The Top 5 Extinct Racing Series We’d Love to See Revived [w/ Videos]
Fans of auto racing have an absolutely dizzying array of series from which to follow. Yet just as millions upon billions of species of plant and animal have gone extinct over the eons, scores of racing series have bitten the dust. Some were victims of changing motorsports tastes, others fell to the axe of outside economic and political forces, and still more were done in by the progression of race car technology elevating costs and speeds to unsustainable levels. Bottom line: The history of motorsports is littered with the corpses of dead series. But we reckon there are at least five championships that deserve a second chance at life.
All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship
The FIA’s Group C regulations for prototype sports cars proved extremely popular with both automakers and race car constructors. It also proved popular with racing fans, particularly in Japan. So popular was the formula in Japan that from 1983 to 1992, the Japanese Automobile Federation sanctioned a national championship for Group C cars (and similar IMSA GTP machinery). Granted, most races took place at Suzuka Circuit and Fuji Speedway, but the racing was intense, with factory teams from Nissan, Toyota and Mazda battling Spices, Jaguars and hordes upon hordes of Porsches.
We realize LMP1 cars aren’t very popular at the moment except with the Audi, Toyota and Porsche factories and a few privateers (And LMP1 cars are not allowed to compete in the new Tudor United SportsCar series – formed by the merger of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series.) due to their high running costs. But we’d love to see an all LMP1 (or LMP1 and LMP2) series tearing up Japan’s best circuits (Suzuka, Fuji, Motegi, Okayama, Autopolis, etc.) in, say, 90-minute sprint races. And open it up to cars made within the last four or five years, so teams wouldn’t have to shell out big bucks for the latest hardware. We think it would make a nice complement to the production-based/production-shaped Super GT and open-wheel Super Formula (nee Formula Nippon) championships.
International Race of Champions
We like the Race of Champions, the annual event that brings together drivers from multiple countries and multiple racing disciplines to compete in identical cars on a tight, technical stadium track. However, one-on-one matchups on what’s basically an all-tarmac rally super special stage isn’t what we’d call the most exciting or, we dare say, accurate method for pitting drivers from different series and backgrounds against each other. We’d much prefer a whole bunch of drivers going at it simultaneously in identical cars on a proper race circuit, thank-you-very-much.
That’s exactly what the International Race of Champions (IROC to its friends) was from its inception in 1973 to its demise in 2006. That first season saw the series race four times at just two venues (a triple-header weekend at Riverside International Raceway and the finale on infield road course at Daytona International Speedway) with the competitors driving Porsche 911 Carrera RSRs, but it was more than enough to plant the seeds of a circuit racing series unlike any other. Yes, it became kind of a NASCAR satellite in later years with regard to car type, track selection and majorities of the driver rosters, but it was still a damn good show, and you’d still see the occasional open wheel or sports car star rain on the good ol’ boys’ parade. But when a sponsor to replace Crown Royal was nowhere to be found after the 2006 season, the 2007 season was postponed and, ultimately, canceled, with the cars and the rest of the series’ assets being auctioned off in 2008.
Would it be possible to resurrect IROC? We happen to think so, but we’d also suggest some major changes from its final form to better its odds of succeeding. First, take every possible and practical precaution against creating manufacturer and sponsor conflicts that would preclude certain drivers from participating. So how would the reborn IROC be funded? By going with the pay-per-view TV model, much the way Tony Stewart (the last IROC champ) did with his also-deceased motorsports all-star game of sorts, the Prelude to The Dream dirt late model race. Also like that event, we’d award the prize money to the charity of the driver in question’s choosing, and have minimum guaranteed purses big enough to make it worth the superstars’ while (say $5 million for a race win and $25 million for the championship). Hold the races between November and January (when most of the world’s major series are off) at four tracks in the Sunbelt (one road course, one short oval, one super speedway oval and – hang on to your hats – one dirt oval) and, last but not least, invite the best of the best from each major four-wheeled discipline, up to and including Formula 1. Just picture it: Jimmie Johnson, Sebastian Vettel, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Ogier and Tom Kristensen trying to go five-wide into Turn 1 at Circuit of the Americas, or Brad Keselowski and Jamie Whincup engaging Tony Kanaan and Fernando Alonso in a two-on-two bump-drafting battle to the checkers at Daytona, with their individual skills and levels of bravery the only deciding factors. If you can’t get on board with that, then you deserve a life sentence of watching nothing but test patterns and drying paint, because that stuff is clearly more your speed.
NASCAR Dash Series
To the casual observer, it would appear that NASCAR has always been about thundering V8s and mid- and full-size vehicles. But that wasn’t always the case: From 1975 to 2003, NASCAR sanctioned the Dash Series (formerly the International Sedan Series and, before that, the Baby Grand Series) for four- and, later, six-cylinder compact cars from companies both foreign and domestic. Unfortunately, a series of rule changes that drove participation costs through the ionosphere and a near total drought of promotion and marketing support in later years prompted the suits in Daytona Beach to cut the series loose at the end of ’03. Since then, it has been through two owners and seen further rule changes aimed at reducing costs for entrants but, as far as we can tell, it hasn’t actually staged a race since 2011 (and the official website hasn’t been updated in over a year).
