While much has been made about the back-and-forth between Five Star Bodies, AR Bodies and the ABC Committee, not nearly enough attention has been devoted to those affected the most by whatever decision is reached next month at the PRI trade show in Indianapolis.
There are two categories of Super Late Model race teams — those that can buy the latest technical advantages as soon as they are available and those who cannot.
For the larger budget teams or those affiliated with NASCAR, this body debate is a moot point because they will simply purchase or receive a promotional body from Five Star once the ABC Committee approves it. Then there are the grassroots teams that spend less than their counterparts who are unable to rebody with that same frequency.
For those who can afford it, the idea of a new look is pretty enticing.
Oklahoma’s Donnie Wilson has been a vocal proponent of a new look for at least five years. Naturally, he has said he will be amongst the first to transition to the sixth-generation body as soon as the ABC Committee approves it for use in their individual member tours.
The current members of the ABC are made up of the CRA Super Series, 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.
“I’ve told pretty much everyone that we need to run it,” Wilson said during the rain delay for the All-American 400. “Most of us reskin or rebody our cars every winter so I don’t think that’s the big issue. We have a couple of manufacturers that produce bodies.
“Five Star is the one that put the effort into this one and I think it’s time for a change. They look great if you ask me. I mean, my God, we’ve had the same bodies now for 15 years. It’s stupid for this not to change. NASCAR is changing their bodies every three years.
“It’s dumb from the ABC Committee’s standpoint because it’s the same template, it’s flange fit, and you can’t really screw around with it. This would be better from the tech side, easier to tech, very similar to ASA and they didn’t have problems with technical inspection there.”
On the other side is the equally successful Johnny VanDoorn.
VanDoorn has won three CRA Super Series championships over the past 15 years but also has deep ties to the smaller budget teams through his work at VanDoorn Racing Development. VanDoorn says he supports the idea of a new look but it has to be done in a way that is mindful to teams that only rebody when they absolutely must.
“We don’t need to worry about the big guys,” VanDoorn said. “They are going to race regardless. We have to look out for the little guy. Look at the All-American 400, there were just 24 cars there for a race that paid really good money. There were just 15 for a big race the week before at Mobile.
“So, we need to be careful that we don’t run off the back half of the field to the point where we are running 400 lap races between 15 cars because that’s not fun for anybody.”
VanDoorn is amongst the group that supports a new look but not necessarily a brand new body.
“I support a new tail and a new nose,” VanDoorn said. “Five Star is a great company and they have the resources to do whatever they want. But I think it’s important that whatever everyone does is fair to the 10th-to-30th place guy because we need them to keep coming back to the race track …
“With just a new nose and tail, they would just be spending $300-$500 on a couple of extra panels to have a new look instead of the full $3,600 investment. For a Saturday night racer, this is a no-brainer. They know they have to buy tires, fuel and pit passes and they can’t afford the extra $3,000 investment.”
Five Star has committed to a 3 percent price lock for the new body compared to the existing one to ensure that their prices do not rise as the de facto sole supplier of the shell.
For now, AR Bodies has not committed to producing the body with founder Jerry Criswell recently explaining to Short Track Scene that he does not see a compromise that would encourage him to jump on board to produce his own.
Complicating matters is that the Deep South is deeply loyal to AR.
Montgomery Motor Speedway track champion John Bolen has run AR for the entirety of his career. He too supports the idea of a new look but also would prefer to see that come in the form of a new nose and tail panel instead of the complete redesign.
“I hate that AR is so against it because I have run their bodies since the start of the ABC program,” he said. “I’m sure there is more to this dispute than we are all hearing. I like the concept of the ABC Committee, but I wish racers were part of it so we could have our voices heard too.
“There should be some type of mandatory nose-tail update for the approved vendors after x amount of years. Right now, they have nothing forcing them to invest so why should we expect them to?”
While no drivers are part of the ABC Committee, VanDoorn was one of a handful of drivers that attended the ABC-AR-Five Star meeting last December when an effort was made to reach some sort of agreement.
Ultimately, the Committee never approved it and only a handful of local tracks, the midwestern-based TUNDRA series and Pro All-Star Series have confirmed that the bodies will be allowed in their divisions next spring.
Five Star made the bodies available for purchase last month and several have already been sold.
The reasons for PASS to permit the body was made clear in a Facebook comment by series spokesman Alan Dietz.
“Don’t forget PASS is the only national touring Super Late Model series despite what the ABC cartel and others would have you to believe,” he said. “You can sit still and watch things continue to deteriorate or make a move to hopefully improve things.”
But VanDoorn isn’t sure a new body is the answer.
“We have some challenges ahead of us,” VanDoorn said. “Car counts are getting smaller, some tracks are losing attendance battles, so is this body going to reverse that? I don’t see it.”
But some degree of resolution likely needs to be hammered out following the Snowball Derby next weekend. The three groups will again meet at Indianapolis for another round of debate at the PRI trade show.
There, they will discuss the most recent wind tunnel tests, cost control and mediating some type of agreement between AR and Five Star.
Southeastern car owner Larry Blount says their combined indecision is starting to take a toll on weekly racers.
“I’m getting ready to put a new body on mine,” Blount said. “I would prefer not to have installed the old body and then five months later the new one gets approved.
“I understand everyone’s budget is different but if the bodies have been deemed equal, I think they should approve it. At some point during repairs from a wreck it doesn’t cost a lot more to transition from the old to new.”
Of course, the merits of the equality and cost-containment claims are still up for debate.