.
And after the holidays, cycling through with the teams to have conversations with them about the things we’re thinking about.
Pemberton: It’s apparent that the rear wing will be eventually replaced by the spoiler like we had for so many years. Tomorrow and Wednesday, they’re going to be doing some testing down in Texas with this wing. What do you hope to glean from that?
Helton: Well, the test in Texas was a scheduled Goodyear tire test and in as much as we’re shooting to have the spoiler on the car by the time we get to Texas, then we’re including the spoiler in the test out there.
The biggest thing is for Goodyear to marry up the correct tire with this car and with this spoiler. There will be a lot of back and forth out there. It’s also a good opportunity to continue the research on the final product with the spoiler.
Allen: Last year, you guys made a change we thought was huge when you said no testing. We’ve had a year to feel that out. Has that worked for the teams as far as cost saving and how has it affected the racing on the track?
Helton: I don’t think it’s had a negative impact on the racing on the race track because every team had to adhere to it. I’m also pretty certain it saved the race teams money.
Now, in between those two there’s a great debate. There’s obviously some teams with less experienced drivers that would like to have more time on tracks that they actually race on to test. Parts and pieces. Changes have been very minimal, so chasing that hasn’t been critical. But the overwhelming reason to have suspended testing in ’09 and continue that through 2010 is because of the economy and the cost that is attributed to it.
Pemberton: Your job and your staff’s job is multi-pronged. You have to be concerned about cost for owners, competition and the fans. But ultimately, it comes down to putting on a great event for the fans that they can appreciate, go to and want to build more of a fan base. So, ultimately, all these rule changes have to be for the fans, correct?
Helton: A lot of things we do today are, within reason, for the fans. In 2009, when we instituted the double-file restarts, that was fan-driven. The earlier and consistent start times that we scheduled for 2010 was a reaction by the fans.
A lot of things we pored through over the holidays to look at reconsidering or changing or modifying were based on fan comments. We’ve got a 12,000-member fan council inside NASCAR that Brian Moyer and his group talk to every week after a race is over to find out how they’re thinking.
And we can learn a lot from that and we have and we can react to it on some occasions. Some it’s hard to react to because of that balance you were talking about between the fans’ expectation and the principals or the other stakeholders in the sport, being able to do what they do. But whenever possible, we react for the fan.