NASCAR Truck Series Should Run Diesel

By David Surace

12.16.2008

With all the hubbub about Detroit automakers’ last desperate clutches at an increasingly slippery bailout package, it might be easy to forget about an industry that is well within the blast radius of any auto industry collapse: NASCAR.

Within the folds of Auto Racing Daily’s NASCAR editorials, for instance, I’m starting to detect an acute sense of frustration and anger at the seeming betrayal of Southeastern Republican politicians, whose voting base–frequent Detroit auto owners, by the way–is the one to which NASCAR predominantly caters. Without GM, Chrysler and Ford, NASCAR would be nothing but a Toyota spec racing series, if anything at all. Whether you like NASCAR or not, that is a sad state of affairs.

Anyway, according to the feelings of some conservatives, perhaps the lesser of two evils would be to allow those companies to die a glorious and bloody death on the pristine plains of the free market, thereby officially closing the book on their past sins, rather than to be castrated slowly by the greedy hands of a Democrat-controlled government. Why, they’ll be forced to make “green” vehicles, little tweet-tweet hybrids with huge, bulbous “faces” to keep jaywalkers from getting bruised while carrying their soy lattes to the Haight-Ashbury Human Be-In, don’t you just know it.

See, I don’t like either extreme. On the record, I’m not a NASCAR fan, but I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the entire sport. Even in lean times, I still feel that any motorsport has its advantages in terms of parts development and R&D, and in NASCAR’s case, an undeniable entertainment value, our very own horseless equivalent to the chariot races of antiquity.

In fact, I wonder if there would be a way to cushion both sides of the sword, to appease a post-collapse NASCAR crowd while keeping the politicians happy. Or at the very least, keep their hands tied to their desks:

Force NASCAR entrants to run clean diesel engines in the 2011 Camping World Truck Series.

You’re right, that’s absolutely crazy. No governing body would buy it. All the manufacturers and teams have already placed their (currently very short) development dollars on gasoline engines from now until kingdom come. But there are a few salient points out there that I believe could turn the tide in diesel’s favor.

1.) The diesel engine is not just a known quantity, it’s an object of desire and status symbol among Red State truck purchasers, widely known for its lusty torque and effortless efficiency. If the new “green” image were to leave a soylent taste in their mouth, then perhaps a generous dollop of extra horsepower and torque numbers over the existing series, some 800hp and 1100 ft-lbs of torque, would sweeten the deal. But it’s not like there’s anything wimpy at all about the working-man’s diesel, even if it doesn’t spit out gobs of black soot. Heck, since 2001 the Power Stroke Diesel 200 has consistently graced the Craftsman Truck Series calendar, even though no diesel engines of any kind have ever raced there.

2.) As in all motorsports, NASCAR included, manufacturers can obtain priceless information about high-speed endurance, heat management, durability and material strength, at a cost which we know can be at least partially recouped through the breathlessly active marketing of the NASCAR traveling circus. Except in this case, it can be applied to the diesel engine, a product which Detroit automakers (heck, even Toyota) have the tools to use right now as a cheaper, faster and better weapon in the new “green” consumer lineup.

3.) The positive PR implications for everyone involved–teams, drivers, manufacturers, event sponsors, NASCAR–would be enormous on both sides of the fuel-efficiency aisle. Whether we want to keep our oil money out of foreign hands or save an ecosystem hanging in the balance, the idea of a squirming pack of oval-racing diesel trucks has universal coolness potential, in what is already one of the most riveting smashmouth spectacles in motorsport.

To show you what I’m blabbering on about, I’ve written up the following quick-and-dirty spec for what a Camping World Series diesel racer would look like, and you can judge for yourself how grape-nuts crazy I really am:

Layout: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, pickup truck body with “covered” bed, fixed to NASCAR template.

Fuel type: either petroleum diesel or biodiesel, or any mixture of both, ratio free, provided by competing contractors, with an increase in required biomass content as years progress.

Fuel delivery: free. This will probably be either common-rail sequential or direct-to-cylinder piezoelectric injection. No spark ignition of any kind after initial engine start will be allowed.

Fuel capacity: fixed, 19 US gallons, location also fixed in a safety fuel cell. (This is down from the 22 gallon tank in place now, to adjust for diesel’s slight fuel economy advantage and allow for the same number of pit stops.)

Engine Displacement: fixed, 7.0 liters / 427 cubic inches.

Engine Layout: fixed, longitudinal V-8

Engine Induction: series spec, variable-vane, twin-scroll turbocharger producing 3 bar max boost, units provided by NASCAR sanctioning body free of cost, with the option to provide restricted air inlets at specific racetracks. The location of these turbochargers inside the vehicle body is free as long as they can be accessed at tech inspection. Air-to-liquid intercoolers are allowed; their location and number are free but they must not be visible from outside the bodywork of the vehicle.

Engine exhaust: starboard-side exit, mandatory particulate emissions limit of 0.025 g/km, or 0.0402 g/mi, achievable through any diesel particulate filter, specifications free as long as its parts are not visible outside the bodywork of the vehicle. This will be enforced by a mandatory sniffer device located just inside the exhaust nozzle, which transmits through a one-way datalink (see below) to the NASCAR tech inspection trailer. Failure to comply at any time will result in an immediate black flag.

