They say the devil is in the details. If so, the Rolex Sports Car Series, NASCAR’s venture into the world of road racing, is indeed bedeviled by them. Or, perhaps it would be better to say by one of them. That particular pesky detail is the appearance of the championship’s Daytona Prototypes. A sports racer which many feel could well be at home as part of New York City’s taxicab fleet.
While not exactly ugly in the ultimate sense, their prosaic appearance does run counter to the traditional prototype’s role of being the ultimate in automotive technology,- of providing the fan with the notion that he or she has witnessed their “dream” racer in the flesh. And, while those thoughts can be attached to such cars as Mark Donohue’s more than 1000 horsepower Can-Am 917/30, or today’s 200 plus mile-an-hour Audi and Peugeot turbo diesel coupes, there is no such connection with the Rolex DP set.
Rather the Daytona Prototypes, up top now at least, have been somewhat squashed versions of NASCAR’s American-bred Cup series stockers. Unfortunately, this has been bad news for a series that otherwise is more than good. Consider for a moment that the equality of the competition over the years has to so close that at the recent Rolex 24 Hour season openers the difference between first and second has more often than not been measured in just a few seconds – this after a full day of competition.
In fact the equality of performance is a hallmark of the NASCAR owned tour, as is the quality of the drivers. But, in the end, like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the Rolex has gotten no respect. And why? Because of the appearance of the Daytona Prototypes. Now, however, the Rolex folks are unveiling the revised Daytona Prototype which features more traditional, and better looking cabs, especially in terms of the widths of their original overly wide windscreens.
These new cars while a great improvement over their predecessors, are, unfortunately, still a long way from being the sleek NASA-like machines road racing’s audience has come to expect. And, it is this which leads us to the question of whether or not they’ll be enough to change the so-far lackluster opinion so many have of the Rolex series.
Perhaps, though, an even more important question is, “does anybody at NASCAR really care?” For all the talk about promoting the championship, there are some who believe that its main purpose in life is to coral the pool of “gentlemen” racers that have been the foundation of the sport for the better part of a century. Thus denying their presence to the American Le Mans Series, which until the addition of its spec Le Mans Prototype and all Porsche GTC production categories, had suffered from chronically small fields.
Regardless of the truth of that position, the fact remains that in terms of the “show” the Rolex has been on par, and sometimes better than that put on by the ALMS. Yet, the fact that it has been less than a hit with the fans has all come down to appearances, rather than substance. Obviously the “Second Gen” Daytona Prototypes are meant to change that. Will they? For that we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, as so many have found out; in today’s “five second sound bite world” appearances do count.
Bill Oursler, November 2011