FORD, CHEVY, DODGE POISED FOR BATTLE
by Larry Roberts
December 19, 1997
Sometimes it seems that the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series has taken a line from comedian Rodney Dangerfield. His famous line "I don't get no respect around here" is apropos - at least if we peruse the pages of most racing buff magazines. In them you find condescending reports covering CART's Super Touring series (never more than 10 entries and now defunct), detailed competitive and political reports on international Formula One (viewable in this country only via TV or by traveling to Montreal in Canada) and a multitude of little-known sports car series' put on by the SCCA, the PSR, and various European racing promoters.
I have to be honest and say that I devour all of these racing features and enjoy them immensely. I like diversity in racing and enjoy watching and reading about all kinds of racing on tracks big and small, oval and multi-turn. But I'm also amused and dismayed that the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks get only a back-page listing of where the races have been or will be held, and who was the winning driver.
Personally I believe that the super-fast trucks provide the most diversified type of racing in the U.S. Every race is contested by a dozen teams fielding Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge half-ton pickups, and the leading teams enjoy total factory backing. Even the privateers get some sort of factory support.
All three of the participating makes have enjoyed a certain amount of success and all have taken the checkered flag, though Chevrolet has been the class of the field. It won the championship hands-down but the three brands that ran for the trophy were often side-by-side on the starting grids.
And unlike the SCCA Trans Am championship where one driver, Tom Kendall, was the outright winner of 11 of the 13 races in his Chevrolet Camaro, or the Super Touring competitions where three drivers split up the nine events, 11 different drivers took the winner's trophy in the 26 NASCAR Craftsman Truck races.
Like it's Winston Cup brethren, it seems that the Craftsman Trucks have a credo that says that they will race anywhere, any time and on any kind of track. The trucks have gone fender-to-fender on circuits that range from the quarter-mile dirt track in Topeka, Kansas to the road circuit at Watkins Glen in New York, to the venerated 2.5 mile Indy 500 track in Indianapolis. It's an eclectic venue, to say the least.
It's a misnomer to call the Craftsman racing trucks half-ton pickups. About the only thing that they share with their production line siblings is a similar profile. They're purpose-built "tube" race cars that utilize the same technology and 700 horsepower V8 engines that go into NASCAR Winston Cup cars, but changed just enough to accommodate a truck's wider, higher and longer profile.
The buff magazines don't give much coverage to the NASCAR Craftsman truck series but I don't think that it bothers its drivers, sponsors or even its fans. They turned out in record numbers in '97 and although the overall numbers aren't in yet, they are expected to easily exceed the 800,000 mark it set in 1996, its second year of operation.
And those are numbers that many well-established but struggling racing organizations would give a lot to duplicate.