In any case, our dream is to see NASCAR either repurchase the Dash Series or establish a new compact car series. The cars themselves would basically be scaled-down versions of the Gen 6 Sprint Cup Series cars with bodies patterned after C-segment sedans (e.g. Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, and Hyundai Elantra). Power would come from production-based turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6L four-cylinder engines (with NASCAR-issued boost controllers limiting them to about 300 horsepower) similar to those powering current WRC cars and the tin-tops contesting the World Touring Car Championship and various national touring car series. The schedule would be about 2/3 ovals and 1/3 road courses, with only a few race weekends being shared with the big dogs of Sprint Cup. Yeah, the initial financial outlay would be quite big for all involved, but we can picture it augmenting (and eventually replacing) the Camping World Truck Series as NASCAR’s entry-level national series. And if nothing else, it could give a lot of foreign manufacturers their first tastes of competing in American stock car racing.
If there can be a seniors’ tour for golf, why not one for auto racing? That question was probably the main impetus for Fast Masters, a series created in 1993 to be a component of ESPN’s Saturday Night Thunder program which had, prior to the creation of Fast Masters, focused exclusively on USAC’s Midget, Silver Crown and Sprint series. The series was contested exclusively on Indianapolis Raceway Park’s 5/8-mile oval (with a left-right-left complex cutting through the infield to bypass Turn 1) using identically-prepared, Havoline-motor-oil-sponsored Jaguar XJ220s, driven by an eclectic mix of 50-and-over racing heroes that included Parnelli Jones, David Pearson, Vic Elford, Walker Evans, Eddie Hill and Paul Newman. After six weekends of close, full-contact competition, Bobby Unser was the last man standing, taking home the $100,000 champion’s prize.
Even though it was, by most accounts, a hit with fans and participants alike, Fast Masters would wind up being a one-and-done affair. And that’s a crying shame, because the supply of racers over 50 years of age is constantly being replenished. Think of the superstars that would be eligible to compete in Fast Masters circa 2014: Alain Prost. Nigel Mansell. Nelson Piquet. Damon Hill. Mark Martin. Rusty Wallace. Dale Jarrett. Danny Sullivan. Bobby Rahal. Michael Andretti. Al Unser, Jr. Scott Pruett. Andy Wallace. Carlos Sainz. Juha Kankkunen. And on and on and on… Hey Jaguar, you want more buzz for the new F-Type Coupe? Here’s how to generate it!
When it comes to technical diversity and free-thinking in motorsports, things have never been bleaker than they are now. Sanctioning bodies on every continent (or almost every continent; anyone want to help us start the Antarctic Motorsports Federation?) have become fixated on keeping costs and speeds in check, and making sure no one can build a better mousetrap that will decimate the competition and turn every race into a fan-interest-slashing runaway. Of course, it wasn’t always this way; many disciplines used to leave their participants much more room for creativity and innovation. But no series’ carte was more blanche than that belonging to the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, which was jointly sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the now-defunct Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC).
During the championship’s heyday (1966 to 1974), cars competing needed only conform with the Group 7 regulations put forth by what is now the FIA. The beauty of the Group 7 regs lay in their astounding brevity: Basically, if the car in question had fenders that fully enclosed the tops of the tires, a cockpit with room for two people, and the most up-to-date driver protection provisions of the day, it was legal. Pretty much everything else was fair game. Umpteen-liter big-block V8s? Sure. Forced induction? Totally kosher. Wings? Hey, why not? Underbody suction fans? Go for it (initially, anyway)! Suffice it to say, the series attracted not only most of the world’s best drivers at the time (e.g. Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Mario Andretti, Denny Hulme, Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue), but many of the top world’s top race car and road car manufacturers, like Chaparral, Lola, McLaren, Shadow, Porsche and Ferrari (Toyota and Nissan also built Group 7 cars, but for various reasons they were never campaigned outside Japan.).
While the racing was a sensory-overloading pageantry for petrolheads, there were rarely multiple cars competing for victory on a regular basis. The factory McLarens dominated for much of the series’ early history, while the 1972 and ’73 seasons saw Porsche (with the twin-turbocharged 917/10 and 917/30) become the killer app. The series soldiered on for one more year after that in its original incarnation before disappearing. The name returned in 1977, but the cars were little more than open-wheeled Formula 5000 cars wearing new full-fendered bodywork. That series lasted until 1987, but by that time, most fans and racers had been lured away by Indycars and IMSA GTP. And the magic of the original was never really there to begin with.
Would a reboot of the original Can-Am formula be possible? Realistically, no. Not only would a modern Group 7 car cost so much to develop, build and run that it would make a current Formula 1 car look like an Index of Effluency contender by comparison, but extracting its maximum potential on track would very likely be beyond a human driver’s physical abilities. And even if you did give the driver the g-suit and other equipment needed to pull 8 or 9 g at 200 mph through, say, Turn 1 at Road America, that still wouldn’t change the fact that a crash at those cornering forces and speeds would be incomprehensibly violent, dishing out life-altering (if not life-ending) consequences to not only the driver, but also officials, journalists, spectators and anyone else unlucky enough to be in the path of an out-of-control hypothetical 21st century Can-Am missile.
So yeah, even if there were drivers, teams, and manufacturers willing to make it happen, we’re doubtful any insurance company or lawyer in the land would be. But hey, wishful thinking doesn’t require insurance…