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Reasons behind NASCAR's devotion to steady 'carb' diet

Here's a question for you. When is a "stock" item not really stock on a stock car or, to put it another way, when is a non-stock item considered "stock" on a stock car?

Many racers will tell you that nothing is really stock on a stock car. And, for the most part, they are right. However, a good example of a non-stock item being considered stock on a race car is the Holley four barrel carburetor that has been used by NASCAR for many years.

All you have to do is read the NASCAR Sprint Cup Rule Book section 20 - 5.10 concerning carburetors and you soon learn your choice is limited to one. The "stock" Holley 4150 series four-barrel carburetor with very few and extremely limited modifications allowed.

In fact, it specifies that you can use only Holley-made replacement or service parts if you rebuild your carburetor. That sounds like a stock item to me. Except for the fact carburetors have not been used on the same style engines produced by the manufacturers for many years, making them a non-stock item. The carburetor is 19th-century technology.

So why has NASCAR stuck with the Holley 4150 four-barrel carburetor for all these years when Detroit has switched to more modern methods for delivering fuel to their engines? One might wonder if the France family owns a large chunk of stock in Holley Performance Products, which is very possible I guess, but I believe the answer is more complex than that.

One of NASCAR's most time-honored rules is: "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it."

They have decades of experience in regulating, inspecting and certifying Holley carburetors so they don't want to plow new territory with new fuel systems where the teams might find creative ways to be more competitive than they should be based on untested rules.

One of NASCAR's major no-no's is messing with the fuel or the fuel delivery system. If there is any question about that then I can give you Michael Waltrip's phone number to confirm it.

Over the years NASCAR has been able to ferret out just about every conceivable way to bend the rules when it comes to fuel. A perusal of their rule book will demonstrate that fact. They have no desire to start the cat-and-mouse game all over again with something new and undefined. The Holley 4150 series four-barrel carburetor has been put through the wringer by the teams and the sanctioning body so there is very little left to exploit.

After all, the teams are producing 800 horsepower engines with the stock Holley four-barrel carburetor. That is absolutely amazing when you stop to think about it. You can just imagine what they could do with a more efficient fuel delivery system. Especially one that NASCAR is not totally familiar with in order to prevent rampant cheating. Excuse me, I meant to say "enhanced competition."

Another important reason for sticking with the carburetor is that NASCAR does not want the cars to go any faster for both safety and competitive reasons. That is why they have the "restrictor plate races" at the big tracks such as Daytona and Talladega. The cars were going so fast before restrictor plates that they were literally becoming airborne when they got sideways at speed.

You veteran race fans simply have to think back to Bobby Allison and Talladega. It was a miracle that his car did not get up into the stands that day. Of course a very sturdy catch fence with stainless steel cables strung through it also had something to do with it, but it barely contained him.

I still marvel when I see the replay of that crash and watch NASCAR's flagman back then -- the late Harold Kinder -- up in that flag stand waving the yellow flag while standing his ground as that car came crashing and rolling along the fence directly toward him. He was waving the caution flag with his right hand and motioning with his left hand for Bobby's car to slow down. He never flinched. You just don't find that kind of employee dedication anymore.

The restrictor plate was born at that very moment. Actually it might have been a few days later when NASCAR's insurance company called them to discuss a new [and expensive] flight insurance policy that they were going to need if they kept racing at those speeds. Bill France Jr. loved airplanes but he preferred that they have wings, so the restrictor plate became a reality.

Think about this: Why choke an existing carburetor down versus just mandating a smaller one? My guess is it was both a cost factor and a knowledge factor that led to the restrictor plate versus a different-sized carburetor. Don't re-invent the wheel, just narrow it up a little.

All of the above are true and valid reasons for NASCAR to stick with the Holley carburetor but the No. 1 reason, according to Rudy Wade, who is Juan Pablo Montoya's engine builder at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, is that fuel injection would require a computer be on board the race car to monitor the system and there is no way NASCAR is going to allow any computers on board their stock cars.

"It would open up a whole can of worms if they allowed computers on board the race cars because there would be no end to the things the teams could do," Wade said. "If you start allowing teams to have access to a computer anywhere on board that race car then somebody is going to figure out how to use it to cheat," he added.

Well, Rudy, that's what racers do isn't it?

"Yes! And that's exactly why NASCAR still runs carburetors versus fuel injection," Wade replied. "Carburetors are much easier to police."

And finally there are those of us -- the so-called "traditionalists" -- who want the sport to retain some of its romance from the old days. Change for the sake of change does not necessarily improve the product. History is littered with failed sanctioning bodies that advanced technology just for the sake of advancing it.

NASCAR never has and never will be accused of stretching the edge of the envelope when it comes technology. They like the old tried and true "K.I.S.S." method of management. It has served them well for 60 years so I don't see it changing.

Bill Borden is a former championship winning crew chief who operated David Pearson's Racing School for many years.