Engine management: series spec computer, software and data acquisition provided by NASCAR sanctioning body free of cost, one-way secured wireless car-to-pit diagnostic link which also feeds directly to monitors at NASCAR tech inspection trailer, engine parameters adjustable by datalink cable only when the vehicle is stopped. No traction control, overboost or “push-to-pass” function will be included.

Max horsepower: free, although restrictions should keep this to between 650 – 850 crank hp, depending on ambient racetrack conditions.

Max torque: free, although restrictions should keep this to between 800 – 1200 lb-ft, depending on ambient racetrack conditions.

Gearbox: three or four speed “clutchless shift” manual transaxle, similar to the Jerico or Richmond units in place today.

Vehicle weight: minimum driverless “dry” weight 3400 lbs; minimum driverless “wet” weight, 3600 lbs.

Suspension: adjustable within current NCWS specification. (Would probably be tuned much softer at the rear to accommodate the extra horsepower and torque.)

Aero: choice of front splitter or apron, adjustable at any time during race conditions, and series spec fixed rear wing, provided by NASCAR sanctioning body free of cost, adjustable for angle-of-attack only before qualifying at each event.

Rolling stock: fixed, 13″ x 7″ steel wheels at the front and 13″ x 9.5″ at the rear, slick Goodyear racing tires with new soft compound encouraged to counter the extra torque.

Driver safety:  Approved HANS device, six-point harness and safety seat, concurrent with NASCAR regulations.

Agree? Disagree? Yawn? The floor is yours; see the comment box below.

Copyright AUTOSAVANT – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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5 Comments

  1. Agreed completely.

    Audi has done a fantastic job of showing what diesel can do in a race car, and your point about diesels being a status symbol in NASCAR country is very true. While scrolling through the weekend auto shows that run on SPIKE and SPEED you can’t miss a build up of some 700hp 4*4 diesel truck.

    The thing that I think has been missed by NASCAR is the new technology R&D angle. It may be true that GM can keep building more efficient pushrod small blocks, but how much more exciting would it be to see something else to keep pushing development forward in engines that (at least) have overhead cams?

    Seriously, how great would it be to hear a pile of turbo’s spooling when they are about to wave the green flag?

  2. Why not simply do what the V8 Supercar series in Australia has done and mandate E85 gasoline for the 2009 series?

    Converting a standard gasoline power race engine to run on E85 is not half the nightmare that total re-engineering for diesel drivelines would be.

    And it might actually maintain something of a relationship with the vehicle the race version is presumptively based on…

  3. Agree that the truck series should be a technology test-bed of sorts. I can invision Nationwide and Sprint Series converting to alternative fuels/energies after the truckers have been running it for approx 5 years to get all the kinks and bugs worked out.

    I’d like to see (as mentioned) E85 as GM is a huge supporter for all things Ethanol. You can say they put too many eggs in this basket, but that’s for another story.

    I’d also like to see B10 or B20 Biodiesel run if they go sparkplug-less.

    The key is to get away from straight fossil fuels and either go to a mixture or another alternative energy source such as Hydrogen or a form of Hybrid propulsion.

    the “green” PR this would generate can’t be measured, and would draw non-racing fans to see how they perform (and perhaps gain a few fans in the meantime!) and bringing in the “green” community would absolutely lead to new advertising and partnering opportunities. Which in this day and age, anybody willing to spend time w/NASCAR should be welcomed with open arms.

    I’ll be surprised if half the full schedule of the Nationwide and Truck Series have the full 43 vehicle allotment. Most years there’s only about 20 teams that run the full schedule and with the current economy, that number will only go down…even Spring won’t be immune to any full-car field pains.

    This should be a wake-up call to Brian France, but i’m sure it will go unnoticed, as Bubbly Brian will be in NYC or LA trying to attract sponsors from companies that can’t afford the luxury of pouring millions into a racing series that their driver has no chance of winning, leading to minimal TV exposure and then a whole bunch of advertising dollars just thrown out the window.

    As one of my favorite automotive enthusiasts (Peter DeLorenzo /AUTOEXTREMIST.COM) would say, “that’s a big old case of “NOT SO GOOD”. Hello – anyone home in Daytona Beach?

  4. i agree that deisel trucks should run in the series it would realy open a lot of eyesof the people who dont think that they can do anything. a lot of people think diesel is noisey stink blow a lot of black smoke.i would love to see them run i would bet it would make all involved take notice.hope it can be done.

  5. I agree that diesel should be in nascar. I do however see problems with your proposed layout. A Diesel race truck will need twice as many gears as a gas truck because it has half the rpm range. A 6-8 speed trans would be better for performance. I also see a big problem with the engine layout. The current gas engines are based on engine blocks that were once production engines. Dodge has always had a straight 6 diesel while Ford and Chevy have v8’s. I think it would be interesting to see what would happen to technology progression if they left engine layout, boost pressure, engine size all free and only restricted max fuel flow which would limit the peak power. That would drive the efficiency end of the technology because they would work to make the most power out of a set amount of fuel. Just my $0.02

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