NASCAR plans to automate its rule book and revamp its appeals process in a wide-ranging effort to bring more clarity to race teams and fans.
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The governing body outlined several initiatives Monday it expects to implement in its three major series before the start of the 2015 racing season. The effort started eight months ago and will be an ongoing process to keep up with technology and fan interests, said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations
"I think it’s a change in how we do business moving forward," O’Donnell said.
That includes converting its rule book from a word document to computer automated-design drawings that can be easily accessed by race shops to see what’s allowed and what isn’t. Penalties will be specifically spelled out for each type of infraction. When a rule is broken and a team appeals, NASCAR wants more experts on the panel instead of some who might not have as strong a background regarding the infraction.
"I think we put some people in somewhat tough positions" at hearing appeals, O’Donnell acknowledged. "We owe it to the industry to have experts sit in on that and make proper rulings."
O’Donnell also discussed innovations geared to the racing fans. He said NASCAR wanted to keep in synch with what people drive on the streets so their experience can match somewhat with their favorite Sprint Cup driver on the track.
The Sprint Cup and the truck series are off this week with the Nationwide Series in action at the STP 300 in Joliet, Ill.
Another area was shifting more inspection responsibility to NASCAR’s Research & Development operation away from the track, freeing up more time for race teams to practice instead of waiting to have their cars looked at. NASCAR inspectors, who are assigned to individual series, in the future would be trained to handle all events, either in Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World trucks.
There might also be locked-in times for on-track inspections, meaning fans would know when their favorite cars are getting put under the microscope and be on hand to watch.
O’Donnell said NASCAR would also improve information fans can access about pit stops, although he wasn’t yet sure if it would be limited to online access, a component at each track for fans at the stands, or both.
O’Donnell said the effort has the full backing of NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, who understood the significant investment it would take to make these changes. "It’s a big spend on our part. We’re aware of that," O’Donnell said. "We want to position NASCAR for the future."
A big part of that will certainly be altering the rule book, which NASCAR vice president for innovation and racing development Gene Stefanyshyn said would likely include a line-by-line review of current guidelines. "We need to take the text and turn it into drawings," he said. "It’s a fairly significant undertaking."
Once in place, though, it should give race teams the most-up-to-date schematics about the cars they build and keep them NASCAR compliant. Guidelines call for a more transparent approval process on acceptable parts, as well.
O’Donnell said standardizing penalties would take away some of the gray areas teams argue are part of the current rule book. NASCAR won’t give race shops more leeway, he said, and the most significant infractions will still merit harsh penalties. "You mess with tires, you mess with engines, those are the big ones," he said.
O’Donnell said NASCAR worked successfully with race teams and manufacturers on the current Gen-6 car. He said these changes take another step at keeping the sport moving forward.
"I think although it’s a bit of a culture change for NASCAR, when you look at the emergence of the Gen-6 car, we view that as a big success," O’Donnell said.
NASCAR hopes to build on that with its newest efforts, and is continuing to talk with industry leaders and race teams about these initiatives.
"We think we’ve got a really solid plan," O’Donnell says, "but it would be unfair for us to say we are adamantly putting these in place without having all those conversations at this point."