The short track community has seen a version of this story before.
A consortium of tracks under the NASCAR Home Tracks banner has approved the Five Star next-generation body for Late Model Stock Car competition during a period in which the company is still struggling to get the Super Late Model community to universally adopt its straight-rail counterpart.
NASCAR is expected to approve the body for Late Model Stocks following Saturday night’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. The body will be approved for the remaining crown jewel events — the Myrtle Beach 400 at Myrtle Beach Speedway and the Thanksgiving Classic at the Southern National Motorsports Park.
However, it’s worth noting that the NASCAR Late Model Stock rule book is simply a recommended guideline and not every track has to follow it verbatim when crafting track rules.
So, much like the Super Late Model body debate, it remains to be seen just how much push back the perimeter rail chassis community will give Five Star Bodies.
Before the body was embroiled in a Super Late Model debate, it debuted in December 2013 at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show (PRI) on a show car at Five Star’s booth. The body was not approved by NASCAR at the time and the body was redesigned and offered to the Super Late Model community.
While a growing number of tracks and sanctioning bodies have approved the shell, it has not yet been approved for the most prominent races and tours across the country, those under the Approved Body Configuration umbrella.
The ABC Committee is comprised of the ARCA CRA Super Series, ARCA Midwest Tour, Big 8 Late Model Series, CARS Tour, Northwest Super Late Model Series, the Race of Champions, Southern Super Series and SRL Southwest Tour.
The reason for that pushback comes down to two key points of contention: The ABC Committee does not want to approve the Five Star body without having a similar product on the market from the other national provider, Aluminum Racing (AR) Bodies.
AR has, to this point, refused to build such a body, encouraging a reskinned nose and tail of the current approved body. AR founder Jerry Criswell has long maintained that his company does not have the resources to develop an alternative amidst a rivalry with Five Star that at times has gotten personal.
Additionally, there are disagreements over the parity between the new and old bodies, despite several wind tunnel tests taking a place. The detailed version of that story can be found here.
Thus, many of these narratives could re-manifest themselves again on the Late Model Stock front, especially for teams like JR Motorsports that field AR Bodies. JRM driver Josh Berry says he will be curious to see how the first couple of races with the new bodies play out.
“I mean, we’re in an interesting situation because, you know, we’ve been partnered with AR bodies for as long as I’ve been here and they’ve been a great partner of ours and done a great job for us,” Berry told Short Track Scene last week. “And they don’t really have a new body. So I don’t really know how that shakes out for us.”
Berry is a central Tennessee native who grew up 20 minutes from the AR Bodies shop. With that said, Berry also believes there is too much talk about bodies given the other elements that make a race car fast.
“There is a lot made out of the bodies,” Berry said. “I mean, I’ve never been to the wind tunnel. I don’t think any of these guys are going to the wind tunnel. But I am curious to see how it shakes out.
“But I do know this, I’ve been racing long enough to know that when something new comes out and it’s more expensive, the moment someone gets beat by someone that has one, everyone is going to have to get it, and more than likely, that’s not why they got beat.”
NASCAR has overseen a rigorous testing process over the past calendar year for the new Late Model Stock body that has included wind tunnel time.
Peyton Sellers, the 2005 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion, offered a similar prediction. Once the flood gates open, and once a handful of bodies enter the market, everyone will have to have one.
And Sellers worries about the implications for car counts during that transition period.
“It’s definitely time for a change in the way these cars look,” Sellers said. “Look, my personal opinion is that we could have put a new nose and tail on these cars and changed the look without a lot of overhead.
“I think about car counts. CARS Tour has a good car count right now. Car counts aren’t bad for Saturday night local tracks, but they are down a little bit for everyone else, for sure. Everyone knows that. The competition has been good.
“But these are $6,000 bodies after you hang them. And the moment, let’s say Tommy Lemons show up with the new body, the guys running beside him or behind him are going to feel like they can’t compete. So, then guys are going to feel like they are forced to go buy a new body, which might make them take a few weeks, a month off, to absorb that cost.”
Sellers says his short track community of choice is just now recovering from a lengthy debate about engines and hopes the body conversation isn’t as contentious.
“I’m not saying this stuff is not pointing us in a better direction for the long, long haul, but for today, it is going to cost people a lot of money,” Sellers said. “So, you know, the bigger teams are going to get it. You know, we’ll find a way to get one. But I think about the little guys, that’s who feel that’s who feels these decisions the most.
“We’re going to race regardless but we really need to think of the teams that just barely make this work. They are more important than us, to be honest.”
NASCAR All-American Series runner-up and 2017 Martinsville winner Mike Looney doesn’t expect the new bodies to make a big difference on the track, especially at most of the tiny bullrings in the Carolinas and Virginias but is a fan of the look.
“First, as successful as we’ve been with this package, you’re always skeptical of something new,” Looney said. “With that big spoiler and the big greenhouse, I’m not sure if it will be that much better. I’ll believe it when I see it, I guess.
“It does make you nervous only because we’ve been so good with what we have now. But they are going to look bad to the bone on the track and that’s exciting for fans.”
As is the case with the Super Late Model body, this is a shell that hasn’t been updated since 2003.
There are many who believe a fresh look would be more attractive to fans and potential competitors. With that said, the Gen-6 look has not helped ARCA or the K&N Series grow car counts or interest at all, so it’s a slippery slope.
Defending Martinsville 300 winner CE Falk just wishes AR Bodies would invest in one to make it a moot point.
“It doesn’t look like the new bodies are that much of a competitive advantage, so that’s good,” Falk said. “I saw there were a few at Oxford in the 250. I just wish AR had a product. These cars haven’t changed since 2003 and it would be nice to keep up with the times. Give fans a reason to be excited and to find us cool and modern.”
It appears as if that time has arrived, at least for the Late Model Stocks.